eGovernance in India

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Free as in Freedom and Free Software

Posted by egovindia on October 29, 2007

Free as in Freedom

My thoughts about Freedom and Free Software.



Friday, August 31, 2007

The Story of Free Software in Kerala, India

This is the story of Free Software in the state of Kerala in India. I wrote this for a book entitled Knowledge Society and Development — Kerala Experience edited by Antony Palackal of Loyola College, Thiruvananthapuram, and Wesley Shrum of Louisiana State University. The article is published under a free licence, as mentioned at the end of the article. I am putting a slightly modified version here so that any interested person can make use of it.

Free Software in Kerala

V. Sasi Kumar

A friend, who had worked in Brazil for a couple of years, once told me, “Kerala is known in Latin America for Free Software.” This indicates the extent to which Kerala has dominated the Free Software scenario in India. It is not by chance that the headquarters of the Free Software Foundation of India happened to be situated at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The state is now poised to become the first in the country to introduce exclusively Free Software for IT education in high schools. We shall examine here how all this came about. But before that, we shall look at what the term Free Software1 means. Free Software is software that gives users freedom-four freedoms, to be precise. As the website of the Free Software Foundation (http://www.gnu. org) says:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free ice cream”. Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

• The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

• The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

• The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2).

• The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Free Software began to be developed when Richard M. Stallman, a programmer with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, resigned and started the GNU (recursive acronym for GNU is Not Unix) project in 1984. Later, he also started the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Today, there is a large volume of Free Software, and the most popular Free operating system is GNU/Linux (sometimes called simply Linux).

We capitalise the F and S in Free Software to distinguish it from proprietary software that is distributed free of cost, sometimes called freeware. We shall also use the shortened form, FS.

So, with that, we shall now take a look at the story of FS in Kerala. The story is bound to be biased by my experiences and limited by my knowledge. Individuals or organisations who have contributed to the Free Software movement in the state may have been left out from the narration, even though this is written after speaking to several people who were involved right from the beginning of the movement. I apologise for any such omissions and assure the readers that they are inadvertent and not deliberate.

The Beginning

The story apparently began with the introduction of TeX, the typesetting program that was designed in the 1970s by Donald Knuth, the author of The Art of Computer Programming, a four volume classic. TeX was introduced into Kerala by Prof. K.S.S. Namburipad of the Department of Mathematics in the University of Kerala. TeX could typeset mathematical equations very neatly, which no other software could do, especially in the 1980s when Prof. Namburipad brought TeX in fourteen floppy disks from the United States. He could bring the program and use it on a number of computers without any legal problem because it had no licences-it was in the public domain. It was, in a sense, the Grandmother of Free Software, as some people call it.

Prof. Namburipad encouraged his students to learn and use TeX, especially for preparing their theses. One of his students was E. Krishnan, now with the Mathematics Department of the University College, Thiruvananthapuram, a leading exponent of TeX and one of the auA thors of the very popular LaTeX primer2 published as an electronic book by the Indian TeX User Group. Dr. Krishnan also played an important role in establishing the Free Software Foundation of India. Another person inspired by Prof. Namburipad was one C.V. Radhakrishnan who used to run a small centre that prepared theses for the research students of the Kariavattom campus of the University of Kerala.

C.V. Radhakrishnan took serious interest in TeX. He found that there was business opportunity here and with virtually no competition. Eventually, he established a company in 1995, called River Valley Technologies, for doing typesetting of scientific papers and theses. He had his two brothers with him when he started the company. They used the DOS operating system running on Intel AT machines, along with Novell Netware for networking. Since Unix was rather expensive those days, they did not attempt to use it, though they were familiar with it. Around 1996, a computer vendor who supplied part of their systems suggested that they use Linux, which was very similar to Unix and was free. He also gave them a CD containing the Slackware distribution. It was around this period (March 1996) that the magazine PCQuest brought out CDs containing the Slackware distribution of GNU/Linux, the first commercial distribution of the Free operating system. It was probably a copy of this CD that Radhakrishnan got from the vendor. Though the operating system was primitive in some ways, and installing it on a computer was a tough job, it came in handy for the new company. As Radhakrishnan says, “It was very difficult to install Linux those days. It took us about one week to install it on one system. We could link it to Novell Netware since there was a tool for that. Later, we installed it on all machines and discarded Novell Netware.” River Valley Technologies thus took off as possibly the first Free Software based company in the state and almost certainly as the first TeX based company in the country. Since then, the company has been using GNU/Linux almost exclusively, except for one computer that still runs MS Windows mainly for opening MS Word files and for some editing of vector graphics for which Free alternatives are not sufficiently powerful now. Much of their work is automated so that human intervention is required only minimally.

Today, Radhakrishnan is one of the top TeX programmers in the world. His company has seventy employees and their clients include the Institute of Physics, UK, Macmillan (Nature) and Elsevier. The company uses Free Software and also sponsors India’s first portal to host Free Software projects3.

Meanwhile, Satish Babu, CEO of the South Indian Federation of Fishermen’s Societies (SIFFS), was using the new technology of the Internet to enhance the efficiency of his organisation. He learnt about the Internet when he went to the Hull International Fisheries Institute, UK, in 1993 for training in fisheries management, and he became highly interested in the technology. Though basically a management expert trained at the prestigious Institute of Rural Management, Anand, his interest in the technology prompted him to study computers and programming in depth and virtually made him a programmer. Today he is involved in running a software company4 in the Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram and is actively involved with bodies like the Computer Society of India and the Indian chapter of the Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is the Executive Secretary of the Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment (SPACE), an NGO promoting Free Software, and is an active member of FSF India.

After his return from the UK, he started using computers to improve the efficiency of the organisation he was working for. He learnt that email was being implemented through the Ernet network which used VSAT technology at that time. Leo Fernandez of the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, with which Satish already had links, helped him to link to the Ernet node in Bangalore through a telephone dial-up connection. This was in 1994. Satish configured his computer to dial-up in the early morning hours when telephone call rates were lowest, and send and receive mails. Though this was slow by today’s standards, since an exchange of mails would take at least two days, it was enormously faster than using the postal service. Part of the software he used for this was actually Free Software, though he was not aware of it at that time. It was again Leo Fernandez who introduced him to Linux in 1995. Though not very confident about the new system, Satish and his friends soon grew to like it, especially since there were a lot of things one could do at the system level. As Satish says, “Once you learn to tinker around with the system, you really start enjoying it and it becomes a habit that is difficult to get over.” And GNU/Linux offered plenty of opportunities for such people. But Satish and friends were still not very much aware of the ideology of Free Software and its implications.

