Is Linux the answer to many of India’s problems?
I ask this question because there has been a lot of discussion about how the use of Linux would really improve the situation in India – especially in the government and educational institutions. Linux holds the promise of reducing the cost of deployment of solutions for the government, for schools and other educational institutions, non-governmental organizations etc.
The freedom from having to pay the steep MS licensing fees will definitely lower the barrier of entry in many organizations when it comes to automating mundate administration tasks. Linux also holds the promise of bringing IT within the reach of the poor.
Those are all the good things about Linux.
However, there are some real problems with the usage of Linux in India.
- Linux requires pretty capable people to administer it. Most users are quite clueless when it comes to administering Linux. People who have problems working with Windows can hardly be expected to setup and manage Linux.
- Lack of applications – Linux does include the OpenOffice.org package and this will be of great use to many organizations which will implement Linux. However, when it comes to packages such as financial management packages, payroll packages etc, these are largely absent in Linux. There are some attempts such as the OpenLX package, but nonetheless, the variety of options available on Linux is very limited – this is particularly true for software customized for the Indian conditions.
But luckily, there are ways and means of addressing some of these difficulties.
The problem of the users not being able to load and manage Linux on their own can be addressed by the Linux User Groups across India. Actually, a lot of this seems to be already happening.
If groups of committed enthusiasts trained on Linux administration are available for setting up and installing Linux, it would definitely help organizations to adopt Linux more readily.
The second problem about the availability of software customized for Indian conditions is more difficult to solve. The reality is that Linux’s popularity in India is tied to its free as in beer status rather than to free as in freedom. If Linux were only commercially available, then it would have far fewer takers in India.
Though Linux is being used by many people in India, the number of applications being developed using the open source licenses in India for Linux is disproportionately low. The reasons why this should happen is an entirely different discussion.
This leads to the particular conundrum wherein a company which decided to migrate to Linux for the cost reduction on MS licenses must now spend money to custom develop applications for Linux which may already be available for a reasonable cost on Windows.
This is a real issue, which if not solved, will greatly impede Linux’s growth within India’s government and industry.
However, this is not really much of a problem when it comes to the usage of Linux in the labs in the educational institutions in India.
The development tools on Linux are excellent for new programmers to cut their teeth on. Once a developer is fairly comfortable using development tools on Linux, he will be able to utilize the equivalent tools on other platforms such as Windows without much problem.
The free availability of compilers and development tools for so many different languages on Linux is a great boon when it comes to utilizing Linux within a computer lab or a class room setting. As a consequence of this, a large number of educational institutions are migrating over to Linux.
This can only be a good thing. The number of developers with Linux skills will go up proportionately, and we can all hope that as the number of Linux developers grow, so also the possibility that some of them may start releasing applications as open source.
But as long as this doesn’t happen, Linux will be confined primarily to governmental organizations, universities and organizations big enough to spend money developing custom applications for Linux. The vast majority of computer using organizations who depend on off-the-shelf software for running their business on windows will remain less than willing to migrate over to Linux.