---------- Forwarded message ----------
Free Software Foundation of India
Apropos Microsoft's "investments" in India
Thursday, November 14, 2002
The Free Software Foundation of India would like to bring to the
attention of the Government and the general public the negative
implications of the "investments" pledged by the Microsoft Chairman,
Bill Gates, during his present visit to India.
At the outset, it needs to be made very clear that the proposed
investments have no motive other than the motive of profit and nobody
should be under the illusion that these "investments" are being made
for the betterment of society or for the development of India. On the
contrary, the type of software developed and sold by Microsoft,
proprietary software, -- software which is supplied without its
underlying source code and without the freedoms to study, modify and
redistribute it -- constrains indigenous development and divides
Of particular concern is the Microsoft Chairman's pledge of money to
`Project Shiksha' aimed at educating 35 lakh children, tied to the
condition that the Project will purchase and use licensed Microsoft
software! Mr. Gates magnanimously declared that "In education, we have
very low pricing. For big education projects, we will have larger
donations so that the cost of software is lower." However, this is not
a question of initial software cost. Microsoft would benefit
tremendously from such a project even if it were to supply it's
software free of cost as long as it is Microsoft software. That is
because the children and teachers would learn (or shall we say
"indoctrinated") to use only Microsoft software, allowing the company
to maintain it's monopolistic stranglehold in education and beyond.
This is akin to an MBBS course teaching potential doctors how to use
medicines manufactured only by one particular pharmaceutical company!
Besides the obvious issue of monopoly, there is another far more
fundamental concern, that of software freedom. As pointed out earlier,
Microsoft software is proprietary -- it is supplied without it's
underlying source code under a restrictive license which denies its
users the freedoms to study, modify and redistribute the software.
Which means that the students and teachers of `Project Shiksha' will
not have the option of "looking under the hood" to see how the
software works. If they find problems with the software or if they
wish to customize it, they will not have the means or the right to
make such corrections or modifications, either by themselves or by
engaging a third party. They will have to depend solely on Microsoft
to provide such corrections or modifications. They will be denied the
right to share the software with others outside the purview of the
project premises, leading young and impressionable minds to believe
that sharing is wrong!
The People and the Government of India should reject outright any
grant or investment which is tied to such restrictive conditions whose
sole aim is to perpetuate a monopoly and make a nation's software
infrastructure so hopelessly dependent on one corporation.
The Government should set up an expert committee to look into the
above implications and seriously consider formulating an IT and
education policy based on Free/Swatantra Software. Swatantra Software
gives the users all the rights and freedoms denied by proprietary
software. It enables and encourages collaborative development
independent of any corporate entity thereby guaranteeing the freedom
and independence of its users. It facilitates devising local solutions
to local problems independently of the software's supplier. It gives
the users the means and right to study how the software works and, as
software educationists know, the best way to learn to write good
software is by studying other peoples' work. It allows the software to
be shared, both "as is" as well as in modified forms, in keeping with
the ethical tradition of the free flow of knowledge.
An example of Free/Swatantra Software is the GNU/Linux operating
system which is in widespread use especially in the enterprise, in
government departments and in academic institutions around the world.
The country-wide SchoolNet program of Namibia, for instance, uses
GNU/Linux. Other countries like Peru are in the process of mandating
or legislating the use of free software such as GNU/Linux to ensure
Peruvian Congressman's Open Letter to Microsoft
An Interview with Peruvian Congressman Villanueva
SchoolNet rebuffs Microsoft
About FSF India
The Free Software Foundation Of India is a non-profit organisation
committed to advocating, promoting and propagating the use and
development of swatantra software in India. Our goal is to ensure the
long term adoption of free software, and aim for the day when all
software will be free (swatantra). This includes educating people
about software freedom and convincing them that it is the freedom that
matters. We regard non-free proprietary software as a problem to be
solved, not as a solution to any problem.
FSF India's press page.
FSF India's home page.