Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Experts mull options as Kerala logs Microsoft out

With Kerala government expelling Microsoft from schools, entrepreneurs attached to the state government’s e-literacy project now have to decide between proprietary and free software. This is because after schools, the government may think of making the Akshaya State e-literacy project take up free software. Project director T K Manzoor said, as of now, “it’s the choice of entrepreneurs and their customers. Akshaya entrepreneurs already have the option to decide for themselves as to which software to choose. I do not think that the government will force them to migrate to Linux,” he said. Last week, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan received free software guru Richard Stallman at his office, a few days after he had banned Coke and Pepsi.

Achuthanandan had turned a Stallman fan after the his maiden visit to the state few years back and he had aggressively campaigned against monopoly in software industry.

But he did not respond to the reports then that his personal computer was working on the Microsoft operating system. “Stallman has raised resistance against attempts of capitalists to monopolise knowledge, especially in the IT sector. He has made IT, a free enterprise,” Achuthanandan said while inaugurating a seminar on free software. The previous Congress-led government provided schools the option to choose between free and proprietary software and trained the instructors in both.

However, Education Minister M A Baby said schools will now have to stick to the free software alone.“We are not against Microsoft and have not banned it. What we are opposing is monopoly and we’re going to encourage free software,” he said.

Experts feel that shifting to Linux from Windows is easier said than done though a significant number of people have started using the former in the last couple of years. This was because of the different applications offered by the two platforms and the reliability of proprietary software.“More than their advantages and disadvantages, what matters is that competition will ensue and monopoly will crumble. Nobody is going to come out against the destruction of monopoly,” another official who did not want to get into the controversy said.

Returned to power in Kerala in May, the Communist Party of India-Marxist(CPM)-led government announced a three-year plan to promote the rapid adoption of open source operating systems.“There may eventually be a few individuals at the margins who still choose to use Microsoft, but the majority should be free of this hardship,” the Education Minister said. Under the proposed transition plan, children in 12,500 high schools will learn how to use Linux instead of Windows.


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