On 10/10/06, Frederick Noronha <fred@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Comrades open windows to linux As Kerala logs Microsoft out of its schools, Linux world is buzzing with excitement over opportunities in the Left-ruled states
M SARITA VARMA, INDRANIL CHAKRABORTY & PRAGATI VERMA Posted online: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 0000 hours IST
Linux or open source seems to thrive wherever Left governments rule. And as Kerala schools log Microsoft out and boot open source systems, Linux world is buzzing with excitement over possibilities in the communist-ruled states. Though West Bengal and Tripura have to go whole hog to adopt a free software model, ideological closeness is more than evident.
Kerala, most insiders' feel, is turning out to be Richard Stallman's happiest hunting ground. His personal vibes with Velikakathu Sankaran Achuthanandan, even from VS's pre-chief minister era, are in play. It's a picture watching the duo cozying together in a similar attire â Stallman in a crumbled white T-shirt and VS in homely sleeveless white banian.
Secretly, people do wonder what Class VII drop-out Marxist patriarch chitchats with whiz-kid of the Red Hat business-model. However, those who attended a Stallman seminar on FOSS, could clearly see that Linux and Left are on the same wavelength. 'Keep that door open,' Stallman shouted jovially to the crowd flocking in and out of the seminar hall during a tea-break. "But not the windows," added 84-year old chief minister in matching spirits.
CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP Sitaram Yechury seems to be open source' best friend in West Bengal. He doesn't stop at citing Kerala's example to the state governments but prescribes it to the central government too. "The government should be forced to use free software and GNU-Linux based operating systems in the delivery of information for public use so that costs are kept low," he maintains. For the West Bengal government, it has always been a balancing act between the demands of large global corporations and the possibility of a more sustainable and cheaper alternative route to implement the e-governance programme in the last six years.
Microsoft clearly can't be expected to take it lying down.
"Every third Linux server being sold today is shipped to high performance computing segment and we had a gap in our product portfolio there. We have just launched a product for that space now,'' says Microsoft director (competitive strategy), Radhesh Balasubramaniam.
Linux, according to him, is not eating into their marketshare but is replacing Unix. He has a point. Microsoft's marketshare has remained almost the same since last quarter at about 68% on the server side (open source's mainstay) compared to 70% two years ago. Linux, however, has grown to corner over 20% of the market from 11% two years back and its market is estimated to grow 21 % annually, according to IDC.
Linux case is believed to be growing stronger in places like West Bengal as Microsoft is shying away from setting up a development centre in the state. The state information technology minister, Debesh Das is playing it safe. "State government is not against any particular company or individual. We don't like to oppose any business group."
However, the state government has failed to develop a holistic policy in the areas of egovernance and implementation of free software or GNU/Linux has been limited to the discussion table. Subir Roy, the state informatics officer, said: "In the last five years, we haven't had any notable e-governance implementation based on free software or open source. One of the reasons is that most of the development work is vendor driven. Free software is not a popular IT system for most of the global vendors.
The other important reason, according to Roy, is the lack of network in the state. "The free software with GNU/Linux operating system is best suited in a web-based environment. Due to the lack of state-wide area network, web based applications can't be used. Lack of IT infrastructure is one of the reasons the state's e-governance could not have free software implementation.
Debesh Das paints a contrasting picture on open source' future in the state. "The state government would consider using open source software as the default exploitation route for the West Bengal funded software infrastructure in e-governance," he says.
Das is not ready to believe that the state is not serious about free software. "One of the reasons for our low rate of adoption of GNU/Linux operating system in the public sphere is the lack of awareness on the benefits of free software."
Insiders attribute it to ideological comradeship between Marxism or socialist ideology and free software movement. Stallman, however, shrugs away saying, 'Communist' is a label for anybody who questions the unfairness in the existing business models. "I am not against the idea of private business as long as it respects human rights and freedom."
Why are then left leaders going gaga over free software? For many, the Left's love for free software is more to do with the basic copyright or the patent issue. "The Left thinks that existing copyright laws are against the creation of a more equitable distribution and so the alternative is Copyleft," says, West Bengal University of Technology (WBUT) vice chancellor, Ashoke Thakur.
The Copyleft, as opposed to Copyright, originated in the GNU project and is the basic philosophical tenets in the formation of the free software movement. Copyleft is a form of licence whereby any user of the sofware under this has the freedom to use, copy, share, change and distribute the changed version.
Curiously enough, market pushed Linux in Kerala much before the Marx-might came to play. This is because most PC vendors prefer margins from 'FOSS' (free open software systems), as they are free of copyright violation fuss. In response to the public mood, the Congress-led UDF Government lavished its e-governance initiatives with FOSS options, wherever possible, with some hand-holding from NIC ( National Informatics Centre). But the momentum came from the market.
The die was cast on October 2005, when Microsoft came out with a sting operation in Thiruvananthapuram on anti-piracy crackdown "humiliating" a couple of PC sellers.
"Dealers always prefer to do straight business and when it is FOSS systems, there are no ethical dilemmas," says State computer dealers association president, PK Harikrishnan. Right or wrong, it boils down to a question of seeing software as a market. Make some discreet queries, and you will find as much as 95% of multimedia PC buyers expect freebies of atleast two basic slices of Microsoft software, costing Rs 4200 to Rs 20,000 ( Windows 98 to MS office XP).
Well aware of this, Microsoft is working overtime to make its products more affordable with initiatives like Windows Starter Edition. Efforts to make inroads into the academic community are equally evident. "We recognise that affordability is a stumbling block in certain sections of the society. We are seriously looking at new technology and business models to address this gap,'' says Radhesh Balasubramaniam.
Most dealers find it hard to preach honesty to customers. The anti-Microsoft mood swung to a crusading level when LDF Government swore to power four months ago.
Kerala is now in a bid to become Asia's first FOSS (free and open software) destination, taking the recently evolved model of a province in Spain. "Stallman's recent visit had an electrifying effect," says MA Baby, State Education Minister, who lost no time to chart out a schedule to migrate computers of 12,500 high schools in Kerala to FOSS in three years.
And he is not alone. Unions of coconut toddy tappers, who 20 years ago went on an orgy of smashing down computers, are now in the flush of realisation that the brave new world of computers is not all about Bill Gates.
In fact, the State Toddy Workers' Welfare Board is on the forefront of offices who have switched over to Linux. Some state departments like public works have shifted their server OS to Linux. Applications like file tracker and project monitoring software have said goodbye to Microsoft. Naturally PC venders are smelling more Linux in the G2B pie.
This week, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat (KSSP), CPI (M)'s science and youth outfit, is setting up a Linux helpdesk (read aggressive FOSS marketing wing). And if you believe KSSP activist N Sudhir, "Open Sources systems are not anti-profit. They just have a different and more ethical business model. We are out to explode the Microsoft-propagated myth that free software systems does not make money." -- -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Frederick Noronha http://fn.goa-india.org 9822122436 +91-832-240-9490 http://fredericknoronha.wordpress.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/fn-goa/
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