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5.1.2007 | Von:
Atul Chitnis

The Fox of Innovations

What open source software products are right now being developed in India?

One of the best known products is the development idea called "Anjuta", which is used worldwide. It's headed by someone in India, by the name of Naba Kumar, and is heavily in use even on industry level. Even on a commercial level, you find people that prefer Anjuta over everything else.

There are – obviously – a lot of localization projects that come out of India. Any country that has a non-English user community is likely to need that, so given the number of languages that we have in India, there are a huge number of people who are doing localization of software. They work under the aegis of the Indlinux project. And because they are really good at what they do, they started developing technology which other countries are now using in their localization efforts as well because all the tools, all the schemata, all the templates have been created, the instructions – everything that's required is already there, premade, for them.

To move from India to the larger scale: What are the possibilities of open source models for developing countries in general?

Most importantly, people have to understand that free and open source software is not necessarily an end in itself. It's what it achieves in sometimes very abstract ways that counts. For example, it influences the change of technology. It influences people into looking into technologies they would otherwise not have considered, simply because the free and open source world is able to deliver those technologies and they actually work. It is able to influence the way in which software is being developed. All these are rather abstract things.

Then there are concrete products. Take the classic example of Firefox. Firefox is an excellent example of a product challenging an existing player which had actually shot the mothership – Netscape – out of the sky many years earlier. And Firefox comes back to rechallenge that superior, making heavy inroutes within months.

Now it's not the 11,5 per cent share that Firefox has in the international market, which is important. What's really important is that if you look at the Internet Explorer from version 2.0 through 6.0, you find virtually no change whatsoever: the same security issues, the same feature set. Then out comes Firefox, and all of a sudden we have got Internet Explorer 7 coming out, which addresses a whole lot of security issues, with a whole lot of new features which they were forced to put out for the simple reason that there was a competitor out there that everyone preferred.

One of the things that developing countries tend to lag behind is actual technical information. The technical information is there, but it's not something that you can easily get at. If you are in a U.S. university, for example, you are in an environment that feeds you that kind of information, rams it in your throat. But if you are in a developing country, despite the internet connectivity and all that's available, you'll find yourself in an environment where you cannot get a lot of information about something. Not having that information limits what you can do. And obviously, innovation is the first thing which takes a beating.

Take a country like India, for example. India is known as a country that provides a lot of services to other countries, but on its own doesn't really produce any products. There's no great innovation coming out of there. That has been largely because India went through this detour of doing mostly commercial, proprietary software. It is over the past five, six years that India has really gotten heavily involved with free and open source software.

And the benefit of this is: The people who went to college and got exposed to free and open source software there – for a variety of reasons: ideological, technical – are now sitting in decision-making positions within larger companies. And they're beginning to influence what these companies are doing. So all of a sudden you see a number of Indian companies doing really innovative stuff. It may even be closed source. The fact is that a country that was only seen as a second-level service providing country is all of a sudden seen as a country that develops products. And that is a massive change at country level.


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