Thursday, May 10, 2007

Eleventh Five Year Plan recommends FOSS

The Eleventh Five Year Plan for Information Technology recommends the usage of Free and Open Source Software. Section 4.9 on Page 104 says:

4.9 Enhancing usage Free/Open Source Software (FOSS)

Indian domestic market is extremely cost-sensitive as well as language sensitive. As the market expands and volume increases the cost of computer hardware would be coming down steadily. Consequently, the software price would become an appreciable percentage of the total price. It is not expected that the proprietary software owners would reduce the price to increase the volume of the sale. The experience of last few years further strengthens this apprehension.

If computer adoption has to reach from current 1% of population to say 5% in next five years, we have to seriously pursue some other route, viz., that of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS). Today, all basic system software including Operating Systems, DBMSs, Networking and Web Services, various Application Software, etc., are available as FOSS. They are not only free, but in some cases far more efficient, superior, and robust to corresponding proprietary software. What limits the widespread usage of FOSS is the absence of market-driven mechanism of making the end-user aware what is available, where is available, how to use it, and hand holding support for its usage for considerable period. In brief, Indian domestic software users need, in addition to the
availability of FOSS, is the continued service support of FOSS at lower cost.

Further, developing Indian Language software on proprietary platforms is not very commercially attractive proposition in cost-sensitive market of India. The absence of widespread usage of FOSS has, consequently, restricted the growth of software in Indic language, and this in turn, has starved the spread of computer to larger Indian commercial and home segments. This gridlock can be broken only when Government of India takes qualitative steps to make:

* Easy availability of FOSS for few identified application segments (e.g., e-governance),
* Making available all basic software as FOSS with Indic interfaces and make appropriate fund available for the same,
* Service support of FOSS at lower cost to all taluka towns, through Call Centers in all regional languages,
* Encouragement of development of Indic Software (may be proprietary) on FOSS platform through well thought incentive programs, (e.g., no sales tax or service tax).

The travails of being an open source evangelist

Sigh! The travails of being an open source evangelist! While the Mumbai Police has accepted our request of making the Cyber Cafe Regulations open so that it does not exclude Linux, the situation on the ground still needs much improvement.

My friends who are running cyber cafes say that when they showed the GPL license to the inspectors who came to check their cyber cafes, the inspectors still insisted on seeing the cyber cafe names splashed on the screens of the computers. If they understood what the GPL means, this would have been a completely redundant request.

Perhaps we should do a workshop for the police officers to educate them on open source licences?