“Deployment and exploitation of IT applications on a mass scale raises challenges of accessibility, affordability and, most of all, adaptability to the local contexts. Open Source software holds the answers to some of the vital issues India faces”, tells Jaijit Bhattacharya (Jaijit.Bhattacharya@Sun. com), Country Director- Government Strategy, Sun Microsystems India, to egov magazine.”
Please share with us the vision and objectives of Sun Microsystems in promoting Open Source Software (OSS) and Open Document Formats (ODF)? What are some of the initiatives taken by Sun in this area?
Sun Microsystems believes that technology and open source curriculum can remove barriers, and help provide better educational resources to teachers, students and parents worldwide. The emergence of communities that interact, collaborate and share on a global scale is a hallmark of what we call the participation age and OSS is a key component of this participation age.
Sun has committed to open sourcing its entire software portfolio using industry-standard open source licensing models to allow customers to have easy and broad access to all of its source code. Many of the components of Sun’s integrated platform are already available as open source, including the Solaris OS, the Sun Java Application Server, the NetBeans software tools, and several key underlying services like single signon capabilities and the ability to connect multiple, independent applications in a standard way. This is a trend where Sun continues to be a pioneer.
ODF is an initiative of Sun. ODF addresses the concern that, as documents and services are migrated from paper to electronic form, governments and other public agencies may not be able to read important documents if they are not all using a common fi le format. Return on government investment in IT is greatly improved by the ability to reuse information and services based on open standards like ODF. World over efforts are on to adopt ODF as they are comparatively cheaper from the operational point of view. For example A Sun Java Desktop System, which includes the ODF compliant Open Productivity software StarOffi ce, is priced at US$100.
“OSS formats were initially relegated to development of horizontal formats for infrastructure software. Now complex application software is also picking up on this format. Currently there are open source projects underway which are even into content management, and this is really good trend.”
What is your view on the spreadwaythe use of OSS has been spreading in the last few years? Can you share with us the trend?
Well it is good, and we are pushing for the better. In the US, the State of Massachusetts has committed itself to implement ODF; similarly in SE Asia Philippines government is working towards the use of the format. OSS formats were initially relegated to development of horizontal formats for infrastructure software. Now complex application software is also picking up on this format. Currently there are open source projects underway which are even into content management, and this is really good trend. Earlier open source efforts were just used on niche applications, but now it is coming out in the open with enterprise ready software developed every other day.
What in your opinion is the current scenario towards the understanding and adoption of OSS and ODF in India?
India is slowly but steadily adopting to open source. Many corporate players, which have huge IT infrastructures at place, have gone in for open source software. Currently open source softwares are being used in non-mission critical areas, but such is the case even worldwide, but then, when there is a fi rmer belief that open source can be applied at the front end and millions can be saved, perhaps that will be the real driver. ODF is critical for India at this stage as the Government is pushing for higher IT penetration into rural India and is aggressively bridging the digital divide through its educational initiatives and through the common service center initiative. ODF enables India to have technological sovereignty over its own information. We are also enthused by the positive response from the Indian Government on ODF and we believe that such enlightened support from government to ODF will help to leapfrog to the next levels of development and prosperity for the large and diverse population.
Yet deployment and exploitation of IT applications on a mass scale raises challenges of accessibility, affordability and, most of all, adaptability to the local contexts. Open source software holds the answers to some of the vital issues India faces. OSS offers people a better opportunity to avail the technology as it can be made available at a cheaper rate. Another benefi t of this software is that in India, a large volume of rural population does not understand English; this software can be converted into local languages, as the source code of the software is made available along with the programme.
In a comparative analysis, how do you see India’s place in the whole OSS movement compared to the developing countries, especially Asia?
India is already the hub of software development. India is highly effective in implementing, with many public sector companies endorsing the use of such software. Open-source software has been deployed by both the national and state governments in India, although many of the large-scale deployments have happened in states. However, signifi cant support is being extended by the central government as well. So we could safely say India is taking the lead in more than one way. However, in order to increase the speed of adoption of OSS in India, barriers to adoption such as access to bandwidth have to be addressed.
Tell us something about the ‘Centre of Excellence on e- Governance’, an initiative recently undertaken by Sun Microsystems and Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
Well, it is a global fi rst for Sun, this being Sun’s fi rst such centre for e-Governance with e-Governance through Research and teaching being the main objective. This is a good opportunity for us to interact with both faculty and students to develop knowledge together. For Sun it has always been all about sharing and innovation and our collaboration with IIT is perfectly in sync with our philosophy. This memorandum of understanding (MOU) is in line with the current emphasis on the subject of e-Governance by the Government of India under the National e-Governance Plan. Sun also intends to develop talent as well as fund projects, which will be jointly undertaken by both parties. Sun will be deputing its own senior management who will be interacting with the students as visiting faculty.
How important, do you think, OSS and ODF is to a developing economy such as India, especially in a scenario when the Indian government is moving ahead in a big way in its e-Governance drive and is trying to bridge the digital divide?
Open source software offers India tremendous opportunity to boost the country’s efforts to prosperity and a future of innovation. In India, many linguistic groups have started localisation groups to translate open source software into Indian languages so as to bridge the digital divide. This freedom simply does not exist with proprietary software.
Open source software is also a cheaper way for developing nations such as India that have limited resources to help reduce the digital divide. Further open source also helps countries avoid proprietary monopolies, which remain a threat in developing nations. Open source in India offers a great solution to bridge the digital divide and take the benefi ts of technology to a larger cross section of people. The desktop market in India is in a rapidly evolving stage- it is one of the fastest growing PC markets in the world. In the next few years, the numbers of desktops in India are expected to touch 100 million. It is estimated that over USD 500 million is being leaked out of the economy because of adoption of non-open source, proprietary software in the bulk of the 5 million PC’s being sold in India.
Open source adoption is also driving innovation. Interestingly, the most innovative applications of government’s use of technology are coming from developing countries. With OSS adoption rising rapidly, particularly in China and India, Gartner believes that by 2010 it will account for 20 percent of the global software market, displacing over USD 100 billion in revenues from traditional software vendors. The case of Piracy can also be effectively dealt with OSS as it can be easily downloaded. Countries like India and China are facing a lot of software piracy problems, open source nips piracy in such manner.
On the other hand, ODF is critical for India at this stage as the Government is pushing for higher IT penetration into rural India and is aggressively bridging the digital divide through its educational initiatives and through the common service center initiative. It also reduces the cost of ownership of IT tools and offi ce productivity solutions and to free the citizens from dependence on proprietary technologies for such basic IT solutions.
What measures are you adopting to ensure the security, which is especially important for the public sector?
Security from the standpoint of both enterprises and individual consumer is something Sun looks at very seriously. When we are propagating the use of OSS and ODF formats, we understand that one of the very fi rst concern, as a consumer is security, so for this we are quite prepared. We know that data loss however small can be avoided as open source products do offer the scope for interoperability. So whichever the model, with continuos and advanced services as well as updates, Sun intends to stay ahead.