08 October 2010

Why and How Indian govt can get huge benefits from Free Software/Open Source

        This article is written very late. So much late that government has wasted a huge amount of tax-payers money just for buying licenses to use few software which could have been produced by Indian Government itself. We still has time to save huge money wastage money by public and Government.
Copy a Software is not piracy
        We do not have any machine in real world which can duplicate real world object like table etc. But Software has the most amazing quality which is called Copying a Software. You can create exact duplicate software using copy. Piracy is a illegal use to software. It is misconception that copying a software makes piracy. When you buy a real world object like mug, table, furniture etc, you have full right to do anything with them. Nobody will object you if you resell them or use for any purpose.
        In Software world. you never own the software, instead you only buy license to use a software with certain Terms and Conditions. Software remain copyrighted with original authors/company. Every software in the world is copyrighted. Many software companies put non-copying, non-sharing as Terms and Conditions to use the software. When you create a copy of a software you may or maynot be part of piracy. For Example, Duplicating Microsoft Windows Operating System is piracy. But Duplicating Ubuntu Operating System is not piracy, as Ubuntu and other Software shipped with Permissive Terms and Conditions which allow and encourage user to create and redistribute copy of the software. Similarly You can copy Firefox, VLC etc, list is long.
        Software with Permissive Terms and Conditions are called FOSS (Free and Open Source Software).
Why Government Should Create Software
        Software is like air. After Roti, Kapda and Makan, next is Mobile and Computer. Computer without Software are useless. Most of the users need Software for daily work. Word Processing Software, Internet Browser are most common software which every computer user need.
        Government should not purchase license from software companies for using common software. Instead Government must create software. In case If the Software is available under Open Source License it must adopt and improve it.
        For example, every computer user need Operating System. Let assume tomorrow 50% of Indian public will use computer. If this 50% slot buy proprietary Operating System, and Lets assume the cost of Operating System is RS - 1000. Then the total money outflow will be equal to 570 Billion Rupee. Again this 50% slot will have to buy word processing software and many other software. Total money outflow will be huge. Those who cannot purchase has only option to use pirated software. Indian Govt can actually create common software which are needed by 80% of computer users. Why public should buy the software, Let Govt should create and distribute the software. This will save a huge money.
        We already have many Free and Open Source Software which can save huge amount of money. Government need to improve these software.
Advantage of FOSS
        Almost all Free and Open Source Software are available free of cost. They are licensed with Permissible Terms and Conditions. These permission enable other developer to modify and thus improve the Source Code and fix bugs. Adopting FOSS will remove vendor lock-in too as FOSS work with Open Standards. Open Standards are needed for interoperability just like real world.
What is Software
        Before we start, we need to learn some important terminology which will be used in this article.
        First important term we need to learn is Source Code. Its a well known sentence which a common man use "Computer can understand 0 and 1". Human being cannot work at 0 and 1 level. Instead, we use Computer Language like C++ to write a software. A software is just a piece of instruction (like recipe) to do certain task. All the instructions are written into some text files. We call it the Source Code of a software. Proprietary companies convert Source Code to Executable Files(normally .exe files) for hiding the source code. If you do not have source code you cannot modify a software.
        Another important concept we need to learn is File Format. Software deal with Files. File contain information with meta data. File Contents is stored 0 and 1. File Format is key for transforming File Content into 0 and 1. For example webpages are written in HTML File Format. If File Format is open, then any developer can make new software which can open/process the files. These are called Open Standards.
Monopoly Game in Software Industry
        Software Industry is running by two camps. One camp is lead by Microsoft which believe in hiding the source code and restricting other to develop good software. This camp mostly work with close standards. The other camp is lead by a large community of Free and Open Source Developers who actually believe in sharing software. Firefox and Open Office is a example of such openly developed software. Both camp is fighting with each other at three layers.
        The first layer is Software Patent. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook etc take patents on their software behavior. For example Microsoft has patent on Page Up/Page Down. Amazon has patent on One Click Shopping. Facebook recently acquired patent on user news feed. These software patent restrict other developer to create software. Also for developers it is impossible to read all patent before writing a software. FOSS community create software with new innovative ideas (like 3D Desktop etc) and do not take software patent on it. Instead these example can be taken for pre-grant opposition for software patents.
        The second layer is Close Standards vs Open Standards.  Many companies work with close standards which they only know Or charge royalties for it. This create a condition of vendor lock-in. Imagine if we store our data on close standards then after 100 year also, we have to go to same vendor to purchase new version to software. You can image close standard as a house which contain your things but they key belongs to some other persons.
        The third layer is Close Source vs Open Source. Proprietary companies hide source code from users. Hiding source code is again a vendor lock-in process. If you do not have source code then you cannot modify the software. FOSS community encourage user to share their source code.
        These are the 3 layer where FOSS community fight back at anti-FOSS world.
How Government can reduce software cost
        Government should create software for its public. It clear that FOSS software are free of all sort of IPR laws about patent/close standards. Government should modify and improve these software. India has multiple languages. Government must localize these software. There are some field exist where we do not have open standards. Govt must create Open Standards for all purpose. Govt must declare common guideline for hardware vendor for producing driver for their product. If a hardware vendor producing some hardware then it must ensure that driver must be available for "national operating system". Govt should promote SchoolOS and other similar educational initiative for school education.
        last but not least, Always Free Software/Open Source is about Freedom and for only reducing cost. Cost is a great factor but still we need to remember the freedom provided by Free Software

By - Narendra Sisodiya
(c) 2010, Narendra Sisodiya, This work is release under NPDL license. 

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