These are some policy recommendations on Open Source for India. I look forward to your comments on these recommendations. This will be ciculated to e-government policy makers next week.
We, the members of the open source software (OSS) community in India, recommend that the Government of India should promote OSS in order to encourage competition and choice, make IT more affordable and bring the benefits of IT to the people of India.
We recommend that the Department of IT, Government of India adopt the following steps which will go a long way in promoting OSS in India.
1)Applications developed by the Government of India should be cross platform and not be locked in to a specific platform. Building cross-platform applications encourages choice and provides implementing agencies the freedom to select the platforms that suit them the best. Since applications have a long shelf-life, building cross-platform applications isolates the application from technological changes in the underlying platform.
2)Mandate that all documents and data created by government organizations follow open standards that are free from royalties, patents and other encumbrances.
3)Encourage the development and usage of Linux and open source desktop productivity applications in government. This move can reduce dependence on expensive proprietary software, encourage choice, promote healthy competition and save the country enormous amounts of foreign exchange. In areas like office productivity applications etc where open source tools match the functionality of proprietary software products, adequate justification must be provided for purchasing proprietary software.
4)Mandate that, by default, software development funded by the government should be available to the public under an open source license. This ensures that the code is available to government agencies for improvements and further enhancements. Since the code is available freely, this also provides an avenue for inputs and feedback from concerned citizens.
5)Create a central repository of open source e-government applications. This move can save India thousands of crores of rupees by facilitating reuse of applications, sharing of best practices, slashing implementation time and reducing risks of project failure. This can be on the lines of the Government Open Code Collaborative Repository (www.gocc.gov) established in the US as a, “collaboration between public sector entities and non-profit academic institutions created for the purpose of encouraging the sharing, at no cost, of computer code developed for and by government entities where the redistribution of this code is allowed.”
6) Create a collaborative community for open source in education. Enormous resources are needed for modernizing and IT-enabling the education system. An open source program for education can create a nationwide community of educators for creating software and content that can be freely shared across the system. This will help rapidly disseminate the latest educational pedagogy, software tools, content and best practices within the system. This can be organized around disciplines like mathematics, physics, chemistry etc. and involve the Indian academic community and software developers.
7) Encourage the use of the open source model which is based on collaboration, community and shared ownership of intellectual resources in scientific disciplines like agriculture, biotechnology, health care research, etc. so that the benefits of such research can reach the public faster.
8) Set up a high-powered think tank consisting of top-notch policy makers, academics and politicians under the auspices of a powerful policy making institution to provide leadership and direction on open source on a continuous basis.
The agenda for such an organization would be:
A)Identify and quantify the political, cultural and economic benefits for India as a result of open source. This would not just be restricted to software but also to issues like IP, content, scientific publishing etc. In other words, the focus of this body would be on how India can take full-advantage of the open source movement to benefit Indian society.1
B)Develop an action plan aimed at making India a global leader in the open source community. For example, India could take the lead in developing and customizing open source applications for developing countries or identify areas where it can make visible contributions to the global open source community. For example, Sri Lanka has made significant contributions to the Apache web server through the Lanka Software Foundation.
C)Leverage the open source development model based on community, collaboration and shared ownership of intellectual resources to bridge the digital divide. This forms part of point A, but is a large enough area to deserve special attention. For example, Indian language software development and localization of open source tools can be identified as a priority sector for funding. This will take IT beyond the five percent of India that speaks English and provide cost-effective software solutions to Indian users, thus bridging the digital divide. another area could be the development of applications and content that meets India's unique needs.
D)Create a road-map for open source software development for India's software export industry. In the long-term, software will be sold as a service. Open Source Software is accelerating this trend which plays to the advantage of India's vibrant software services industry.