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Govt wants Open Source Software in all its departments

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The Government of India is soon coming out with an “Open Software Policy” according to Union Minister for Telecommunications and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad. Speaking at the 3rd Web Ratna Awards ceremony, the Minister mentioned that under the new policy, all proposals for e-governance projects will include a mandatory clause for considering open source software as a preferred option.

The Minister further added that suppliers and vendors will have to provide justification for exclusion of OSS in their responses, as reported by FirstPost. He said that closed software is monopolistic as there is a vendor lock-in, in addition to heavy charges for maintenance and subsequent updates.

Free and open source software, commonly known as FOSS, allows software creators to publish their code which can be examined and reused by another coder while abiding by the same open standards. This helps enhance software development cycle, as anyone with enough motivation can make improvements to the code, point out vulnerabilities or create a spin-off.

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 operating system can only be updated by Microsoft, while a deployed Linux distro can be modified and updated by any agency of the Government’s choosing.

Note that 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.

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Open source initiatives:

– 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, Linux based BOSS – Bharat Operating System Solutions and support centres for it, open source e-learning laboratories and a GNU compiler collection resource centre, as part of its open source initiative.

Image Source: Flickr user HomyarB

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