His first distribution of GNU/Linux, known as Slackware, was given to Satish by Leo Fernandez. Soon, SIFFS organised a training programme in GNU/Linux by Leo. In 1998, Radhakrishnan, Krishnan, Namburipad, Satish and others decided to set up a Linux User Group (LUG) in Thiruvananthapuram. Others associated with this included journalist K.G. Kumar, computer science student M. Arun, and P.M. Sasi, who was with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), Thiruvananthapuram.

M. Arun was a student of Computer Science at the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, when his father bought a computer from Keltron (in fact, the first computer Keltron sold). This had an operating system developed by IBM known as OS2. As Arun says, “This was much better than Windows 95, which was popular at that time.” One of his friends had got a Packard-Bell computer with MS Windows from the US and wanted to install Linux in it. Arun had a copy of the PC Quest Slackware CD and undertook the job of installing it in the machine. It installed neatly without any problem. So he decided to try it on his computer. But the result was disappointing. He could not get the graphical interface running. One of his friends suggested that he try the Red Hat distribution, and Arun wrote to a company, GTL Enterprises in Bangalore, for a copy of the Red Hat CD. They replied asking him to contact the local Linux User Group, which C.V. Radhakrishnan and others had just started. Arun went to Radhakrishnan’s office with his friend Amit and not only obtained the CD but also joined the LUG. They started having weekly meetings.

Arun found that a few teachers in their college were interested in GNU/Linux. They got the college to purchase some manuals from FSF, Boston. Arun and a few of his friends had read about the ideology of Free Software and were attracted by it. In 1999, Wros Publishers organised a conference called Bang! Linux in Bangalore. Arun and a few other students went for the conference. Richard M. Stallman (known by his initials RMS), the founder of the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation, was there. This was his first meeting in India and his lecture impressed the students from Kerala. They came back thoroughly convinced about the ideology of Free Software. Today, Arun is the secretary of the Free Software Foundation of India and is also the co-ordinator of SPACE.

With the new millennium came the group known as Free Developers. This was started by one Tony Stanco, an advocate from the US, who proposed that they start a company that would do business using Free Software and eventually make it the leading software globally. He had corresponded with RMS about his ideas. Though RMS was sceptical about the feasibility of the project, Tony went ahead with it and managed to obtain support from a number of people, including C.V. Radhakrishnan, Arun and others in Kerala. This initiative helped in developing the dotGNU project, which was a free substitute for Microsoft’s .NET, since several people from India joined the project.

The discussions in the Thiruvananthapuram LUG soon led to the ideology of Free Software, which the members found attractive. They discussed the idea of establishing a Free Software Foundation of India, and a unit of Free Developers. FSF India, they hoped, would act to supervise the ethical aspects of Free Developers. Radhakrishnan got in touch with Richard Stallman and got his approval for starting FSF India, and got him to agree to inaugurate FSF India. Satish Babu, who was then the Regional Vice-President of the Computer Society of India, took the initiative to organise the inaugural function. It was decided to inaugurate the Indian branch of Free Developers also at the same function.

Freedom First

The conference organised at Thiruvananthapuram in connection with the inauguration of Free Software Foundation of India was aptly called Freedom First. The name was suggested by the journalist K.G. Kumar and it must have immediately struck a chord with the others. Richard Stallman was the chief guest for the conference, and he was received as an honoured state guest by government officials to discuss the philosophy behind the movement.

The Organising Committee formed to conduct the conference included Radhakrishnan, Satish Babu, Arun, Krishnan, Rajkumar (who runs a Free Software business), P.M. Sasi, K.G. Kumar, Dr. K.R. Srivathsan (Director, IIITMK5), and others. The function in the morning, in which FSF India was inaugurated by Stallman, was chaired by the Secretary to the Government, Information Technology Department. About 300 people from all over the state and even outside were present, filling the auditorium beyond its capacity. “Computer users in India, as elsewhere, deserve the freedom to share and change software, the way cooks share and change recipes. So I am pleased to inaugurate the Free Software Foundation of India, which will promote the use and the development of free software in this country”, Stallman told the gathering. Later, he met the Minister for Information Technology and held discussions on promoting Free Software in the state. The afternoon session was devoted to the inauguration of Free Developers India and some technical presentations.

There were a couple of interesting moments during Stallman’s visit. At the airport, a number of people were curious to see a figure with long hair and long beard and wanted to know who he was. When he understood what they were asking, he introduced himself, “I am Saint IGNUcious of the church of Emacs.”6 Possibly, some people took that seriously! There was a poignant moment when Stallman was going to a hotel for lunch along with a few other people. One of them told Stallman that Nelson Mandela had signed a Freedom Declaration that had been put up at the Free Developers website. “RMS just couldn’t believe that and he almost cried. He said Mandela had always been his hero.” wrote Ramakrishnan (one of the others in the vehicle) later. When someone tried to compare Stallman with Mandela, RMS retorted that whatever he has done could never be compared with the 25 years in prison that Mandela had suffered.

It was an achievement of FS enthusiasts in the state that the government agreed to support the event and treat RMS as a state guest. As a report in Linux Today7 said:

Government officials and other Free Software supporters in the state of Kerala believe that Free Software meshes particularly well with Kerala’s long tradition of democracy, equity and public action. Just as Kerala is often held up as a model of equitable social and human development in the region, Free Software supporters there believe they can leverage the inherent freedoms of Free Software to evolve an equitable Knowledge Society based on software independence and self- reliance.

The conference was a great success in many ways. It attracted a lot of media attention and made ‘Free Software’ and Richard Stallman’ popular among the public.


There have been a few instances where the Free Software community was able to influence decision makers to choose Free Software over proprietary. In some cases, the decisive breakthrough was achieved by individual effort, while in some cases, it was a community effort. We shall look into two cases here, that of the implementation of a network by the Public Works Department and that of the introduction of IT education in schools.

PWD Network

One of the first successful campaigns for Free Software was in the Public Works Department of the state. InApp Technologies, the company started by Satish Babu, Amarnath Raja and others, was asked to make a proposal for a PWD project by one of the Secretaries of the PWD. InApp made it clear that while they do work with all technologies, they would quote only for a Free platform, as they considered it as most appropriate for any e-governance project.

