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Will an Indian OS ever make it?

Photo: AFPPremium
Photo: AFP

On 25 January, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and IT, said the government is looking to facilitate the creation of an Indian operating system (OS) to rival companies such as Apple Inc. and Google LLC. But can India build an OS? Mint explores:

On 25 January, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and IT, said the government is looking to facilitate the creation of an Indian operating system (OS) to rival companies such as Apple Inc. and Google LLC. But can India build an OS? Mint explores:

Why an Indian operating system?

The thinking among the industry and governments across the world is that technology giants like Apple and  Google  wield too much  control over the internet ecosystem as  they own the operating systems that run on today’s smartphones and computers. According to most market estimates, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android account for 99% of the world’s smartphone market. They also have Chrome OS and MacOS platforms, respectively, which run on computers. Control over these platforms gives them a degree of control on how apps are made, data flows, data sharing, and more. This control is also at the core of many anti-trust cases.

How can an OS help the government?

Primarily, an OS that falls under the purview of the Indian government can be tailored to its policies from the beginning. Policies being formulated around technology today have to take into account global regulations like the European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Such an OS could also have implications for the startup ecosystem, which has long complained about the charges Google and Apple levy for selling apps and services through their respective app stores. Lastly, an OS could be used by the government to mine data about the country’s citizens and use that for various purposes.

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Undisputed edge

Is there any indigenously developed OS?

A government-mandated or supported OS doesn’t exist yet. However, in 2013, a group of IIT graduates created Indus OS, which still exists. In November 2021, the firm claimed that its app store, the Indus App Bazaar, had over 200 million users. There are other isolated examples too, like Paytm’s mini app store, which was launched in September 2020.

Will an Indian OS work?

Google and Apple are powerful because their operating systems are preferred by users. Giants like Microsoft Corp. have tried to take on these two firms and failed. The impact of not having Google’s support, for instance, is well-documented through Huawei. The company withdrew Huawei’s access to Android after the US sanctions in 2019, which swiftly resulted in a drop in the latter’s market share. The firm’s market share globally had dropped to 4% in the first quarter of 2021, from 17% in the same period in 2019.

What could be an Indian OS’ downsides?

Government surveillance is one of the key concerns for an OS that’s driven by the government. But Google and Apple’s operating systems also come with certain important services like Maps, Mail, and app stores. These service plugins act as windows into the world wide web, and a new OS could struggle to bring alternatives to these services. For instance, Microsoft’s now defunct Windows Phone OS lacked many key apps, and experts pointed out that scarcity as one of the main reasons for the platform’s failure.

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