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[ox-en] Comrades open windows to [GNU]linux

Comrades open windows to linux
As Kerala logs Microsoft out of its schools, Linux world is buzzing
with excitement over opportunities in the Left-ruled states

Posted online: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 0000 hours IST

Linux or open source seems to thrive wherever Left governments rule.
And as Kerala schools log Microsoft out and boot open source systems,
Linux world is buzzing with excitement over possibilities in the
communist-ruled states. Though West Bengal and Tripura have to go
whole hog to adopt a free software model, ideological closeness is
more than evident.

Kerala, most insiders' feel, is turning out to be Richard Stallman's
happiest hunting ground. His personal vibes with Velikakathu Sankaran
Achuthanandan, even from VS's pre-chief minister era, are in play.
It's a picture watching the duo cozying together in a similar attire —
Stallman in a crumbled white T-shirt and VS in homely sleeveless white

Secretly, people do wonder what Class VII drop-out Marxist patriarch
chitchats with whiz-kid of the Red Hat business-model. However, those
who attended a Stallman seminar on FOSS, could clearly see that Linux
and Left are on the same wavelength. 'Keep that door open,' Stallman
shouted jovially to the crowd flocking in and out of the seminar hall
during a tea-break. "But not the windows," added 84-year old chief
minister in matching spirits.

CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP Sitaram Yechury seems to be open source' best
friend in West Bengal. He doesn't stop at citing Kerala's example to
the state governments but prescribes it to the central government too.
"The government should be forced to use free software and GNU-Linux
based operating systems in the delivery of information for public use
so that costs are kept low," he maintains. For the West Bengal
government, it has always been a balancing act between the demands of
large global corporations and the possibility of a more sustainable
and cheaper alternative route to implement the e-governance programme
in the last six years.

Microsoft clearly can't be expected to take it lying down.

"Every third Linux server being sold today is shipped to high
performance computing segment and we had a gap in our product
portfolio there. We have just launched a product for that space now,''
says Microsoft director (competitive strategy), Radhesh

Linux, according to him, is not eating into their marketshare but is
replacing Unix. He has a point. Microsoft's marketshare has remained
almost the same since last quarter at about 68% on the server side
(open source's mainstay) compared to 70% two years ago. Linux,
however, has grown to corner over 20% of the market from 11% two years
back and its market is estimated to grow 21 % annually, according to

Linux case is believed to be growing stronger in places like West
Bengal as Microsoft is shying away from setting up a development
centre in the state. The state information technology minister, Debesh
Das is playing it safe. "State government is not against any
particular company or individual. We don't like to oppose any business

However, the state government has failed to develop a holistic policy
in the areas of egovernance and implementation of free software or
GNU/Linux has been limited to the discussion table. Subir Roy, the
state informatics officer, said: "In the last five years, we haven't
had any notable e-governance implementation based on free software or
open source. One of the reasons is that most of the development work
is vendor driven. Free software is not a popular IT system for most of
the global vendors.

The other important reason, according to Roy, is the lack of network
in the state. "The free software with GNU/Linux operating system is
best suited in a web-based environment. Due to the lack of state-wide
area network, web based applications can't be used. Lack of IT
infrastructure is one of the reasons the state's e-governance could
not have free software implementation.

Debesh Das paints a contrasting picture on open source' future in the
state. "The state government would consider using open source software
as the default exploitation route for the West Bengal funded software
infrastructure in e-governance," he says.

Das is not ready to believe that the state is not serious about free
software. "One of the reasons for our low rate of adoption of
GNU/Linux operating system in the public sphere is the lack of
awareness on the benefits of free software."

Insiders attribute it to ideological comradeship between Marxism or
socialist ideology and free software movement. Stallman, however,
shrugs away saying, 'Communist' is a label for anybody who questions
the unfairness in the existing business models. "I am not against the
idea of private business as long as it respects human rights and

Why are then left leaders going gaga over free software? For many, the
Left's love for free software is more to do with the basic copyright
or the patent issue. "The Left thinks that existing copyright laws are
against the creation of a more equitable distribution and so the
alternative is Copyleft," says, West Bengal University of Technology
(WBUT) vice chancellor, Ashoke Thakur.

The Copyleft, as opposed to Copyright, originated in the GNU project
and is the basic philosophical tenets in the formation of the free
software movement. Copyleft is a form of licence whereby any user of
the sofware under this has the freedom to use, copy, share, change and
distribute the changed version.

Curiously enough, market pushed Linux in Kerala much before the
Marx-might came to play. This is because most PC vendors prefer
margins from 'FOSS' (free open software systems), as they are free of
copyright violation fuss. In response to the public mood, the
Congress-led UDF Government lavished its e-governance initiatives with
FOSS options, wherever possible, with some hand-holding from NIC (
National Informatics Centre). But the momentum came from the market.

The die was cast on October 2005, when Microsoft came out with a sting
operation in Thiruvananthapuram on anti-piracy crackdown "humiliating"
a couple of PC sellers.

"Dealers always prefer to do straight business and when it is FOSS
systems, there are no ethical dilemmas," says State computer dealers
association president, PK Harikrishnan. Right or wrong, it boils down
to a question of seeing software as a market. Make some discreet
queries, and you will find as much as 95% of multimedia PC buyers
expect freebies of atleast two basic slices of Microsoft software,
costing Rs 4200 to Rs 20,000 ( Windows 98 to MS office XP).

Well aware of this, Microsoft is working overtime to make its products
more affordable with initiatives like Windows Starter Edition. Efforts
to make inroads into the academic community are equally evident. "We
recognise that affordability is a stumbling block in certain sections
of the society. We are seriously looking at new technology and
business models to address this gap,'' says Radhesh Balasubramaniam.

Most dealers find it hard to preach honesty to customers. The
anti-Microsoft mood swung to a crusading level when LDF Government
swore to power four months ago.

Kerala is now in a bid to become Asia's first FOSS (free and open
software) destination, taking the recently evolved model of a province
in Spain. "Stallman's recent visit had an electrifying effect," says
MA Baby, State Education Minister, who lost no time to chart out a
schedule to migrate computers of 12,500 high schools in Kerala to FOSS
in three years.

And he is not alone. Unions of coconut toddy tappers, who 20 years ago
went on an orgy of smashing down computers, are now in the flush of
realisation that the brave new world of computers is not all about
Bill Gates.

In fact, the State Toddy Workers' Welfare Board is on the forefront of
offices who have switched over to Linux. Some state departments like
public works have shifted their server OS to Linux. Applications like
file tracker and project monitoring software have said goodbye to
Microsoft. Naturally PC venders are smelling more Linux in the G2B

This week, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishat (KSSP), CPI (M)'s science
and youth outfit, is setting up a Linux helpdesk (read aggressive FOSS
marketing wing). And if you believe KSSP activist N Sudhir, "Open
Sources systems are not anti-profit. They just have a different and
more ethical business model. We are out to explode the
Microsoft-propagated myth that free software systems does not make
-- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ --
Frederick Noronha  9822122436 [PHONE NUMBER REMOVED]

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