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Article by Mohan Babu

Is Linux an alternative to Windows?

Linux holds a great promise for India’s cash strapped middle-class, small companies and entrepreneurs, who would like to partake in the IT revolution without the huge investment associated with equipping computers with productivity software, writes MOHAN BABU

It was fascinating to read about the red-carpet reception that the world’s richest man, and the founder of veneered Microsoft Corporation, received on his recent trip to India. He got to schmooze with the top echelons of Indian government and business, winning everyone over with his promise of millions of dollars through the Gates Foundation, and an equally impressive promise of expanding Microsoft’s presence in India. Along with all the headlines gushing over Microsoft’s honeymoon with India, it was easy for most of us to have missed a small newswire article talking about the “real” reason for Microsoft’s interest in India, and its interest in donating about 1,000 million dollars to equip Indian schools and colleges with Windows PCs and systems. That article went on to add that contrary to Gates’ denial, the real threat to Microsoft was from Linux, the “free” operating system that started as one geek’s hobby, but is slowly gaining ground as a serious platform. If the readers recall, this is a topic I had written about a few months ago, and since then I’ve been receiving a lot of feedback on the thriving Linux development in India.

Microsoft’s trepidation over Linux is understandable. Most of the PCs sold by commercial vendors today come bundled with one or the other types of Windows operating system. Although vendors are generally tight-lipped about the cost of operating systems they bundle as OEM (original installation), experts estimate that it costs about $100 for each installation of Windows. If a hundred dollars does not sound as a lot of money, one look at the number of PCs sold in a year and it is easy to see why Microsoft is sitting on about 36 billion dollars in cash (even in this down market!).

Linux is increasingly receiving focus from corporations like IBM, Sun and Oracle, who have thrown their might around this nifty OS. A number of software vendors, notably Red Hat, have taken upon themselves to package and support Linux for users, including support for individuals and corporations alike. Recognising customer demand, even PC-makers like Dell have started rolling out products bundled with Linux (instead of Windows). What this means is that customers—business users and individuals alike—increasingly have a choice of operating system they want with their systems (and what they are willing to pay for an operating system).

Until recently, I was a regular Windows junkie, content to use the different versions of the operating system, including Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, et al. Deciding to investigate and experience first hand the power of Linux, I recently decided to go the whole nine yards by wiping out Windows from my laptop. In its place, I installed Debian Linux that is a freeware.

A colleague, and self-proclaimed Linux geek, Dave Everley, helped me fine-tune the operating system, walking me through the configuration of sound, software, modem, etc, and I was hooked. I spent the past week exploring the various aspects of the OS; it helped that I was familiar with the different versions of Dos, Windows, OS2, Unix and other operating systems. The question that started fermenting in my mind was: If I could install and configure Linux for free, why would I recommend that anyone go and pay Microsoft over hundred bucks so that they could have the “pleasure” of using Windows?

Linux is going global and even Indians are not too far behind. Recognising India’s importance, Red Hat has been steadily expanding its offering in the Indian marketplace. The operating system holds a great promise for India’s cash strapped middle-class, small business and entrepreneurs, who would like to partake in the information technology revolution without the huge investment associated with equipping computers with productivity software. Opportunity awaits companies in India that can customise and package the various versions of freeware and productivity tools available for Linux environments. By providing affordable software and systems, they will not only be making money but also helping curb piracy, another big bane for Indian software companies, thus killing two birds with one stone. The cost of customising and maintaining the freewares available in the Linux world are negligible and any entrepreneur who can invest in such a venture is bound to reap long-term rewards. Companies that can provide “legal” versions of operating systems, office productivity software and connectivity to the Web at “nominal” prices are bound to make a killing.




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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