FOSS Adoption in India

by M Sasikumar, CDAC Mumbai, ni.iabmumcadc|isas#ni.iabmumcadc|isas

FOSS is Gaining Ground

Compared to the situation a decade or so back, open source software (FOSS) has come a long way forward in many ways. It has caught the attention of almost every industry houses – even if not all are not yet sure of adopting it. Almost every country has seen FOSS as a topic of discussion at the highest levels, with some moving ahead to formulate policies to encourage FOSS and nurture it. Academia has, in general, shared the FOSS mindset for decades, and has been active in adopting FOSS and spreading it. The quality of FOSS solutions have improved tremendously, giving the proprietary competitor solutions a hard time. From the tool for a geek, FOSS desktops and applications have evolved to be as user friendly, rich and powerful as any other alternatives. From common softwares such as desktop, browser and office suite, to specialised domains such as learning management, digital library and CRM, high quality open source solutions are today available.

The advantages of FOSS are equally well known, not to merit a detailed discussion. The freedom for making copies, distributing copies, making modifications and distributing those modifications underlie the open source movement. This freedom enables the user to make adaptations of the software to suit his requirements, instead of having to wait for the vendors to realise the need for such a change (if at all), and incorporate them into public releases sometime in the future. It reduces the license costs significantly, since most of the FOSS softwares are available free of charge. The availability of the source code, not only permits adaptation, but also localisation to one's own language and culture - something highly multi-lingual countries like India is going to need as the penetration of ICT moves beyond the 5% English speaking community in India, to the other 95% rural or urban citizens, as well as the many who are illiterate or disabled in someway or other. The role of open source in encouraging local enterpreneurship is also high, as it reduces the entry barrier for companies to get into building software solutions. There are also reduced apprehensions of security threats and malicious code, thanks to the availability of full source code.

It is not to say that these strengths have been adequately exploited. One expected local enterpreneurship to swell in the area of support for FOSS installation and management. It has not happened to any significant degree yet anywhere in the world. Localisation has not caught on as much as what the system permitted - perhaps due to lack of a strong enough need for the non-English speaking community to want to use the computers on their own. The targetted growth of e-governance, particularly the G2C component, may spur this to happen by filling in this gap.

Looking at the Indian scenario, the FOSS situation has progressed significantly over the last 5 years or so - at government level, at academia and at industry. While much of the IT industry has been unaffected, perhaps due to the nature of their profile, other sectors have looked at open source seriously - mostly from the perspective of saving cost. Insurance, Airlines, Banking, etc are some example domains, where FOSS adoption has happened. In a joint initiative IIT-Bombay, CDAC and IBM set up the first open source software resource centre in India, in Mumbai. This was soon followed by the fully government supported national resource centre for FOSS in chennai, jointly run by CDAC and Anna University. These have helped showcase government commitment in this area, to nurture a FOSS ecosystem. In areas of education and e-governance, one can see noticable inroads by FOSS as an alternative to proprietary solutions. Despite all these advantages, and increase in awareness levels, adoption of FOSS has not been high.

As a quick google search would show, FOSS adoption is a concern across the world. One can find hundreds of documents from various countries looking at this issue, and asking the same question. As per literature documenting studies elsewhere, the reasons can be classified into a few major threads.

Legal concerns

Cost concerns

Awareness concerns

Support Concerns

Other concerns

Lack of drivers,

The path ahead?

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