Opensource – IT Policy – Impact on the society

I am very happy to note that one of the key political parties in India- BJP – has unveiled a comprehensive IT policy. Reference to the use of open source software is even more noteworthy.

It is very nice to see that a political party acknowledges the role of open source software in innovation. (as it mentions on page 23 of the IT vision document). I am just hoping that BJP’s IT policy making team has much more in mind about the use of open source. I am listing how open source software can be leveraged for building good society and  good governance :

Use of open source software and open standards create the level playing field and helps to bridge the gap between haves and haves not. It also helps to bridge the gap between developed and developing nation by making the knowledge available without boundaries. Today’s era is all about access to knowledge, leading to faster innovation. The era of developing knowledge in a the closed door and then try to use it as an edge over the other part of the society or other nations is gone. It is a matter of faster innovation and access to all.

Use of open source software creates empowerment. Today government can not be seen as the only force that offers jobs. Youths and businesses have to come forward and create employment. Through the use of and encouragement of open source software governments can empower youths and students that would make them ready for the jobs. The empowerment is possible because tools needed in today’s knowledge era are affordable and accessible through open source software.

Use of open source software creates open and proud minds. It is like in the poem of Rabindranath Tagore “Where the mind is without fear and head is held high…”. The use of open source software helps to create “made in my country ” feeling in the globalised economy. By developing more software and more applications in the country, making those applications world class the proud feeling of “made in my country” get bolstered.

Local services industry : The use of open source software leads to creation of local service industry. Open source software commoditises the products and thrives on excellence in services, which is a boon to creating more jobs and more opportunities.

Impact on the education segment : When governments want to make the education and knowledge available to the poorest of poor children through the use of laptops, only the use of open source software can make it affordable. Besides that it is not just giving the laptops or software through the government scheme, but it is also about using the legal software on your home computer. Think of the very real issue. Governments make PCs /Laptops along with  the proprietary software available at the subsidized rates.  When the children want to use the PC at the home, they can not afford to buy the costly proprietary software for it. They end up using pirated software. Is this what we want our children to have the feeling? By encouraging the use of open source software we can give them the feeling of use of legal software. That is the way of developing “Free minds”.

Also one important aspect of digital education is availability of contents in local languages : It is very important to have these contents based on open standards and open source technologies. For the proliferation of contents and lowering of their costs, this is a crucial factor. If these vital contents are based on proprietary and costly software, their use gets restricted or becomes unaffordable.

Going further the impact of open source can be harnessed in developing the right mindset in the society. The open source software is based on the principles of “Collaboration”, “Sharing” and “Community Building”. These are vital ingredients of a good and progressive society.

There is more to write about each of these issues. We all can collaborate to turn them into concrete actions and build stong communities.

11 Responses to Opensource – IT Policy – Impact on the society

  1. Venky says:

    Dear Sachin,

    Nice post. As usual, you do a great job of looking at the macro picture. This has always been one of your key strengths. FOSS is a development model more than just a technology. Software is just the first area where the FOSS model based on collaboration, community and the shared ownership of knowledge has manifested itself. The applications of this model are virtually unlimited as can be seen from projects like Wikipedia, Open Source Drug Discovery and others. The knowledge commons approach of FOSS is also emerging as a powerful alternative to the “intellectual property” paradigm model that has dominated the world for so long. The notion of “intellectual property” has been pushed down our throats by developed countries and this is an intensely political debate. It is therefore heartening to see that two of the major national parties in India, the BJP and the CPI(M) have touched upon these issues in their manifestos. I wish we had done a better job of reaching out to the Congress also.

    I liked this post and would like to see you go further and expand on some of the points you have touched upon here. For example, the point of how FOSS can expand the local services industry is something on which I would like to see you write an in-depth article because you have so many years of experience in working with services companies.

  2. alolita says:

    Sachin – thanks for putting forward some suggestions as to how open source can be leveraged for greater purpose – more jobs, better educations etc.

    However, I agree with Sankarshan that political manifestos are mostly PR statements. The cause of using more open source software for public funded IT projects in India may be helped by such inclusion and visibility. But that is yet to be seen. I’ve talked more about this move in my recent blog post.

    • sankarshan says:

      Not only ‘publicly funded *IT* projects’ but taking the concept of collaboration and community to any publicly funded project. Or, having the concept of FOSS embedded into policy makers thinking.

  3. sankarshan says:

    Hmm… you’d need to install the Threaded Reply plugin for WordPress🙂 Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that items on political manifestos are generally oriented as a ‘sales pitch’ ie. how to use them to get more votes. So, for example, FOSS runs the risk of being clubbed with reservation, privatisation or, Women’s Bill etc issues. Which means, sooner or later, it will be a means to appeal to a ‘vote bank’. That causes the upheaval in the way FOSS is seen. Instead of seeing it as a tool to bring positive change, it would be seen as a catch word to be muttered by the various practising politicians to appear savvy etc.

    And, I mentioned earlier, by design, FOSS has a political angle to it because it is somewhat a product of counter culture. The author of the book Margin of Margin (http://ddts.randomink.org/english/mom-book/index.htm) is working on a book that aims to synthesize the ‘politics’ of FOSS with the ‘technology’ of FOSS.

    • sachindabir says:

      I agree with your first part. That is why I wrote that political parties should understand the broader appeal of the open source and not just make it a “good to have” item on the manifesto.

  4. The challenge with FOSS being rolled into a political agenda is that, like most anything that become politicised, the intent and scope gets losts in the oneupmanship that inevitably happens.

    While I would agree with you, Sankarshan, that FOSS has to have a political dimension, it become critical that those of us who are pursuing a FOSS stance do so with a conviction that cannot be faulted. We have to be seen to be both fair and reasonable. We have to be seen to be *at all times* siding with the Right Thing. That is hard but not impossible.

    • sachindabir says:

      FOSS needs to be taken ahead by all of us. To make it widely successful and to have higher impact of it, we can bring on the agenda of many pillers of the society including the political and social organisations. These pillers are the vehicles to achieve the larger goals of building the values of “Collaboration”, “Sharing” and “Comunity Building”.

  5. sankarshan says:

    The ‘made in my country’ tag is a double edged sword really. What it has done till date is create forks or, re-search of existing FOSS/non FOSS work and, since ‘not-invented-here’ is a common malady afflicting various institutes in the country, FOSS can actually become a dead-weight.

    I am, on the other hand, deeply disappointed by the meme that FOSS isn’t supposed to be a political issue. FOSS (where the last ‘S’ goes beyond software) is a deeply political issue and, it has to have a place in the sun in the political strategy of the nation. What bothers me is that given the way parties function in India, FOSS would soon enter the realms of keywords like GATT, TRIPS etc

    • sachindabir says:

      Hi Sankarshan,
      My view is that political parties should not use Open source software merely as a political tool. They should attempt to understand the power it brings to address many of the goals. That is why I tried to explain my view as to in how many ways these can be achieved.

    • sachindabir says:

      Sankarshan, I also wanted to point to your argument regarding “made in my country”. I feel the opensource methodologies would help create world class products and solutions in within the country. So the academic, social and political class should encourage the adoption of opnesource software as well as opensource methodologies as a means of achieving the goal.

      • sankarshan says:

        And, I did not disagree there. What I wrote was a reflection of how the ‘open’ part of FOSS is used by research and academia in this country. Which is sad.

        The aspect which I see eventually happening is thinking about the ‘open community’ and collaboration part and going beyond software per se. Since, there is this hard prejudice that FOSS is software because the last ‘S’ said so.

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