The consultant to the Kerala Transportation Project, under which the application was being planned, felt that he did not know sufficiently about Free Software, and obtained quotes from Microsoft and Oracle. However, the Secretary concerned knew about InApp and suggested to the Principal Secretary that InApp’s proposal should be considered seriously. A debate was therefore organised to (a) explain what Free Software was, and (b) what its advantages were over proprietary platforms. This debate was conducted by the then PWD Principal Secretary and was attended by two other Secretaries, the consultant to the Transportation Project, some Chief Engineers and senior people from the PWD.

Two people from Microsoft, one from Oracle, Amarnath Raja and Satish formed the participants. Satish was armed with a survey conducted among Technopark companies about their perceptions on Free Software in December 2002 (http://gtechindia. org/jsp/survey. pdf), which was conducted by Satish who was the GTech Treasurer. The study had clearly shown the features of Free Software that made it attractive especially for e-governance projects. Microsoft came prepared with their “sponsored research” findings. Since Satish and Amarnath were prepared for it, they were easily able to refute their findings. Microsoft possibly did not expect this, and perhaps had thought that this would be a walkover. The person from Oracle was unaware of the local politics and looked surprised by the ferocity of the debate. He started off pro-Microsoft, but shifted to the Free Software camp half-way through. The Secretaries were convinced about the need to go Free, and InApp got the order. The application was delivered and is running well.

IT@School Project

Another successful campaign, which was driven by a large number of FS enthusiasts and received much more publicity, was that for the inclusion of Free Software in IT education in schools. The Department of Education, Government of Kerala, started a project called IT@School for bringing IT enabled education to the high schools in the state. The project constituted a committee headed by Prof. U.R. Rao, former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, to make recommendations on the direction the project should take. After studying the status of education in the state and elaborate discussions, the Committee recommended that the project should aim to bring IT to high schools in the state to empower teachers and to use the technology for improving curriculum transaction in the classes. However, the project found that most of the teachers and the students possessed little IT skills. They, therefore, decided to start IT education at the high school level initially. IT was thus introduced in the eighth standard in the year 2002 after conducting training in IT for a large number of teachers. The teacher training was organised using help from the Intel Teach to the Future programme, and their course material, which was wholly based on Microsoft software, was used for the training.

Struggle for Free Software

The textbook for IT prepared by the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) was based purely on Microsoft Windows and other Microsoft applications like MS Office. The Free Software community in the state found this very offensive, since it ignored the existence of Free Software and promoted the products of one company ignoring even other proprietary software. The community responded by talking to people, sending letters, writing in the media and so on. The Free Software User Group in Kochi prepared a memorandum and sent it to several people involved in the matter, including the Directors of the IT@School project and SCERT, the Director of Public Instruction, the Principal Secretary, Education Department, and the Secretary, IT Department. They pointed out that:

• IT@School was promoting the software of one company at the cost of software produced by everyone else;

• the government would have to pay an enormous amount for licencing the software for the schools;

• even if the company gives the software for the schools free of cost, it is only a marketing ploy in order to reap benefits of having a pool of people who are familiar with their software packages and thus form an assured customer base, either as users themselves or as potential skilled employees;

• the Government’s approach would result in compelling not only schools, but also the general public to purchase software from this particular vendor in the future. This would create a monopoly in favour of that corporation and expose the public, the State and the nation to the mercy of a single company;

• the corporation, whose brands and products are prescribed in the syllabus, does not publish the standards used in their software. This practice compels other people who have to interact with users of the products of this corporation (like the government and schools, in this case) to purchase software from this particular vendor only-a situation known as ‘vendor lock-in’;

• the government is promoting illegal copying and installation of software in the computers in the schools by not providing for software costs;

• handling licencing issues is not simple and there has been at least one instance in which a school in the US had to pay $ 300,000 as fine-even screenshots used in textbooks may have to be licenced;

• several software packages, both applications as well as operating systems, which conform to industry-wide standards, adopted and maintained by independent vendors, and with less restrictive licences, are available.

The Kerala School Teachers Association decided to throw its weight behind the demand from Free Software enthusiasts. The government and the IT@School project were still not willing to change. However, due to pressure from several directions, SCERT decided to incorporate Free Software also in the textbook and rewrote the textbook for the eighth standard for the academic year 2003-04. Sri N.K. Satyapalan, who was the person in charge of IT education at the State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) played an important role in pushing Free Software into the textbook. Some schools, especially in northern Kerala, where there were teachers who knew how to install and use GNU/Linux, installed it and started IT classes using it. In order to ensure that all schools did buy sufficient computers and taught IT, it was also decided to include IT as an additional subject and conduct examinations, though with less marks than other subjects.

Computerised Examination

An important phase started when the IT@School project decided to conduct part of the IT examination using a software. They developed a software called Softexam for conducting the examination. This was designed primarily for the MS Windows platform and some of the schools using GNU/Linux had to install MS Windows to enable the software. There was immediate protest from the Teachers Association and the Project was forced to develop Softexam for GNU/Linux also. However, this is now being virtually discontinued, with the software being confined to presenting previously prepared questions randomly and saving the responses for later evaluation by teachers.

One problem with using GNU/Linux was that there were several distributions of the OS, each slightly different from the others, and schools had installed different distributions. Even preparing the textbook became difficult, since the screenshots, and sometimes even the procedures for using the software, could be different for different distributions. To solve this problem, the Free Software Foundation of India suggested developing a custom distribution for IT@School, and eventually created the distribution with funding from the Kerala State IT Mission.

Another problem that the IT@School project faced was that of providing support to the schools where GNU/Linux was being used. They called for private agencies who were willing to provide support to register with them. A number of agencies, including Free Software User Groups, responded and about twenty of them were short listed. A final solution to the problem came when SPACE (mentioned earlier) decided to offer support to IT@School, both in terms of updating the distribution used in schools and in providing support to the teacher community. The website of SPACE now has provided for teachers to post questions there, to which experts will respond, and also a page listing the Frequently Asked Questions and the answers to them. The IT@School project arranged for teachers to be trained in GNU/Linux and a majority of teachers have already been trained. A Resource Centre has been established in Kochi for conducting teacher training with technical assistance from SPACE.

In 2005, the government announced that the schools in Kerala will completely switch to Free Software in stages. Supplements to the textbooks were created to enable students to study using GNU/Linux, which also introduced some software that a child new to computers could use to learn the skills needed to use a mouse and a keyboard. Tuxpaint, a simple painting software, which a child could use even if (s)he was unfamiliar with the intricacies of saving or retrieving a file, and Gcompris, a set of games that helped the child to learn how to use the mouse and keyboard, became very popular with children. The textbooks for all the three classes in high school are now being revised to contain Free Software exclusively. Kerala is poised to become the first state in the country to use exclusively Free Software in its schools. It is also poised to become possible the first state to introduce IT enabled education in high schools in a big way.

