FOSS: Should India Make the Big Software Switch?

FOSS: Should India Make the Big Software Switch?
FOSS: Should India Make the Big Software Switch?/Image Credit: JMEXCLUSIVES

In May 2019, South Korea announced their plan to switch from Microsoft Windows to a Linux distro on their 3.3 million desktop computing devices. According to the South Korean officials, the software switch will save them up to 780 billion won (51 billion Indian rupees), which would otherwise be spent on buying Microsoft Windows licenses.

Back home in India, similar steps were taken by Kerala when they switched to a Linux-based operating system in their schools and saved around 3 billion Indian rupees.

So now the question arises, Should India make the big software switch?

And the answer is Yes.

Though this should not be done in haste. At least not without understanding the challenges related to the switch.

Challenges

1. Learning Curve
Linux is a command-line operating system. Though some of its distros (versions) are catching up with Windows and have much similar graphic interface, they still require a basic knowledge of the command line. This will make the switch a difficult task, especially among elder folks who are still struggling with GUI-based software.

2. Hardware Trouble
At present, most of the hardware manufacturers make their peripheral devices (such as printers) in keeping the Microsoft Windows (or Apple Macintosh) in hindsight. Some hardware devices are specifically designed and optimized for these two OS environments. Hence, many of the hardware devices we currently are using, may or may not work with Linux.

3. Lack of Softwares
It is a Wild Wild Windows World. It means that most of the software out there is made to work on Windows only. There are no options for Linux or even Macintosh users. A classic example of this is Microsoft Office Suite. One may argue, you can always use Libre Office, but this is not true for heavily customized and specialized application software.

4. Lack of Support
Linux has a great community, but it cannot match on-demand 24/7 support provided by proprietary software developers.

Solution

There are solutions, but these solutions cannot work without institutional backing. For example, Android is one such classic example of FOSS in working. It worked only because it was institutionally supported by Google. Again, the solution can be different on the type of institution, i.e, government or non-government organizations.

What's Going On India?

India announced its FOSS policy in 2015. Even more surprisingly, it has its own functional Linux-based OS 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. It's a call that India need to take now.

Implementation

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 at all levels can be covered. In the second phase, non-technical government offices can be covered. In the third phase, technical organizations can be covered.

First Phase
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 other better things. Third, it can help students to be future-ready.

Second Phase
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.

Third Phase
In this phase, technical organizations can be targeted where one requires specialized application software. In most cases, application software is designed specifically to meet the specific requirements of the organizations. Phase I and Phase II will give ample time to understand the hardware bottlenecks and develop these applications from scratch.

There is no need of staggered implementation. These phases can be implemented in a contiguous manner. Moreover, NGOs and Private Organizations can be encouraged to work on FOSS technologies.


Note: Microsoft has acquired Github, a popular open-source code repository site, for USD 7.5 Billion.

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