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Editorial (06 Jan, 2022) – Drishti IAS

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This editorial is based on the article “It’s in India’s National Interest to Promote Open Source Software” published in ‘Livemint’ on 03/01/2022. It discusses the growing importance of ‘free and open source software’ and its role in the technological development of India.

Reference

One of the most amazing technological developments in the last 20 years is the rapid development of ‘Free and Open Source Software’ (FOSS) around the world.

Most of the digital experiences today are powered by ‘free and open source software’ and more than 85% of India’s internet is active on FOSS. Leading institutions like Courts, IRCTC and State Bank of India are dependent on FOSS to increase the operational level and provide time bound efficient digital services to millions of people.

FOSS democratizes technology and enables rapid innovation by giving organizations access to a global pool of talent and the tools needed to develop secure, reliable and scalable software.

Promotion of free and open source software is in the national interest of India, as it will help in making India self-reliant in the field of science and technology.

Free and open source softwares

  • introduction: FOSS does not mean that the software is available for free. The word ‘free’ indicates that the software does not have any constraints regarding copyright.
    • This means that the source code of the software is open to all and anyone is free to use, study and modify the code.
    • It also allows other people to contribute to the development and improvement of software as a community.
    • FOSS may also be referred to as Free/Libra Open Source Software (FLOSS).
    • Examples of FOSS include MySQL, Firefox, Linux, etc.
  • Importance of FOSS: FOSS currently offers an alternative model for manufacturing technologies on a large scale.
    • Everyone has the freedom to edit, modify and reuse open-source code, unlike proprietary software.
    • This results in a number of benefits, such as cost reduction, no vendor lock-in, the ability to adapt to the local context, and greater innovation through wider collaboration.
    • Various FOSS communities can test open-source code to ensure adherence to data privacy principles, help find bugs, and ensure transparency and accountability.
  • India and FOSS:
    • Initial Attempts: Early efforts by governments to promote open source mostly involved the adoption of Linux-based operating systems and the Open Document Format.
      • However, it failed because governments could not build a better consumer product than corporations or open-source communities.
    • Current scenario for FOSS developers: Indian developers are playing a major role in this ecosystem. According to ‘GitHub’, out of its 73 million users in the year 2021, more than 7.2 million were from India, which puts India third behind China (7.6 million) and US (13.5 million).
      • But the Indian developer base is expanding rapidly, with around 40% in 2020-21 compared to 16% in China and 22% in the US.
      • ‘GitHub’ estimates that by the year 2023 there will be 10 million Indian developers on this platform.
      • Millions of Indian developers are connected to the global open-source ecosystem which is a good sign and could become a source of competitive advantage for India in high-technology geopolitics.
    • Related Initiatives: In April 2021, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) announced the ‘#FOSS4GOV Innovation Challenge’ to accelerate the adoption of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in the government.
      • It will harness the innovation potential of the FOSS community and start-ups to solve key problems in government technologies (GovTech).
      • It is a key component of ‘GovTech 3.0’, which deals with building secure and inclusive Open Digital Ecosystems (ODEs).

associated challenges

  • Lack of Domestic FOSS Innovations in India: Despite strong consumption, India lags behind globally in manufacturing sustainable domestic FOSS innovations.
    • The lack of substantial FOSS contribution from India has resulted in the lack of representation of India’s diverse languages, cultural contexts and lived experiences in the country’s software ecosystem.
    • These factors hinder digital adoption for new internet users.
  • Myths about FOSS: In FOSS, ‘free’ is often assumed to be ‘free’ and therefore many people think that solutions based on FOSS are not sufficient.
    • For example, FOSS is often perceived as less trustworthy and more insecure, when in fact it can build more trust between the government and citizens.
  • Lack of accountability in FOSS: Another important problem is that a proprietary software vendor is often easier to deal with and can be held liable for any failure.
    • In the case of FOSS, there is an absence of a clear ‘owner’, which makes it difficult to identify who is responsible.
  • Operational Drawbacks: Using open-source components can create a lot of additional work.
    • It takes into account what components are being used, what version of software is used and how they may interact with other components in use.
  • Intellectual Property Issues: There are currently over 200 types of licenses that can be applied to open-source software.
    • Many of these licenses are incompatible with each other, meaning that some components cannot be used together. Because all the conditions have to be followed while using open-source software.
    • The more components that are used, the more difficult it becomes to track and compare all license terms.

way ahead

  • ‘GovTech’ में FOSS: The first step is to promote FOSS in the government. With regard to adoption of open source software, it is necessary for the government to make it mandatory for all technology suppliers to submit bids with open source options.
    • By formally giving more weightage to FOSS-specific metrics in evaluation criteria in RFPs (Request for Proposals) and recognizing departments deploying FOSS initiatives (such as creating a special category under the Digital India Award) The policy framework will go a step further.
  • Open Source Technology in National Interest: India should maximize its independent technological power. In fact, given the economics and politics of the technology sector, open-source software is in India’s national interest.
    • It would be far more productive to focus on open-source projects than try to achieve technological sovereignty through an emphasis on refactoring and localization of everything.
    • This would be a reliable way to reduce dependence on international technology companies (and the governments behind them).
  • Promoting the open-source economy: India should now promote the open-source economy, where various policy measures have to be taken to create incentives in favor of developers and firms to invest more in the creation of open-source software.
    • It should be aimed at creating globally competitive developers and firms who will form important nodes in the technology ecosystem.
    • The size of the gig economy will increase in the post-pandemic world and therefore it should be encouraged to contribute to this sector.
  • Role of Institutes of Technology: Engineering colleges should encourage their students to participate in open source projects.
    • Ensuring a healthy open-source ecosystem is indeed a matter of social responsibility for a country with a large IT industry.
    • If support for open-source projects is recognized as a measure of satisfaction of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments, more developers will be attracted to them.
      • This will reduce the possibility of dependence on a few individuals to maintain a significant portion of the world’s information infrastructure.
  • FOSS Center of Excellence: FOSS-led innovation in India also requires a credible institutional support that can bring together FOSS leaders and communities across India.
    • Kerala’s ‘International Center for Free and Open Source Software’ (ICFOSS) is one such institution that has made Kerala a leading state in adoption of FOSS.
    • A national ‘FOSS Center of Excellence’ can help mobilize capital, resources and capacity-building support, creating the much needed momentum to manufacture world-class ‘Made-in-India’ FOSS products.

Conclusion

India is at a turning point in its journey towards greater adoption of FOSS in ‘GovTech’. With an IT workforce of over four million personnel and a software industry extremely attractive to the world, India already has the talent it needs and the need is to capitalize on FOSS’s biggest promise, the potential for collaborative technological innovation. A concerted effort should be made for

custom question: Discuss the steps that can be taken to transform India into an open-source economy.

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Usama Younus is the owner and super admin of the site he's is an expert in news editing, tech and entertainment magazine management, and articles editing E.T.C.

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