Visits by Stallman

Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project and FSF, has visited India several times and given lectures in several states. But the state he has visited most often is Kerala, probably because of the large support in this state for his ideology.

The first time Stallman visited Kerala was for the Freedom First conference in 2001. His next visit was in connection with the EMS Memorial Lecture constituted by Kerala University. Stallman spoke about the danger of software patents at the University Senate Hall on January 24, 2004. The same day he spoke about copyright law and freedom in science at Centre for Earth Science Studies. Both lectures were well attended and there were a number of questions from the audience at both venues. On Independence Day, he interacted with the students of the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management Kerala (IIITMK). During this visit, Stallman also met the then leader of the Opposition (present Chief Minister) V.S. Achuthanandan, who has been a strong supporter of the Free Software movement, and held discussions on how the government can support and benefit from Free Software.

Richard Stallman’s latest visit to Kerala has been in August this year (2006). SPACE in association with Kerala State IT Mission conducted a seminar on Free Software for Kerala Development on the 23rd of August. Stallman gave the keynote address in this seminar. The seminar was inaugurated by the Chief Minister, who had a long discussion with Stallman. A report on Free Software Projects in Public Enterprises in Kerala, prepared by SPACE, was released at the function. Stallman was in India to participate in the GPL v3 conference at Bangalore on August 25 and 26.


A certain amount of Free Software development was done in the state even in the initial days. This includes localisation of the GNOME8 Desktop (that is, making the desktop available in the local language, Malayalam), a project monitoring application for the government and a portal for enhancing transparency in everyday activities of the government.

The localisation work was started by Arun and his friends Gopal, Sreekrishna and others soon after the establishment of FSF India. The Managing Director of Keltron, an undertaking of the Government of Kerala, offered to help them in their effort. The idea was that the government and other users could be provided a platform in Malayalam for their uses. They managed to get support from Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP), an initiative developed and funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for the work. “Specifically, the project aims to create Free Font for Malayalam, create toolkit (toolkits are basic building blocks in creating Graphical User Interface based applications) with Malayalam support, and create a localised desktop and office productivity applications and documentation in Malayalam.”, says the project abstract9 . The work was undertaken by the Kerala Bureau for Industrial Promotion (KBIP) in association with FSF India. All menu and other text, like messages, were translated into Malayalam so that a person who knows only Malayalam could comfortably use a computer with the customised GNOME desktop. Unfortunately, the work was never released to the public because of official apathy.

Another Free Software based development was in connection with the Modernising Government Programme (MGP). MGP was drawn up as part of the strategy of the Government to overhaul and improve its services to the people of the State. One of the components of MGP was monitoring projects funded by the government. The Program Performance monitoring system (PPMS) was developed by Keltron (Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation) for tracking the performance of various departments as part of MGP. PPMS contain 4 major projects. The first project, PPMS1, is a performance monitoring system for 17 government departments. It covers a total of 93 initiatives of these departments, 50 of them in the first phase. The system uses result base management methods to measure performance based on impacts, outputs, outcomes & activities. PPMS2 is a set of service delivery projects. It addresses performance monitoring of 2584 institutions statewide like schools and community health centres and mainly deals with fund flow management, administrative payment orders etc. The Third project is a human resource module named e-bandham. It monitors attendance, leave, travel allowances etc of the program support executives. The fourth project is Sevanamudra, Quality Improvement Program & Performance Certification Mechanism for government institutions.

Another project done using Free Software is Sutharya Keralam, or Transparent Kerala. This is a Right to Information initiative of the Government of Kerala to ensure transparency and efficiency in everyday functions of the government. “The major objectives of the project are the automation of Chief Minister’s Grievance Redressal Cell and convergence of all the available forms of Communication so as to guarantee People’s Right to Information. “, says its website10. The project was developed completely on Free Software technologies by the Centre for Development of Imaging Technologies (CDIT), an institute under the Government of Kerala.

Other Free Software projects in the state include computerisation of the offices of milk producers unions in the state that come under the Kerala State Milk Marketing Federation (Milma), a Management Information System for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) developed by CDAC, a District Collectorate Suite developed by the National Informatics Centre and a computerisation project of Calicut University done inhouse. A study on Free Software projects in public enterprises in Kerala has been done by SPACE and is available online11.


The Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment, or SPACE, is a society promoted by Kerala State IT Mission with the objective of promoting alternative computing, that is, Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). It has a government nominee in its Board of Directors and has support from professional societies (such as IEEE and the Computer Society of India) and the academia. It had as its first Chairman the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala, Dr. B. Ekbal, and members included Satish Babu, Amarnath Raja, P.M. Sasi and C.V. Radhakrishnan. Though it came into existence in 2003, it could not undertake much activity due to lack of funds. This problem was solved when SPACE entered into a tie-up with SOMA for working on joint projects. SPACE became active with the setting up of an office and recruiting a few people. Activities started in areas like promoting Virtual Micro Enterprises (VMEs) based on Free Software, advocating FS in colleges and setting up Free Software Cells where feasible, helping in training school teachers in FS, and so on.

Some of the achievements of SPACE did attract considerable media attention. One example is the development of a distribution of GNU/Linux specifically for electronics laboratories in engineering colleges. This was made available on one CD, and was named Free Electron. The distribution was created by the FS Cell in an engineering college in Thiruvananthapuram with help from SPACE. There were a number of requests from colleges inside and outside the state, and even one from abroad. Another distribution that SPACE created for system recovery purposes was distributed by a local IT magazine. A workshop SPACE conducted, in collaboration with another NGO (Mediact) involved in media education, at a village library for creating and publishing a village newsletter in Malayalam also attracted much interest. Another programme that became popularly known was the initiative for setting up a radio station for fisherfolk. Started on the initiative of a few young people from the fishing community in Thiruvananthapuram, Radio Alakal, as it was called, could not start regular broadcast due to some licencing issues, but started narrowcasting (using loud speakers at specific locations). All the work for Radio Alakal was done using Free Software. SPACE also helped the IT@School project to set up a teacher training centre in Kochi.Free SoFree Software in Businessftware in Business

Free Software in Business

There are several companies in the state doing business using Free Software. We mentioned River Valley Technologies of Radhakrishnan. Another enterprise in Kochi, Beta Computers, also does business using TeX.

