|FOSS: Should India Make the Big Software Switch?/Image Credit: JMEXCLUSIVES|
Can a country save billions of dollars by making a "software switch"?
If you think the answer is "no," then for your kind information, a country has already done it. In May 2019, South Korea announced its plan to switch from Microsoft Windows to a Linux distro on its 3.3 million computing devices. According to the South Korean officials, it will save them up to 780 billion won (51 billion Indian rupees), otherwise which would spend on buying Microsoft Windows licenses.
In India, similar steps were taken by the Government of Kerala when they switched to a homegrown Linux-based operating system KITE GNU Linux in their schools and saved around 3 billion Indian rupees.
So now the question arises, Should your country make the switch? or in our case, Should India make the switch?
And the answer is Yes.
But this should not be implemented without understanding the challenges.
1. Learning Curve
Linux is a command-line operating system. Though, some of its distros (versions) are catching up with Windows. They have a similar graphic user interface (GUI), but they still require a basic knowledge of command line. This very thing will make the switch a difficult task, especially among digital voiceless who are still struggling with GUI-based software.
2. Hardware Trouble
At present, most of the hardware manufacturers make their peripheral devices (i.e., printers) and their software components (i.e., software drivers) in keeping Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh in hindsight. Some devices are specifically designed and optimized for these two OS environments. Hence, many of these devices we are using, may or may not work with Linux.
3. Lack of Software
It is a Wild Wild Windows World. It means that most of the software is made to work on Windows only. There are no options for Linux or even Macintosh users. A classic example of this phenomenon is Microsoft Office Suite. One may argue, you can always use Libre Office, but this is not true for other application software.
4. Lack of Support
Open Source Software has a great community, but it cannot match on-demand 24/7 support provided by proprietary software developers.
There are solutions, but these solutions cannot work without institutional backing. For example, Android is one classic example of free and open-source software (FOSS) in working. It shone because it was supported by Google.
What's Going On India?
India announced its FOSS policy in 2015. More surprisingly, it has its own functional Linux flavor: BOSS (Bharat Operating System Solutions). But exciting things stop here.
At present, India's FOSS framework is focused on developing technology around mobile (specifically around Android), completely ignoring the desktop environment.
India should reconsider its strategy and include desktop technologies in its focus areas. Because if India misses now, it will be paying the price in terms of support and extension services. On another hand, if India develops its offerings, it might be exporting its support and extension services.
Now coming to our first question. If India (or in your case, your country) decides to make the switch, how they should implement it?
The Switch can be done in three phases. In the first phase, educational institutes can be covered. In the second phase, non-technical government offices can be covered. In the third phase, technical organizations can be covered.
In the first phase, we can start with schools and universities. Firstly because students can adopt newer technology with ease in comparison to older generations. Secondly, it can help schools and universities to allocate their freed-up financial resources to explore better things. Third, it can help students to be future-ready
In this phase, non-technical organizations can be targeted, where one only requires basic application software like a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program. A short term training could be provided to the staff so that they can make the switch easily.
In this phase, technical organizations can be targeted where one requires specialized application software. Phase I and Phase II will give ample time to understand the hardware bottlenecks and develop these applications from scratch.
Also, there is no need for staggered implementation. These phases can be implemented in a contiguous manner. Moreover, NGOs and Private Organizations can be encouraged to work with FOSS technologies.