TECH TALK: Alt.Software: The Software Factory

The Software needed for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can be thought of as comprising of four “chimneys” as below. The platform for all the software would be Linux, thus creating not just an open source base but also the ability for developers worldwide to be able to customize the offerings for the needs of companies in their region.

Desktop and Base Server Communications Server Intranet Server Enterprise Applications
Desktop CD: Email, PIM, Browser, IM, Office, Acrobat
Server: File, Print, Applications
Proxy Server
Personal Pages
Content Push

The Linux Desktop
The applications needed on the desktop are messaging, a Personal Information Management application (like Outlook, and what Ximian’s Evolution is now offering on Linux), a Web Browser, an Instant Messaging (IM) client, productivity applications and Adobe Acrobat to view PDF files. Messaging and the Browser is already available on Linux in the form of Netscape’s products. Jabber, an open-source XML-based Instant Messaging platform, can serve as the IM client. Star Office with its new version (6.0, in beta) offers the ability to read and write MS-Office compatible files.

All of these applications can run off a CD on the client machine, thus
eliminating the need for a hard disk (saving a further Rs
7-8,000). The CD can be updated once a quarter with the newest
releases of the various applications. Even if the Desktop environment
is sold for Rs 2-3,000, it compares very favourably with the cost of
Rs 20,000 for MS-Windows and MS-Office, and Rs 7-8,000 for the hard

Storage of mail, files, and user preferences would be on the
Server. What this architecture does is standardize the desktop,
allowing users to use any of the machines. There is no threat of
viruses on the desktop since all storage is on the server.

When one thinks of the Linux desktop and its place in an MS-Windows world, one always thinks of how people who are familiar with MS-Windows and MS-Office and the other applications will make a shift to Linux-based applications. One needs to keep a few points in mind about the target market. The effort is not in trying to necessarily replace the Microsoft desktop with the Linux desktop, but to complement. By reducing the cost of software by almost Rs 25,000 per desktop, it now becomes possible to provide computing to more people in the enterprise. Of course, if companies use pirated software, even Rs 2-3,000 will seem expensive. The thinking here is that if the cost of legal software is brought down to affordable levels, companies and entrepreneurs will pay – they are not naturally thieves.

For most people in the enterprise, the collection of the 6-7 applications discussed above will be good enough. In addition, today, Linux has available equivalent applications for almost all of the Windows world. They may not be as feature rich, but will do the job. For certain specialised applications, more often than not, there are Web-based front-ends for access.

What this approach does is to bring down the total cost of computing. Linux has always been thought of as a Server platform, but in the context of SMEs, it is also critical to leverage it on the desktop to ensure that not only is legal software available at a low cost, but also that computing is made available to a much larger number of people in the enterprise. That is one of the first steps in making software a utility within the enterprise.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.