opensource

The Indian Government has launched a new version of Bharat Operating System Solutions (BOSS), a linux based distribution it developed for official use, reports NextBigWhat. The OS was launched by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) and built with the help of DRDO, Gujarat Technical University and private computer manufacturers.

The platform has been developed with the intention to replace Windows and other operating systems in Government offices and schools as a more secure system. The BOSS OS team claims that it can be used as a regular OS in cyber cafes and user homes, especially as it supports multiple Indian languages.

The OS, initially developed by the National Resource Centre for Free and Open Source Software (NRCFOSS) of India in 2007, is a linux distro tailored for use in India. The platform claims to support 18 Indian languages including Assamese, Marathi, Sanskrit, Urdu, Konkani, Malayalam and Kannada other than English. The last released version of BOSS (before this) was in 2013, a pretty hefty release cycle in the OS world. Note that the OS is certified by the Linux Standard Base.

BOSS variants: Other than BOSS 6.0, which is the main GNOME based desktop environment of the OS, there are a couple of other variants: EduBOSS claims to be a user-friendly Linux OS with educational applications that are useful for school kids; BOSS Advanced Server is a OS meant for servers with support for such processors and features like proxyserver, webserver etc. There is also the Minimalistic Object Oriented Linux (MOOL) project which redesigns the existing linux kernel to increase maintainability with object oriented abstractions.

Issues: While the Government touts BOSS as an all purpose OS, it is hard to see how this is the case in the real world. The OS has very little documentation, and even that very little documentation has absolutely zero information about the new release, something considered very unhealthy by the Open Source community. The platform does not even have a forum (for shame! webpage fails to load) where users can discuss issues and workarounds to problems and the release cycle seems to be 2 years. This means that geeks and nerds who care about security and the likes won’t touch the thing with a 10 foot pole, and neither will corporates. For ordinary users and cyber cafes, it essentially does nothing better than other Linux distros (or even Windows) which have better communities and support in the first place.

Really, the only reason to have it on your system, is if you work in a Government office or school and are forced to use it.

Advantages: Things are not all that bad, however, and as we have pointed out before, adoption of such code by the Government to fulfill its software requirements will reduce the cost of development and deployment for the government, as well as let other agencies take over the code when contracts expire. For example, a deployed Microsoft OS can only be updated by Microsoft, while a deployed Linux distro can be modified and updated by any agency of the Government’s choosing. The move makes sense in a way since it gives the Government its own OS that helps it control updates, vulnerabilities and packages across all Government issued computers.

Government’s Open Software Policy: Interestingly, the Government of India had said in March that it would soon come out with an “Open Software Policy”, under which all proposals for e-governance projects would include a mandatory clause for considering open source software as a preferred option. Minister for Telecommunications and IT Ravi Prasad said that suppliers and vendors would have to provide justification for exclusion of OSS in their responses

The Department of Electronics and Information Technology had released a framework (pdf) on open source software adoption in e-governance systems in September 2013. This document outlined the various factors such as cost effectiveness, enhanced competition, minimized piracy, wider choices and technological compatibility based on standards as reasons for the Government to adopt OSS to fulfill its software requirements.

Open source initiatives in India:

– The Kerala Legislative Assembly (Niyamsabha) shifted to free and open software, following the expiry of support period to Windows XP in July last year. At the same time, it also started producing all its documentation, both digital and printed materials, using the free and open source office suite LibreOffice. The Kerala Government was the first state in the country to adopt a pro Open Source policy back in 2001 which eventually led to the foundation of ICFOSS in 2011.

– The Kerala State Electricity Board had also moved to FOSS solutions back in 2006 with its implementation of the billing software Oruma soon followed by Saras, a accounting software. As a result, KSEB has apparently made a year on year (YoY) saving of Rs 7-8 crore since then.

– The Government of Tamil Nadu had also directed its departments to install the open source operating system ‘BOSS’, after the expiry of technical assistance and updates to Windows XP.

– Other than this, the DEITY runs various FOSS initiatives like NRCFOSS, the national resource centre for free and open software, open source e-learning laboratories and a GNU compiler collection resource centre, as part of its open source initiative.

Image Source: Flickr user HomyarB