An organisation worth mentioning is the Open Source Solutions in Kochi. It is a cooperative effort which consists of some young programmers who were involved with the Ernakulam Industrial Infrastructure Development Project. The project started work for computerising the Panchayats (local self-government institution) in the district. They used only Free Software and computerised a few Panchayats. However, the state-wide programme called Information Kerala Mission for the same purpose, which used only proprietary software, superseded their efforts. The youth involved in the project started a co-operative society and started doing business with Free Software. They developed a software for co-operative banks, called Sanghamitra, which has been installed in a number of branches. This is also licenced under the GNU General Public Licence. They have been developing software for other purposes also, and are doing reasonably well.

Rajkumar (whose name has been mentioned earlier) runs a business called Linuxense at Thiruvananthapuram. “We are a GNU/Linux-based Enterprise providing software solutions of exceptional quality using cutting-edge technologies; creating a GNU/Linux ambiance for our distinguished clients in their demanding work environments. ” says their website12 . They provide support for Asianet, a major ISP in the state, and their website proudly exhibits an appreciation by an Asianet official on the effectiveness of the antivirus support they have given. Linuxense ran a server break-in challenge during March 9-13, and won. No one was able to break into the server they had set up for the purpose.

Swatantra Software Solutions and Services (abbreviated to S2S2) is a small business in Kannur that has been involved in selling Free Software CDs and systems with GNU/Linux, and providing assistance to schools for installing computers and networks using GNU/Linux. Sujeevan, who runs the company, actively promotes Free Software and has participated in training sessions for teachers organised by the Teachers’ Association and by FSFI. He has also helped in installing the customised GNU/Linux distribution for schools in existing networked computer labs in some schools. There are several companies that do business using Free Software along with other platforms -InApp Technologies, for instance. But I have not been able to identify one that does software development/ support exclusively using Free Software.

Free Software Free Society

Free Software Free Society is the name of a collection of articles written by Richard Stallman. It was very appropriate that this name was chosen for a conference organised in Thiruvananthapuram by SPACE, FSF India, and others, because this conference, as the press release by the organisers stated, “explores the possibilities of applying the Free Software model in addressing broader questions such as Governance, Digital Inclusion, Development and Culture.” The conference was supported by Hipatia(a European NGO), Kerala State IT Mission, Free Software Foundation of India, and the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala (IIITM-K), Thiruvananthapuram.

The conference had its origins at the World Social Forum held in Mumbai during Jan 16-21, 2004. Arun met some people from Hipatia, which also worked for promoting Free Software and its philosophy, at the venue. They agreed that there was a need for people from countries that are geographically far apart, such as India and Latin America, to come together and share their ideas about Free Software so that something fruitful could evolve. This idea evoked a lot of interest in countries as varied as Brazil, Venezuela, Italy and India, and the Government of Kerala agreed to extend support for such a conference.

The website of the conference explained the vision of the conference:

Located at the intersection of Free Software, Development and Society, the FSFS Conference will examine the application of the Free Software model for equitable sharing models for intellectual artifacts, and ultimately for human development. The conference will also address, inter alia, issues such as technology access and the digital divide; legal issues; and experiences of using the Free Software model in fields such as music and literature.

The conference was held in the beautiful campus of the Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram during May 28-31, 2004. Felipe Perez-Marti, eminent economist and ex-Minister of Venezuela delivered the keynote address. Another important participant was Senator Fiorello Cortiana from Italy. At the end of the conference, it adopted a declaration, now known as the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration. It called upon the “social and political institutions to eliminate systems that hinder the development of the gnowledge society (see www.gnowledge. org).”13


We saw how Free Software has come to stay in Kerala. The natural question this raises is, “Why Kerala?” There is no other state in the country where Free Software has made an impact that is anywhere near that in Kerala. This itself could be the subject for an entire thesis, and this is certainly not the place to enter into a serious analysis of the question. However, an article like this cannot totally ignore the question either. Therefore, an attempt, however feeble, is made here to answer that question.

When one talks of the state of Kerala, what comes to one’s mind is the special place that it occupies in the country and the very different development path that the state has followed. Kerala is different from India as a whole in many ways: literacy rate in Kerala is about 90%, while the average for India is about 52%; life expectancy at birth in Kerala is 73 years compare to 61 years in India; Kerala’s birth rate is 14 per 1000 females, while India’s rate is 25. Kerala has one of the lowest ratios of disabled persons to service units-5,000, compared to the highest values of 17,000 in some states. Women outnumber men, live longer, are as educated as men and they dominate some occupations like school teachers. In spite of the small population of the state, it has produced some of the outstanding writers, cinematographers, cartoonists and journalists in the country. The Physical Quality of Life Index for the state is comparable to that in developed countries. At the same time, alcoholism, suicide rate, and drug abuse are close to the highest in the country. Wages are much higher than in the neighbouring states. Almost every other family has someone working abroad or in the IT industry in one of the major metropolises. “It is, in other words, weird-like one of those places where the starship Enterprise might land that superficially resembles Earth but is slightly off.” wrote Bill McKibben14.

Kerala has a history of several social reform movements. One of the most prominent is that led by Sri Narayana Guru for the upliftment of the Ezhava community. Members of the community were barred from entering Hindu temples and even studying Sanskrit and the scriptures. He led a successful struggle against these and even established a temple himself. Ayyan Kali led a struggle against oppression of lower castes by upper caste people and the State. Mannath Padmanabhan led a movement by the middle level Nair community and established the Nair Service Society. The Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad promoted scientific thinking among children and adults and also spearheaded the total literacy movement. The Communist Party helped to liberate workers from virtual slavery and to bring about universal education. The Christian missionaries that have been active in the state for several decades also helped to take basic education to even the most down-trodden. While this is the background, it is difficult to understand why such things happened in Kerala but not in other states.

The unique history of this land has helped create a unique sense of democracy, equity and social justice among the people in the state. This is evidenced by the sometimes violent reactions to events that are perceived as violation of basic rights. Police action against tribals who had occupied government land in protest against the government’s inaction in providing them land as promised, and suicide of a student who could not continue her education due to inability to pay the fees, are two examples of events that led to major protests. Freedom is a concept close to their hearts and the sense of personal dignity is high. People thus find it easy to perceive Free Software as a fight against exploitation by large software companies. Moreover, the penetration of communication networks (telephone, mobile, Internet) is one of the highest in the country, and two of the highest circulated newspapers in the country are in the local language. Thus people are aware of happenings in other parts of the world.

