Would anyone know of any links to find out more about this story? Pls send
a copy of your reply also to Graham Seaman <graham(a)seul.org>
Thank you very much, FN (Frederick Noronha)
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Topic - Open Source - - By Jack Bryar -
Over the past few weeks, a new type of trade war has been brewing in a
number of smaller, poorer countries around the world. Country after country
has begun to evaluate whether to mandate Open Source software for
government agencies and schools. Microsoft has fought back with its own
form of free programs. However, countries comparing Open Source to
Microsoft programs are considering a lot of other factors completely
unrelated to the technical merits of the two platforms.
It has been said that if Linux and Open Source were going to triumph
anywhere, the first big successes would happen in the Third World.
Cash-strapped countries looking for ways to declare their technical
independence would be deeply tempted by the price point and technical
promise of Open Source software.
In recent weeks, NewsForge reporters have mentioned the growing interest in
Linux by government agencies in places such as Peru and Argentina. This
week, the Indian state of Karnataka announced it was looking at mandating
Open Source in its public sector.
Microsoft has been fighting back. In a number of countries, it has rapidly
expanded giveaway programs, especially to schools in the poorest parts of
Africa and Asia. This week, Microsoft announced it had signed an agreement
with the South African government to give all the schools in that country
free access to a selection of the company's software. It was a
controversial decision in that country, but not necessarily because of any
technical considerations. Increasingly, as cash-strapped public agencies in
other Third World countries struggle to determine the best choice, they may
find their decision process has become complicated by a variety of
political and ideological issues.
Both South Africa and India's Karnataka state are good examples of other
considerations overwhelming the technical issues.
South Africa's decision involved a mix of financial, technical and, above
all else, political decisions. On the face of it, the decision was fairly
straightforward. According to South Africa's Finance Minister Kader Asmal,
an agreement this week gave South Africa's schools free access to a variety
of Microsoft's essential programs, including Windows 2000 Server, Office,
Visual Studio, and Encarta among others. The deal represented potential
savings exceeding $100 million, according to the deal's defenders.
However, critics have charged that the deal was little more than a tactic
to kill the Open Source software movement in the country.
When South African President Thabo Mbeki first announced Microsoft's offer,
it appeared to short-circuit several regional initiatives. By far the most
important of these local programs was a provincial pilot program called
Gauteng Online. This program was an ambitious, public/private program that
proposed to equip each of that province's 2,500 schools with a minimum of
25 computers each. The program expected to do more than simply provide an
inexpensive tool for students to surf the Internet, however. Among its
objectives was teaching programming skills and developing the province as
an IT center. Prior to Mbeki's announcement, the program was evaluating a
mix of Linux and Microsoft platforms.
When Education Minister Kader Asmal signed the agreement with Microsoft,
Open Source critics charged he was killing off any chance for South Africa
to develop an independent software industry in exchange for a three-year
software license. They pointed out that the agreement flew in the face of a
recommendation by the government's National Advisory Committee to deploy
Open Source products in all state organizations.
The Mbeki government and Microsoft have asserted that they "expect" that
the license will be renewed without any costs three years from now, and
that this arrangement may continue indefinitely, although there is no hard
agreement to this effect.
Is the agreement worth it? Local defenders claim that not all alternatives
to Microsoft were practical alternatives. For one thing, government
officials have learned that Open Source is not necessarily "free," an
important distinction in countries where resources are extremely scarce.
Further, defenders claim that products and services advertised as Open
Source don't always seem to be that open, either. For example, a messaging
and collaboration alternative to Microsoft Exchange called WeMeeting turned
out to be "Open Source" only in the sense that source code was available to
purchasers of seats in blocks of 100 and at a price of close to $40,000 per
However, local observers in the South African press suggest that technical
considerations played only a small part in the decision process. Just as
significant is South Africa's emerging role as a local power, and as a
financial center in the continent. South Africa has one of the most dynamic
financial sectors on the continent, and one of the most advanced. Nearly
30% of the country's banking customers bank via the Internet. It is also a
financial conduit for outside investors looking for investment
opportunities on the continent.
These observers suggest that Microsoft has acted as a corporate "good
citizen" in many African countries. They argue that the company has been
seen as an important corporate advocate on behalf of emerging African
countries trying to shake off reputations for corruption and instability as
they attempt to attract foreign capital. Microsoft has been particularly
active in a program called the New Partnership for Africa's Development.
Nicknamed NEPAD, the program has been the centerpiece of Southern Africa's
campaign to attract massive investment and technical resources for that
country and its neighbors. Such advocacy, combined with the no-cost
software, made it hard for the Mbeki government to turn down Microsoft's offer.
Meanwhile, the decision by Karnataka to explore Open Source appears to be
just as political.
While located within the Third World, Karnataka is no backwater. It is home
to the tech hub city of Bangalore. It contains a population roughly the
size of France, and it features a profitable electronics and I.T. industry.
Its National Informatics Center is among the most influential organizations
in the state. In fact, Karnataka may be the only state government anywhere
in the world with its own Ministry of I.T. and Biotechnology.
The head of that ministry, Professor B.K. Chandrashekar, is leading the
initiative that would mandate Open Source as part of Kanataka's
Again, the decision to support Open Source can be, and has been, defended
on technical grounds, but political and ideological concerns are definitely
part of the mix here as well.
Defenders of the Linux initiative suggest that the state is simply trying
to reduce costs and support local initiatives such as the "Simputer" a
primitive PDA/"Community Digital Assistant" made in Bangalore and regarded
as Linux based. However, other observers point out that the Simputer might
not qualify as under Chandrashekar's definition of "open," because the
device employs a mix of Linux and proprietary software. Further, they
suggest that Karnataka's growing dependence on pharmaceuticals and
biotechnology make it an awkward place to argue against intellectual
property rights, as some in the Free Software movement do.
Critics suggest that Karnataka is a stronghold of the India's opposition
Congress party, which has a long history of economic nationalism and which
has been skeptical of Western business interests. Chandrashekar recently
stated that apart from any financial or technical considerations, he saw
Linux as a means to overcome "the international digital divide." He added
that "you need radical political appreciation" to fully understand the
appeal of Open Source software. Chandrashekar has also proposed that local
Indian states should both adopt Linux and coordinate their Open Source
development programs with the neighboring People's Republic of China.
Open Source advocates may celebrate the adoption of Open Source in one
location and condemn its rejection in another, but the issues that are
driving these decisions seem very far removed from the discussions Open
Source advocates and critics are used to having.
Software of Malayalam font to be developed
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A project for development of free
of Malayalam font has been undertaken by the Kerala
Industrial Promotion (K-BIP) in association with the
Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP) of
The development of the fonts, tool kits, localisation
applications and documentation will be done through
foundation, an official release said on Tuesday.
The project proposes to create free software with
in accordance with the established international
standards, so that
new it applications can be made available at low cost.
developed tools are proposed to be made available on
the internet so
that people can not only freely use it but 'also
develop new applications.
A memorandum of agreement will be signed in this
regard in the presence
of Kerala Industries Minister P k Kunhalikutty by Ajay
State Industries Secretary, and Dr E Krishnan, project
Free Software Foundation, here on Wednesday
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