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Article by Mohan Babu


Linux—the global reach

Linux is going global in a big way and entering the mainstream of computing. Indian companies however seem to be slightly behind the curve, in particular when it comes to adopting and developing new products on Linux, observes MOHAN BABU

Software trends are more fickle than snowflakes during late fall, and equally unpredictable. However, one software trend—the move towards open source Linux-based systems, seems to be steadily inching forward. While it may be too early to buy into the argument that Linux is out to eat Microsoft’s lunch, Linux-based systems are definitely entering the mainstream of computing. One sign of this: At a recent Tokyo trade show IBM announced the sale of more than 75 Linux-based computer systems to a number of American government agencies, including the Air Force, the US Defence Department, Agriculture and Energy departments and the Federal Aviation Administration. Users like the US Defence Department do not buy into any technology, fad or hype easily—a testament to Linux’s entering the mainstream of computing?

Interestingly, Linux systems are not just restricted to the American market. They seem to be going global in a big way. Linux systems are helping Germany’s parliament, China’s post-offices, France’s culture, defence and education ministries, and other governmental agencies, in Europe and Asia. An open source version of Linux called Yangfan Linux is being pieced together by the Beijing Software Industry Productivity Centre, a group established by the government to organise Linux development in China. Yangfan has already been installed on 2,800 government computers, replacing Windows and early versions of Linux installed earlier. Some of the major achievements of Yangfan group include developing a graphical user interface that aims to simplify Linux for the desktop. The team also aims to develop an entire desktop environment with open source technology for the government, including an MS Office like productivity suite of applications.

Because the basic version Linux is free (although versions of Linux software provided by different vendors have a cost associated with them), and highly scalable, it is especially attractive to small and midsize businesses that are extremely cost conscious. Even large businesses and governments find its scalability and flexibility really attractive. Large software vendors, including IBM, are really pushing the use of Linux in a big way. IBM claims: “Linux is a revolutionary Open Source platform that is stable, secure, scalable and powerful, offering today’s businesses the flexibility to innovate for success. IBM is proud to work within this community, to nurture Linux and help it thrive.” Given this kind of push by IBM, HP, Dell, Sun, and other software vendors, it is surprising to see Microsoft going about its business, seemingly oblivious to the growth of Linux. Of course, Bill Gates is pushing his vision of .NET as the next big general-use software platform since Windows. Microsoft is also trying to press on its hold on small businesses by aggressively marketing its new business software acquisition: Great Plains.

The Linux Kernel, in its basic form is free, copyrighted and publicly provided by Linus B Torvalds under the terms of a General Public License (GPL), which states that the source code must be freely distributed. Anyone is allowed to make copies for their own use, to sell or give to other people (with very few restrictions). While most Linux software is available under GPL, not all software developed or ported to Linux is free. Many individuals and companies sell commercial software built on or with Linux. This makes for a really interesting environment where open systems co-exist with commercial interest. A parallel can be drawn between this and the early development of Internet browsers (by the likes of Netscape) that gave them away free of charge.

If Linux goes global, can Indians be far behind? A cursory search on the Web revealed a wealth of information on Linux developers and user groups in India. However, Indian corporations seem to be slightly behind the curve, especially when it comes to adopting and developing new products on Linux. Even though a few Indian companies like Tally have recently released versions of their packages for Linux, we still have ways to go. A widespread use of Linux can help Indians in several ways:

* Linux is an open software with source code readily available, hence it has a lot of scope for innovation and development.

* No hefty license fee to be paid to large multinationals. This is especially attractive for a country like India.

* With the widespread use of freeware, software piracy in India can be rooted out, bringing a “cleaner” image to micro-software (pun intended) development.

Just as Microsoft is pouring billions of dollars into R&D, hoping to emerge as a stronger player when the economic cloud lifts, Indian software developers too can ride the Linux bandwagon by developing systems that (may) have a global market .... Any takers?




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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