The Economist writes:
Across the globe, governments are turning to open-source software which, unlike proprietary software, allows users to inspect, modify and freely redistribute its underlying programming instructions. Scores of national and state governments have drafted legislation calling for open-source software to be given preferential treatment in procurement. Brazil, for instance, is preparing to recommend that all its government agencies and state enterprises buy open source.
Other countries are funding open-source software initiatives outright. China has been working on a local version of Linux for years, on the grounds of national self-sufficiency, security and to avoid being too dependent on a single foreign supplier. Politicians in India have called on its vast army of programmers to develop open-source products for the same reasons. This month, Japan said it would collaborate with China and South Korea to develop open-source alternatives to Microsoft’s software. Japan has already allocated 1 billion ($9m) to the project.
Policymakers like open source for many reasons. In theory, the software’s transparency increases security because backdoors used by hackers can be exposed and programmers can root out bugs from the code. The software can also be tailored to the user’s specific needs, and upgrades happen at a pace chosen by the user, not the vendor. The open-source model of openness and collaboration has produced some excellent software that is every bit the equal of commercial, closed-source products. And, of course, there is no risk of being locked in to a single vendor.
Economics is a big driver for governments to use and encourage open-source software. Governments cannot pirate software (purchase through tenders), and so their total cost of ownership can be quite high – especially in emerging markets.
In India, most state governments and the Central government have been incredibly slow to recognise the power and potential of open-source. India should have been leading the world in the use of open-source, but we aren’t even following. Yes, the President has made some positive statements, but it hasn’t gone much beyond that.
India can define a new architecture for computing for the rest of the world. This can create a much wider use of computers and also make its people and companies more efficient. A little push from the government can go a long way in shaping a domestic software products industry, which can, over the years, become as big as the services industry.