January 25, 2003

Linux is a natural for India

- By Prakash Advani -

Today India is a hot topic for discussion as far as Linux is concerned. Many users around the world want to understand the mindset of Indians regarding Linux. This article attempts to give some insight to the market dynamics here, and how they make Linux a natural fit for India.

Linux and open source offer the cost advantage of the software being free, and that's important for Indian people who are flocking to Linux.

To give an analogy which people can relate to, I was speaking to a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) outfit. These organizations typically perform business activities outsourced from companies situated in the West. For them the cost of a Wintel computer is 60 percent of the employees yearly salary. When they hire a person they end up paying a huge cost for a P4 desktop with Windows and MS Office. If they move to alternatives such as Linux, Open Office, LTSP, etc. the savings the move can bring are huge.

Unix has been popular in India since its early days of computerization. Computerization in India started later than the West, hence India bypassed the mainframe and minicomputer eras and went directly to Unix and Novell.

This was because mainframes and minicomputers were very expensive, and not many India corporates could afford them, nor was trained manpower easily available. Companies implementing computers had to send people abroad for training or had to fly in the trainers. At that time the government didn't think computers were important, so the import duties were high. This made computers even more unaffordable.

Things improved when Unix came. It reduced the costs of hardware, expertise became more common, and duty structures, too, got revised, so all IT Managers in India worth their salt have used Unix at some point in time. They appreciate the power of Unix, and Linux is a natural progression. Most of them find Linux a better version of Unix. This also brings in a pool of talent that is already familiar with Unix that can pick up Linux very quickly.

Intel has been very active in India for a while now, and that has paid off. Intel has more market share in India than in most parts of the World. My estimate would be in the range of 90 percent or higher. One reason for this is that the Indian PC/Server industry is dominated by the white box manufacturers known here as "assemblers." Most of these offer Intel-based solutions only. Since India predominately uses the x86 platform, and that's where Linux runs the best, it's easy to get started with Linux here. But there are occassional Linux problems with incompatible hardware, particularly Winmodems.

India has a huge pool of software and scientific talent. A lot of the engineers and doctors have moved to green pastures -- the West -- but yet talent levels are reasonably high. These people are also power users themselves, and a lot of them enjoy using and encouraging the use of Linux. Every large organization will definitely have one Linux guru or an enthusiast in it and this helps. This one person will generally drive the management towards deploying Linux. Linux expertise is not as easily available as your neighborhood Windows expert, but it's picking up.

In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, freedom comes naturally. Even though free in India is more important than Free (note the capitalization), India is a democracy and people understand and appreciate their freedoms. Also, some Indian companies have burnt their fingers when developers have taken them to ransom by holding back source code and demanding huge sums of money. These companies appreciate software freedom and are willing to contribute to it.

These are some of the reasons why Linux is favorable to India. There are also a few reasons why Linux is not so favorable

Windows is the defacto standard for desktops. Most PCs and laptops ship with Windows, and people think that everyone uses Windows so I should also be using Windows. All the PC vendors and white box manufacturers are very comfortable supporting Windows.

Piracy is rampant, and Windows/MS Office is the top on the list. Here the cost comparison doesn't help Linux because a pirated copy of Windows is considered free. Thankfully, Microsoft is getting after people and conducting raids so people are getting concerned about piracy. Because all of them can't afford Windows, they are now at least considering Linux.

Windows applications are there in plenty, especially custom-developed applications. Most people have no love for the Windows operating system, but the application situation is what holds them back from changing to Linux.

Windows programmers, and thus applications, are easily available. Any person with some knowledge can write a simple business application using VB and Access. This results in more and more Windows applications.

In spite of these limitations, Linux is still picking up, and there is a lot of Linux interest and enthusiasm among the people. Corporate managers, especially the CFOs, are seeing Linux's cost benefits and are adopting Linux in their companies. The government, too, is getting supportive and is trying to emulate what other countries are doing with Linux.

We hope to see Linux proliferate more in this part of the World, and if things keep going the way they are it looks like we will.

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