It is interesting that, in the 1970s, an eccentric film maker, John Abraham, considered by many as possibly the only genius in Malayalam cinema, produced a film Amma Ariyaan (which can be literally translated as For the knowledge of the mother), by collecting small donations and exhibited it everywhere free of charge. Like Knuth’s TEX, this could be considered as a forerunner of Free Software, considering that the ideology of Free Software is being extended to creativity in other areas through movements like Creative Commons. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that the Free Software movement flourished in Kerala.

———— ——

1 Those who would like to know more about Free Software can find plenty of material at the FSF website.

2 A LaTeX is a set of macros for TeX that is now commonly used for typesetting, instead of plain TeX.

3 (http://sarovar. org)

4 InApp Technologies ( http://www.inapp. com)

5 Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala

6 Emacs is the editor developed by Stallman that is very popular among users of Unix-like systems including GNU/Linux.

7 (http://www.linuxtod story.php3?ltsn= 2001-07-19- 010-20-PR- CY)

8 GNOME is one of the various desktops available in GNU/Linux.

9 http://www.apdip. net/projects/ malayalam/

10 http://www.sutharya in/

11 downloads/ foss.pdf

12 www.linuxense. com

13 The full text of the declaration is available at fsfs.hipatia. net/wiki/ index.php/ Main Page.

14 http://www.ashanet. org/library/ articles/ kerala.199803. html

____________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ ________

This document may be copied, distributed or republished in any media subject to the condition that this note is also included. The document may be modified and republished under the same conditions provided a reference is given to the original source.


productman said…
I really enjoyed your post on free software in India..Keep us Updated.
John McCall
http://www.ebooks- downloads. com

3:40 PM  
आशीष शुक्ल “Wah Java !!” said…
Thanks for the history of Free Software in Kerala 🙂 .

11:50 PM  
beta3 said…
Linux and other GNU programs are gaining momentum with the general users in Kerala now. But look at the government. Of all the parties, the Left guys are refusing to use GNU products. All govt establishment PCs are running on Windows XP (most of them are pirated ones too!). However its heartening to see Central govts response. They seems to be supporting the FSF by providing Linux in new PCs/ Laptops provided to the police judges etc…

6:42 PM  
Anonymous said…
A very nice read indeed!

6:15 PM  
Anonymous said…
Great write-up! Thanks a lot for taking the effort to chronicle the history of Free Software in Kerala.

10:09 AM  
fredericknoronha said…
Very nice read. It helped me to understand the wider picture, and the various links. It would have been nice if there were more clickable links on your page. I’ll forward your post to BytesForAll.

10:20 AM  

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V. Sasi Kumar
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Working at the Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala State. My research field is the physics of clouds and rainfall. My interests include Free Software and music.

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What is FOSS, and why FOSS?

Posted by egovindia on June 1, 2006

What is FOSS, and why FOSS?


Free and open-source software (FOSS) has gradually evolved from the disjointed efforts of a few early pioneers to a global movement with a substantial technical and commercial base with political overtones, especially to developing countries. The success of the FOSS program has arisen primarily from the fact that it has been able to successfully cater to both developers and users of software, as summarized below:

(1) Generators of FOSS, namely developers. Part of the motivation that FOSS provides to programmers is the capability to initiate and manage small as well as large projects outside the corporate environment, some involving hundred or more people world-wide. The projects range from the OS kernel itself to cutting-edge applications. Another motivating consideration is the wide exposure that FOSS projects give to designers. Some exponents such as Torvalds and d'Icaza are even known to the general public, but it is the respect of their peers for their technical and project skills that empowers the majority of FOSS contributors.

(2) Consumers of FOSS, which includes developers, commercial users as well as the general public. Early successes of FOSS, namely editors and the gcc compiler and library suite, were leveraged by programmers to generate window managers, stacks, system and network applications, productivity suites, as well as graphical and other user applications. Such a broad variety of software is needed for a complete OS distribution that can compete with those from commercial vendors. The success and technical viability of the FOSS program can be gauged from the fact that Linux, a FOSS kernel, is rapidly becoming the preferred choice for critical back-end and network servers in commercial organizations.

In developing countries, in particular, the stability of FOSS distributions has enabled low-cost deployment of sophisticated IT infrastructure. FOSS clearly provides access to excellent primary sources for learning material for students, while the transparency of the technology has re-invigorated the technological and philosophical debate on private vs. public right of access to information. Throughout, the FOSS movement has been both the technical backbone as well as the main beneficiary of the exponential growth of the Internet, especially in developing countries.

Portions of this document are derived from the UNCTAD E-commerce and Development Report 2003, a comprehensive overview of FOSS.

I. Introduction

Free and open-source software (FOSS) challenges our preconceptions about how software is used, produced and distributed. The software industry today generates yearly revenues in excess of $300 billion. FOSS is software that has made its source code free and public and allows – perhaps even motivates – users to change the source code and redistribute the derivative software. While liberating the source code is a goal in itself, FOSS encourages, or even obliges, programmers to give other programmers and users those same freedoms and opportunities

Free code supports broad collaborative development in software production, better porting with other programs produced by independent programmers, and the customization of software to meet different commercial, regulatory and cultural requirements. Most importantly, in particular for developing countries, FOSS allows tomorrow’s experts and information technology leaders to acquire skills and advance their knowledge rapidly.

The UNCTAD E-commerce and Development Report 2003 presents a comprehensive overview of the FOSS phenomenon and explains why it is important for governments, business and civil society to seriously and openly debate and consider the benefits of a positive and pro-active approach to FOSS. Parts of the material below have been taken from this document.

FOSS is a type of software as well as a methodology, a philosophy and a movement. The defining institutions are the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Open Source Initiative (OSI). The FSF uses the term "free software", while the OSI coined the term "open source software". They approach FOSS issues differently and plentiful information and exact definitions can be found on their websites:

Free Software Foundation

Open Source Initiative 

II. Some FOSS Systems and tools


            Operating systems written in FOSS have mushroomed in the last decade. Apart from commercially important ones such as Linux and BSD, there are a large number of open implementations of OS variants (Be, Nextstep). The X Windows system itself is open, a FOSS Motif clone is available, and open window managers have progressed from twm to full environments such as KDE and Gnome. An interesting cross-OS example is the Wine project.

            Networks are currently synonymous with systems, and the core BSD stack for TCP/IP has been highly optimized for performance. A large number of stacks for other network protocols, including 802.xx, are available in FOSS. The backbone of net mail, namely sendmail, has always been open.

            Device driver development has sustained the growth of FOSS. Although there still remain holdouts in specialized hardware, all major PC-based devices have FOSS drivers.

