Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software firm, will launch several projects around Linux and other open source technologies for allowing Indian customers the option to run its products on different operating systems and technologies.
The initiative, to be rolled out in around a month’s time, is aimed at grabbing “more market share for the Windows platform by allowing interoperability with open source technologies such as Linux,” said Radhesh Balakrishnan, director, platform strategy, Microsoft India.
As part of its overall strategy to make Microsoft products operate better with rival operating systems such as Unix and Linux, “the company will be launching the ‘open source’ projects and also establish an ‘interoperability council’ of key customers and academic experts very soon”, said Balakrishnan.
In June last year, Microsoft formed a customer council on interoperability in the US for identifying problems of customers while working with Microsoft products in a non-Microsoft environment. The council will meet twice a year at the company’s Redmond, Seattle headquarters. “It will be a natural progression for us to establish a similar council in India,” said Balakrishnan.
Large Indian enterprises such as the country’s second largest private sector bank HDFC Ltd, which already uses Microsoft software for its server systems, have already started exploring areas to develop more open source, Linux-based applications.
Most of the demand for interoperability is coming from customers “who are finding it challenging to integrate various data resources at the infrastructure layer of their information technology systems comprising of servers,” said Balakrishnan. “They may be hosting core data on Linux, but might want to integrate with our SQL (database) server.”
So is Microsoft waking up late to the changing needs of large enterprises?
“It’s better late than never,” said Deepak Phatak, head of Kanwal Rekhi School of Information Technology at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and a leading tech evangelist for the open source community.
Unlike proprietary software, where enterprises have to pay annual software licence fee and cough up for any new upgrades, open source software allows users to tweak the source code and develop applications without worrying about the licensing cost.
Phatak advised large enterprises such as Life Insurance Corporation of India Ltd and New India Assurance Company Ltd on adopting Linux, “not only because it worked out more cost effective than Microsoft products, but also because there were vendors who could support the Linux offerings,” Phatak said.
Microsoft’s serious intent to make its products work with rival operating systems surfaced in November last year, when the company announced a $442- million (Rs1,825 crore) deal with Novell Inc. for making Windows work with Novell’s Suse Linux operating system software for servers on the same machine, something several chief information officers have been asking for long.
The Novell alliance was just the beginning, “as Microsoft is now working on areas such as making Apache web server on Linux (a widely used application to run internet sites) run on Windows,” added Balakrishnan.
Until now, HDFC had to call an external software vendor each time it needed any software feature or application to be customized. Setting up of this open source group “will allow the bank to independently develop applications such as cheque tracking and other utilities around core banking”, said C.N. Ram, head of information technology, at the Mumbai lender in a June interview.
This initiative will also help the bank avoid “software licensing costs that are determined on the basis of the number of CPUs (central processing units) and desktops running software from a vendor”, he added.
Many enterprise IT heads also believe that Microsoft may be talking open source because of the huge government business it has been losing to rival Linux solutions. State governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have announced plans to embrace Linux across thousands of state-run schools and departments.
“Proprietary software in government segment is considered a taboo and Microsoft is playing a catch-up game here,” said Manish Choksi, vice president information technology and strategic planning at Mumbai-based Asian Paints Ltd. “As a corporate user of technology, I like the signs of Microsoft looking to interoperate and collaborate with other platforms.”
With large customers finding newer ways of leveraging cost advantages of Linux, it is becoming compelling for Microsoft to start working towards opening its products to rival environments. “If they do not this now, they might become history,” said S. Sadagopan, founder director of Bangalore-based International Institute of Information Technology (formerly Indian Institute of Information Technology). “Microsoft realised the need few years ago when they launched Unix services for Windows, allowing them to manage Unix from Windows platform.”