The State of Open Source in India
Over the past decade open source software has become popular with technology users in India. The benefits of open source - affordability, availability of source code and freedom of choice - have made open source a preferred platform for many innovative Indian organizations and individuals who want to harness the power of high quality software which can be freely adapted to their own requirements.
What’s Happening Today
India has a diverse range of interest groups promoting the adoption of open source software. Major motivators for these groups include politics and special interests, government programs, outsourcing service requirements, and education as well as skills training. Global issues such as software patents vs. freedom of knowledge and adoption of open standards have also become pivots around which local organizations and activists promote free and open source software.
An example where the national government has acted as a key motivator is its initiative to setup a National Resource Centre for Free and Open Source Software (NRCFOSS) in April 2005. NRCFOSS is a joint venture between an university-based research lab (AU-KBC Centre) and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). This step recognizes the fact that free and open source software is here to stay and it represents a paradigm shift in computing that is poised to change the Indian IT industry.
Another example of government initiative is the formation in 2007 of the Institute for Open Technologies and Applications (IOTA) as a joint venture between the state of West Bengal, Jadavpur University and open source industry players (Sun Microsystems and Red Hat). IOTA’s mandate is to promote open source software in government and academia. IOTA provides information on open source software and open standards to organizations looking to understand how open source can fit into their IT infrastructure. IOTA also offers training on Linux and Open Office.
Information Technology has provided India’s economy with an unprecedented boom by creating jobs, expanding purchasing power and bringing in a wave of financial independence to the middle class. According to a NASSCOM report, the Indian software industry grossed about US$52 billion in exports in 2007-2008. With wealth accumulated over the past several decades from outsourced and off-shored projects, India’s IT companies have built large shops with deep expertise about the software they need to support - from COBOL during Y2K to SAP, Oracle and Microsoft products today.
Increasingly, international projects demand expertise in open source technologies as well. Project requirements include Linux, MySQL, Apache and many other open technology stacks. Such requirements have driven these groups to create and train thousands of engineers with, for example, in-depth LAMP expertise. Wipro, a representative large-scale outsourcing firm, claims Linux as a strong focus area with its teams contributing to various Linux forums through 64-bit enhancements and kernel bug-fixes. Wipro has developed sophisticated embedded Linux expertise through many projects. An example is porting an embedded digital set-top-box reference platform to embedded Linux to support development of digital set-top boxes and personal video recorders.
Government organizations, at the national and state levels, have been using open source software to produce internal applications. Recently, e-government procurements have begun to allow open source software to be part of vendor provided solutions. This in turn has fueled multinationals, such as IBM, HP, Novell and Red Hat, to bid open source software on large e-government projects in order to meet requirements for affordability, localization and freedom from vendor lock-in.
In response, academia has started training in LAMP technologies to provide skilled labor for outsourcers and multinationals.
Another important dynamic in driving open source adoption in India involves the efforts of free software groups, open source community members and special interest groups. These groups engage in advocacy as well as offer training and support at the grassroots level to small and medium businesses and to students and new users.
India’s IT landscape is influenced by special interest groups where some groups are pro- and some are anti- open source. Government agencies frequently play both sides and hence most decisions are taken on a project by project basis and not as part of a national agenda promoting open source. The IT industry has acquired high quality open source engineering experience but its expertise is applied mostly to for-hire software export projects.
Contributing to Open Source
Active open source communities in India include IndLinux (localization), Anjuta (IDE), OpenOffice (localization and features) and Fedora (localization). Google’s Summer of Code has also spurred active participation in dozens of projects such as BlueZ, Boost C++, CodeHaus, CCAN, CopperMine, Drupal, Etherboot, Fedora, FFmpeg, FreeBSD, Geeklog, Gentoo, GNOME, GNU Hurd, Joomla, KDE, OpenPrinting, Mono, Mozilla, MySQL, NUIG, OAR, OLPC, OpenAFS, OpenMoko, OpenMRS, OpenStreetMap, OpenSUSE, OSGeo, Perl, Python, Zope etc. In 2008, India was second to the US in number of students participating in the program.
Nonetheless, the number of contributions is still relatively low from India. With thousands of engineers and users from outsourcing companies, government agencies, localization groups, multinationals and universities working on open source applications and projects, contributions including bug fixes, patches, localized software, plug-ins, add-ons do get submitted upstream to the global projects. However contributions are often made anonymously since Indian outsourcers are usually under client agreements which inhibit acknowledgement or ownership of any software developed under contract.
Open source is becoming more mainstream in the Indian economy. A variety of interests on the part of government, industry and academia are encouraging adoption of open source software in India. Demand for open source has followed the increase in demand for information technologies in all sectors. Liberalization in procurement policy has also contributed to the demand for open source solutions. Industry, academia and community groups are providing training for open source software skills. All of these trends indicate that India is poised to begin to leverage open source software in a bigger way.
While most open source software is still used internally in Indian organizations, the potential for significant contributions back to global open source projects is increasing. Growth in contributions may accelerate when the need to scratch an itch (or many itches) to support local needs grows. As scalable and affordable automation using open technologies becomes embedded in the processes of managing and supporting the needs of more than a billion people, useful and significant contributions from India will begin to pour into the global commons of open source software.