In the early 1990s, in the initial years after the Internet took off, Brian Behlendorf, then just over 20 years old, was instrumental in developing the Apache Web server, which is today the most popular Web server software. As a leading advocate of open source software, or OSS, which allows any user to modify an original software code for free, Behlendorf, 34, today serves on the board of Mozilla Foundation, formed around an Internet browser of the same name based on OSS, and travels around the world pushing for an increased adoption of such software. Mint interviewed him last week when he was in India attending a multi-city industry event.
How has the open source software (OSS) taken off in India?
OSS has taken off terrifically in India. People who are anywhere near technology have heard of Linux, RedHat, Open Office and even the Firefox browser. Open Office is becoming very popular in the government sector with the long-term survivability of documents becoming an issue (on other proprietary software).
OSS call: Mozilla Foundation’s Brian Behlendorf.
The awareness both about open source as well as the business model is high here. India is higher than average in OSS usage.
Any particular factors that contribute to this?
Cost sensitivity here is greater. People care more about the cost of software than the average American might. People appreciate the sovereignty that comes from the use of OSS as you have the ability to set your own direction and are not bound by any permissions.
How have you seen the tech industry changing with OSS?
The nature of the software industry is changing. The average person’s use of technology is becoming more and more closer to big brands such as Yahoo and Google, and they are starting to care less about the operating system that they run on or the specific browser they use. Along with this, open source has started to become very successful in embedded environments inside of cellphones, wireless routers or consumer electronics. I would imagine that anybody in India who uses electricity is likely to be using open source software whether they realize it or not.
What are the sectors in India that can benefit the most from OSS?
The opportunity in the government sector is huge because there is a significant amount of automation needed. There are a lot of processes that are still managed on paper and written by hand. OSS can be a much more cost effective way to automate that than commercial or proprietary software. In education, it can help facilitate a very necessary transformation.
Most technical education in India today is of a vocational nature. OSS represents a very fertile collection of not just software but the source code behind that software that becomes like a giant textbook or a library for users on how to learn to write software.
Where are we on innovation in the OSS movement?
The big system integrators (SI) are realizing that in order for them to grow their revenues faster than they can grow their staff and in order to address the shrinking margins, they need to find more creative ways. I have started to see SI firms build a software for one customer and then customize that same code for other customers. This is somewhat like writing an OS project. This is the direction the SI industry will head in.
What about individual consumers?
There will be a class of applications that capture some degree of their imagination such as what Firefox or Open Office did. But by and large, most consumers are still going to get their technology through the purchase of other products embedded with OSS.
If there was more enforcement of the intellectual property law (of proprietary software), there would be more demand for running Linux.
What is the future of OSS adoption in India?
Usage will increase. The IT industry will push heavily for OSS in the next one-two years in the solutions that they deliver for their customers remotely. In some cases, they will even obscure the use of it.
(Several) call centres in India are no longer using Windows on the desktops in front of the agents because it is a Web-based interface.