            Many embedded systems now incorporate FOSS based OS's. Tiny OS is a good example of an open micro-OS for sensor networks.

Programming Tools:

            There are a large number of tools available in open source. Compilers exist for almost every programming language, including procedural languages such as C and Java; extended scripting languages such as Perl and Python; inferential languages such as Prolog and functional languages such as LISP. Compilers for languages such as Lex and Yacc are also available.

            Beginning with Emacs, there are now a large number of text editors, many extensible. From 2000, there have a number of IDE's also available in FOSS, with Eclipse being a good example.


            Gimp is a good stand-in for Photoshop-like capabilities. Vector graphing tools such as Sodipodi are also available.

            Pine is an established open client, and Evolution and Thunderbird are modern-day UI-based clients. Open IM clients are freely available. The Mozilla effort has culminated today in Firefox.

Parallel computing:

            PVM and MPI implementations have been available from the outset as FOSS. The advent of Linux-based Beowulf clusters marked the onset of cheap parallelism, and MOSIX is a good example of distributed computing. FOSS today has seized a good part of this aspect of high-end computing.

Scientific applications:

            Scilab, xmgrace and xfig are standard FOSS tools for scientists and engineers. LINPACK has always been open, and FOSS symbolic manipulation packages are available. Many key biological applications are open, from BLAST in bioinformatics to NIH ImageJ for manipulation of biological images. As another example, GRASS is an open tool for GIS data.

Other examples:

            Vorbis pioneered efforts for open codecs for streaming audio and video beginning with Ogg.


Office tools:

            A suite of office tools that includes applications such as, word processor, presentation, spread sheet, database etc. is a basic requirement. The open source community has developed several tools including Open Office, Abi Word, KOffice and so on. Some of these tools, Open Office for example provides compatibility with proprietary software that helps the users to continue to use the older documents created.

            The open source community is also active in localizing these office tools and bringing their local language versions, where by the users have the complete interface in local language. BharateeyaOO is a noteworthy initiative in localising the Open Office in Indian languages. Currently Hindi and Tamil versions of the Open Office have been completed and made available for the users.

e-Commerce tools:

            The e-Commerce is one of the most important developments after the proliferation of the web. Several tools are required to setup an e-Commerce portal and not all companies that want to sell their products through the web can afford to either develop their own tools or spend huge money on proprietary software.

The FOSS community again gives the helping hand. Zen cart, OSCommerce and XT-Commerce are few of the e-Commerce software used widely. These tools include cart management and content management modules including the database and query functionalities for managing the content. All these tools also provide options for integration with 3rd party payment gateways.


            Electronic governance is becoming the mantra of the government bodies worldwide. E-Governance makes the task of G2C (Government to Citizen) interactions fast, easy and hassle free apart from avoiding the red-tape and corruption. Several e-Governance projects have been initiated in the recent past both in India and abroad and have resulted in significant benefits. Open-source based e-Governance initiatives offer cheap solution, as compared to proprietary solutions, to the governments with substantially reduced cost, thus saving the tax payer’s money.

            Open source has again proved its worth by making available several applications including Document Management Systems (DMS) – KnowledgeTree, DocMgr etc., database – Postgresql, MySQL, Knowledge Management systems – Owl etc.

Library Management & Electronic Library:

            Several OS applications have been developed that provide an integrated platform for digital libraries. Greenstone Digital Library Software (GDLS), Koha, Emilda, Obiblio are few of the popular library management systems. All these library management applications provide functionalities such as OPAC, catalouging, circulation, Acquisition etc.

Internationalisation and Localisation:

            Internationalisation is an activity to ensure that different formats and protocols do not create barriers for languages, writing systems, character codes and other local conventions. Babel, Mozilla internationalisation etc. are few of the popular efforts in internationalisation. Localisation refers to the process of adapting a product or service to a particular language, culture, and desired local. Several projects worldwide are being localized to suit the local language and culture. The important aspect about the open source movement is that both internationalization and localization are made easy.

The attached Table gives a summary of  relevant information


Some common Commercial software and their equivalent FOSS option


Commercial software

FOSS option


Business use of GNU/Linux

            Over half of the large enterprises expected increases of up to 25% in the number of GNU/Linux users, while nearly 20% expected increases of over 50%. In small companies, over one third felt that GNU/Linux usage would expand by 50%. The most important factors identified that drove these decisions were reliability, lower price, speed of applications, and scalability (Zona Research study).

            The global top 1000 Internet Service Providers expect GNU/Linux use to increase by 154%, according to Idaya’s survey conducted January through March 2001. A survey conducted by Idaya of the global top 1000 ISPs found that they expected GNU/Linux to grow a further 154% in 2001. Also, almost two thirds (64%) of ISPs consider the leading open source software meets the standard required for enterprise level applications, comparable with proprietary software.

            A 2002 European survey found that 49% of CIOs in financial services, retail, and the public sector expect to be using OSS/FS. OpenForum Europe published in February 2002 a survey titled Market Opportunity Analysis For Open Source Software. Over three months CIOs and financial directors in financial services, retail and public sector were interviewed for this survey. In this survey, 37% of the CIOs stated that they were already using OSS/FS, and 49% expected to be using OSS/FS in the future. It is quite likely that even more companies are using OSS/FS but their CIOs are not aware of it. Perceived benefits cited included decreased costs in general (54%), lower software license cost (24%), better control over development (22%), and improved security (22%).

            An Evans Data survey in 2004 found that 1.1 million developers in North America were working on OSS/FS projects. Evans Data’s North American Developer Population Study examined the number of software developers using various approaches. It found that more than 1.1 million developers in North America were spending at least some of their time working on Open Source development projects.

            A 2004 InformationWeek survey found that 67% of companies use OSS/FS products, with another 16% expecting to use it in 2005; only 17% have no near-term plans to support OSS/FS products. Of those companies using OSS/FS, they found that 42% of companies implement production database operations using OSS/FS, with 33% more considering it; only 25% are not using or considering OSS/FS for production database use

            A Japanese survey found widespread use and support for GNU/Linux; overall use of GNU/Linux jumped from 35.5% in 2001 to 64.3% in 2002 of Japanese corporations, and GNU/Linux was the most popular platform for small projects.  The most interesting results are those that discuss the use of Linux servers in user enterprises, the support of Linux servers by vendors, and Linux server adoption in system integration projects. Linux servers are the fastest growing category from last year. The average units of server per enterprise increased by 2.5-fold from 5.3 units to 13.4 units. Linux is already a major OS when compared with its competitors. There is an increasing rate of Linux server adoption in system integration projects. GNU/Linux servers are No.1 (62.5%) in small projects less than $24,000, and GNU/Linux has grown in larger projects more than $400,000 US from 20.0% to 39.0%. In projects over $800,000 US, Linux is adopted by 24.4% of the projects (mainly as a substitute for proprietary Unix systems). 49.3% of IT solution vendors support Linux in Japan.

