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TECH TALK: Letter to Arun Shourie (Part 4)

April 29th, 2004 · No Comments

5. Provide a level-playing field for alternative hardware and software solutions

Most Indian states have Microsoft Office hardcoded as part of the education curriculum. This needs to change. Instead of mandating that students need to be taught and tested on MS-Word, MS-Excel and MS-Powerpoint, generic application categories should be used (word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application). A few years ago, it was probably difficult to consider alternatives to MS-Office because none existed. Now, there are. Many open-source applications including the OpenOffice suite are more than good enough.

It does not matter if the academic versions of MS-Office are available at very low price-points. By eliminating the use of alternatives at source, we are creating a difficult situation down the line either we pay a lot of money for MS-Office later on, or encourage piracy since the need is there and the money isn’t. We do not want to build a nation of Robbers. We want intellectual property to be respected and we want every Indian citizen and business to understand that.

Many government tenders specifically mention Intel-based computers and Microsoft Windows as the base software. This too needs to be eliminated. What users need is computing whether it is served from a thick Intel desktop or an AMD/Via-based desktop or a refurbished computers should not be specified in tenders. Similarly, whether it is Windows or Linux on the desktop should not matter go for the solution which gives the best value.

I am not suggesting that open-source software and thin clients be given preference. All I am saying is that the playing field needs to be made such that they get an opportunity to play.

6. Open up the wireless spectrum

In India, we still have this habit of taking half-measures, which are ill thought-out. Take the WiFi policy which allows its use only for campus and office environments. Why? WiFi should be complete delicenced with the use of 2.4 Ghz and 5.7 Ghz made freely accessible to one and all. This will lead to an explosion in the use of WiFi hotspots across India and potentially WiFi as a medium for last-mile connectivity.

India needs to leapfrog in terms of bandwidth and connectivity. We need to leverage the latest advances in both wireless and broadband, and in fact lead the way in the adoption of new technologies like WiMax which go past the distance limitations of WiFi. Wherever wired technologies are possible, let us go for those. But wherever there are challenges in laying the wire (copper or fibre) for whatever reason, the customers should be able to opt for wireless technologies. Competition needs to abound. Note what competition did for mobile telephony. Something similar needs to happen with bandwidth and broadband availability across India quickly.

I would strongly recommend reading Kevin Werbachs The Radio Revolution. Even though the context is the US, much of what he says is relevant for India.

Tomorrow: Letter to Arun Shourie (continued)

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