Is Linux really happening in India, or is it just hype?
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SUNDAY, JUNE 01, 2003 01:35:28 AM ]
It’s being billed as the solution that will deliver the masses from computer
illiteracy. And so it was hardly surprising when a recent MAIT-organised seminar on “Open
Source Software: A New Direction for India?” drew a larger-than-expected audience that
stayed on till the very end.
The seminar did throw up some very pertinent questions on open source software (OSS)
and helped quite a bit in clearing the myth that the immediate adoption of Linux may be
the solution to India’s problems. As V Chandrashekhar, global head of s-governance
practice, TCS, explains: “Linux use has increased as a result of the economic downturn and
the decrease in perceived difficulty in using it. Linux is the de facto standard in
embedded systems and in areas of high-end computing -- but it will be some time before it
gets popular at the desktop level. ”
The low cost Linux advantage is what may make it acceptable to small and medium
size businesses (SMEs) for accessing web servers, mail servers, and other technologies.
Open source code, besides makes it more acceptable in high-end computing areas such as
software development, genome unravelling, etc, and in areas where security is paramount --
say, the IT operations of the defence forces.
But the common view that anyone who hasn’t been exposed to any operating system, for
instance Windows, may be a potential user of Linux may not be true as of now. D S Pandit,
who heads the information systems at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is an example. “I
got a free CD at a conference in Goa on Linux software for desktops. It took my IT
department 10 days to download it and even after that I didn’t find it easy to use.” For
instance, the fact that files created on Star Office sometimes cannot be read on Windows
is a disadvantage.
“This is an issue that only Microsoft can deal with,” says Sandeep Menon, Linux
Business Manager, IBM Asean/SA. And it’s unlikely that Microsoft will deal with it in a
hurry. Sanjeev Mathur, who heads marketing at Microsoft India, explains that the
eco-system that Microsoft had created around its products include pre- and post-sales
services and academic institutions to develop skills around Microsoft products. “It’s an
eco-system that Linux can’t match,” Mathur says. And there’s no reason why Microsoft
should include competing Linux software in that eco-system.
A Nasscom report too which talks about the “silent Linux movement” in India admits
that “while Linux is gaining stature, it is a fact that currently, the OS is an add-on to
existing platforms within user organisations. Analysts also point out that Linux is still
largely at the departmental and file or print server stage rather than at the mission
critical database server level.” The report also points out that Linux deployments are
confined predominantly to the server end with less action at the desktop level and that
“this factor too will impede Linux’s rapid fire expansion in the Indian market.”
However, speaker after speaker at the conference spoke about a revolution of sorts.
“It’s like the flower power movement of the Seventies,” said Menon, who exhorted the
government to “define open standards in public sector procurement as a matter of policy”.
Menon would also like government departments to encourage their staff to experiment with
Linux, and evaluate Linux as part of the national IT, R&D and economic development
But it might be some time before that happens. The Nasscom report talks about
e-governance projects on the anvil in many states such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil
Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra. But the fact is that most of these are just pilot projects.
According to Chandrashekhar, TCS has about 10 e-governance projects in various states, but
he says only 20 per cent of the solutions used would be Linux-based. Linux has its
drawbacks, he says. “There is a lack of accountability because there are many bunches of
developers with all kinds of offers. Also there is a reduced set of supporting hardware
and business applications, a lack of guidelines, limitations regarding some high end
operations, and limitations of user competence.”
The common refrain at the seminar was that Linux gave one the opportunity to work
with open source code, until one government official piped up: “Why would I need open
source code? What do I do with it when I don’t have the skills to modify it?” Open source
code does have its uses -- in high security environments where you can customise security
requirements. For software developers and in areas of high-end computing too, there’s a
lot of advantage in having open source software because it ensures flexibility in using
So doesn’t Linux have much prospects in India? It sure does, but only if its
introduced at the school level so that future generations can grow up working on Linux, a
government official felt. Worldwide, there are many governments that have adopted a policy
of using Linux. Germany, Taiwan, China and many other countries in the Asia Pacific region
are encouraging the use of Linux and have announced many initiatives based on open source
In India, it’s seen as a slower movement that will grow in size gradually. “A host
of companies in India have extended support to Linux, in line with global strategies and
initiatives undertaken by them in the open source space,” says Nasscom. Already leading IT
vendors such as Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Wipro, Integra Microsystems and Veritas have
developed products for the Linux platform. According to Nasscom, many of India’s 450,000
to 600,000 software developers who create solutions for the export market are getting onto
the Linux bandwagon. All these companies have a separate set of Linux strategies for the
Indian market. Red Hat’s also working overtime to increase Linux’s reach in India by
working closely with government agencies such as NIC, ERDCI, IITs, NCST, MIT, etc , to
develop applications on Linux. It’s also put in place a network of training partners and
is now offering courses in over 100 centres in India.
And though government officials are still sceptical and look at it as a “hype
created by a group of MNCs”, it may be just a matter of time before the movement picks
Posted by N.S. Soundara Rajan, Freelance IT Correspondent, Mysore, India