New Delhi: A clutch of officials in ministry of information technology is test-driving what could well become the software of tomorrow. Called BOSS (short for Bharat Operating Systems Solution), it is a version of Linux, the world’s best-known open source software.
Users can view the internal components of open source software, modify them, and distribute their own versions—all without fear of breaking licence agreements or laws, and all for free, or almost free (the government could distribute BOSS free or charge a nominal amount for it). A key pitch of the open source gospel is that software improves faster when users can improve it.
If the officials like the ride, BOSS could become the software of choice for all government departments, the code that drives the wheels of the nation’s administration. “The officials are providing feedback to our development lab to help the further development of BOSS,” says S. Basu who heads the BOSS project in the ministry, adding that around 30-40 officials are participating in the test.
BOSS is being developed at the Chennai division of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-Dac), a technology lab that falls under the information technology ministry. It comes in two languages now, English and Hindi, and C-Dac hopes to make it available in 22 soon. The current version is customized for use by the government but another version, custom-made for educational institutions, is in the works.
“The project aims to support the adoption of such software in India,” says an official who is part of the project. “The Centre’s objective is to encourage the government to use open source or free software.”
The open source movement is in its infancy in India. A government task force on information technology had recommended its use in 1998 and in 2006, the National Knowledge Commission asked the government to back open source software.
Across the world, only 7% of personal computers are expected to use open source software by 2008 according to research by IDC, a market research firm. Today, around 94% of the world’s desktops run Microsoft Windows.
The government says India has around 55 free software or open source developer groups (the terms are used interchangeably). Javed Tapia, managing director of consulting firm Clover Technologiessays suck projects of this kind can help change the outlook towards computer software. It wasn’t easy for the BOSS team to get IT ministry officials to try the software. Finally, a compromise was reached: the officials would use BOSS, but a part of their computers would retain Windows, which they could revert to with a click of the mouse.