A new window

Updated: Jan 21 2007, 05:30am hrs
India has for some time now been touted as a key battleground for the global open source movement more specifically, Linux. While the government does not have a proactive stand supporting open source, or even measures that help smaller Linux user groups to compete with IBM, Redhat and Novell, it is clear that open source software is making steady headway. But make no mistake: Windows is, and will remain, number one by a long margin. Unlike proprietary software, Linux is based on an open-source model. Its code is available to developers worldwide, who can improve or customise it to suit local needs. Revenues are still minuscule since it is often given away for free. Global research company IDC estimates that the Indian Linux market will grow to around $20 million by 2010, most of which would be for services provided by companies like IBM and Red Hat. What is it that the open source movement is missing in India Prima facie, government legislation that supports open source, like in China and Brazil, two other large and emerging markets without any ideological baggage. If they can, we could do it, geo-strategic factors permitting. But despite the hurdles, India has one of the largest number of Linux User Groups (LUGs) in the world.

The Indian open source community's participation in the global FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) movement has seen steady growth. Go to any small town and youll find, for instance, an Indian LUG, Free Software Forum, or even a GNU/Linux User Group. These open source user groups have done significant work for the open source community-disseminating knowledge to budding or interested developers via free handbooks, writing open source software tools for the Indian computing environment. But hardly anyone knows that. Experts from Indias gigantic developers community say that the issue has moved beyond just the need for more information; its now more a question of perception. The solution lies lower down, at the campuses of Indias engineering colleges and science institutes, where Linux is pervasive, in laboratories and in hostels. But, perceptibly, there arent enough Linux related jobs in the market. For the employer, there arent enough competent people to write open source code. This is still the third world, where developer profiles in open source is largely the passionate type: the student with dissertation points to earn, or the day job employee. Unlike first world economies or evolved societies, where a six-month Linux project would suffice. Open source, therefore, stays where it is.

But there has been some good news. Groups like FLOSS and LUGs have started to show the way with student information exchanges and troubleshooting workshops, certain universities have begun to offer open source curricula, mentorships have been mooted and awareness among academia and students is on a high. The government must now step in and allow for a level playing field for smaller open source software groups to compete with the IBMs and the Red Hats of the world as they bid for projects from government agencies and elsewhere largely reserved for these bigger entities. For smaller players, confidence will follow, but clearly , succesful projects will also provide better business credentials. The Indian open source movement has certainly come alive in the recent past. All it needs now is the right impetus and a new window to open.