Computer hardware and peripherals used by all new e-governance projects must work with Linux and other open source operating systems, says a draft policy. The rules for device drivers - software that make devices such as printers and servers talk to computers - have been put in the public domain by the department of information technology, which will take into account views of hardware makers and other stakeholders before finalising the policy. The proposed policy is expected to save government money as open source systems come cheap.
Many states are keen to adopt cheaper systems but shy away due to their non-compatibility with latest hardware. The draft effectively rules out use of closed systems such as Apple Macs and iPads. It is also silent on smartphones that run on proprietary software.
For instance, India's showcase project, Nandan Nilekani-led Adhaar, makes extensive use of Blackberrys. In general, India has always supported use of open source operating systems but it is the first time a policy is being framed on the use of operating systems and device drivers in government projects. The policy is expected to open a Pandora's box, as most companies, including makers of PCs, servers, chips, and operating systems, have arrangements to make their products talk to each other.
However, open source communities don't have such arrangements. The policy will mandate global MNCs such as IBM , HP, Cisco, Samsung , Sun Microsystems and EMC to supply IT equipment confirming to open source operating systems , for existing as well as future contracts. For MNCs, egovernance is a large $20 billion market in India.
"It's a welcome step. The policy on open standards was never complete without a guideline on device drivers. It will increase costs for large MNCs as they would now have to make their equipment work on open source software," said an industry leader with a large hardware MNC who didn't want to be named. Hardware makers will now not only have to write the software for their servers and computers but will have to train their customer service departments on it.
Computers here would mean all desktops, workstations, laptops , notebooks and servers procured for egovernance projects. The policy will also be applicable to peripherals such as web cams and in-built speakers. The new regime will thus save costs for a government department if it decides to migrate to another operating system, due to a price increase in one.
Most proprietary operating systems operate on a yearly licensing basis. The policy may, however, delay signing of contracts. An IT department official said, "There will definitely be a delay in the procurement process, but that will be less serious compared to the problem associated with implementation of e-governance systems non-compliant with this policy."