            The European FLOSS study found significant use of OSS/FS. The large report Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS): Survey and Study, published in June 2002, examined many issues including the use of OSS/FS. This study found significant variance in the use of OSS/FS; 43.7% of German establishments reported using OSS/FS, 31.5% of British establishments reported using OSS/FS, while only 17.7% of Swedish establishments reported using OSS/FS. In addition, they found that OSS usage rates of larger establishments were larger than smaller establishments, and that OSS usage rates in the public sector were above average.

To know more about these–

FOSS is often used in mission-critical environments. Many industry standard applications are in fact open-source programs. Following is a list of selected notable open-source programs. A comprehensive list of FOSS software can be found at the UNESCO and UNDP websites. There are many web sites that host FOSS development or catalogue FOSS programs. and are among the more popular.

Firefox, Camino and Mozilla are FOSS Internet web browsers and are all part of the Mozilla project that was established after Netscape opened the source code for its browser in 1998. Mozilla is a comprehensive suite that includes an email client and a HTML web-page design application. Firefox is the new stripped-down browser that aims to be just a fast and efficient browser. The email and webpage design applications from Mozilla are being carried forward by the Thunderbird and Nvu projects.

The open-source Web server software Apache, which sends Web pages to the computer of someone accessing a web site, has dominated its market segment since 1996 and now holds at least twice the market share of its nearest competitor.

GNU/Linux has long been popular as an operating system running computers that perform as Web servers. Recent surveys show that GNU/Linux runs 29.6 per cent of Web servers. In the last few years GNU/Linux has increasingly penetrated both the high and low ends of the enterprise market for server operating systems. GNU/Linux readily runs on Intel/AMD type PCs, while versions for other hardware have been developed as well. To install GNU/Linux, one must have a "distribution". You can buy a CD, download or make a distribution. Linux Online is just one website with comprehensive information, FAQs and links. However, there are many professional and amateur online resources for GNU/Linux that may be explored and used.

The BSD/OS/FreeBSD/NetBSD/OpenBSD families of operating systems are UNIX-based, free/open-source operating systems similar to GNU/Linux. Developed at the University of California-Berkeley in the 1970s, BSD is considered one of the most secure and stable operating systems and runs a large percentage of Internet servers. The core of Apple’s Macintosh operating system, Darwin, is based on FreeBSD and has remained in the open-source realm.

GNU was the predecessor of GNU/Linux. It is a free version of UNIX tools created by Richard Stallman in 1984. GNU stands for “GNU is not UNIX”.

Sendmail is a free/open-source programme used for routing approximately 40 per cent of the email that travels over the Internet.

Perl (Practical Extraction and Report Language) is a scripting language freely available for UNIX, MS/DOS, Macintosh, OS/2 and GNU/Linux, among others. Perl has powerful text-manipulation functions and is used extensively for programming Web electronic forms, and generally for generating interfaces between systems, databases and users exchanging data on the Internet. ; ; 

BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain) is a free/open-source programme that allows Internet domain names to be entered as text-based names instead of as IP addresses, or series of numbers, making it easier for users to reach sites on the Internet.

The Beowulf Project is a method of connecting computers to form a high-performance computer (Beowulf cluster) that approaches "super-computer" performance. Since a Beowulf cluster can be developed from common, off-the-shelf computers utilizing FOSS, a Beowulf cluster "super-computer" can be built and implemented at a fraction of the cost of other systems with similar computing capacity. is a software suite that provides basic office and administrative automation. An offshoot of Sun Microsystems’ StarOffice, OpenOffice runs on all major operating systems, including MS Windows, as its cross-platform functionality is based on open XML standard file formats.

GNOME and KDE are desktop graphic user-interfaces that run on top of GNU/Linux and UNIX, providing user-friendly computing to the non-programmer open-source community. ;

MySOL  and Postgres are database servers. ;

The Gimp is a graphics programme widely distributed with GNU/Linux. A version for the Windows operating system also exists. It is sometimes called "free photoshop".

III. Country initiatives


What follows is a selective overview of developments in FOSS policy and practice in developing countries. Developments in developed countries have been left out as these are easier to find and are better known as they typically receive better press coverage.

The bill "Policy for Free Software Use for the Federal State" was presented to Argentina's House of Congress in April 2001 and called for mandatory government use of FOSS. The economic crisis forced the Government out before a vote could be taken. A similar bill was re-submitted in March 2002 and is under review. The current bill proposes FOSS as a component of the national campaign against software piracy.

Rio Grande do Sul was the first administration to pass a law making FOSS use mandatory in both government agencies and non-government-managed utilities. Four cities in Brazil have passed legislation requiring preference for "software libre" where an open-source option is available.  The national health care system plans to release 10 million lines of source code. The first annual Free Software International Forum was held in Brazil in May 2000. In the province of Pernambuco, the world's first law regarding the use of open-source software was passed in March 2000.
See and

In 2003, the Secretariat of the Treasury Board of Canada has recongnized that open source software and methods, like other licensed software, are part of the corporate standards-based, IT infrastructure of the Government of Canada. Their acquisition and use must align with the government's Federated Architecture Program, and serve the following principles: reduction of integration complexity; security, confidentiality, privacy and protection of information; proven standards and technology; and maximizing the value of government IT investments and opportunities. (English version)  (French version)

The Government-supported China Academy of Science together with Government-owned Shanghai New Margin Venture Capital established Red Flag Linux, a Chinese-language Linux distribution. The Beijing Software Industry Productivity Center was established by the Beijing municipal government and has launched a project named "Yangfan" to improve the performance of local distributions of GNU/Linux. The strong presence of international FOSS developers, including Turbo Linux, Red Hat and IBM, is noticeable.
See and

A growing attraction to Linux in India has persuaded Microsoft to share source code with a particular government body. The Simputer was developed by a group of scientists from the Indian Institute of Science and Encore Software. Government agencies promote the use of localized solutions such as Indian-language computing. The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing and the Department of Information Technology are supporting the development of a Hindi GNU/Linux distribution called Indix. The Department of Information Technology has expressed an intention to introduce Linux as the de facto standard in academic institutions; research establishments will develop distributable toolboxes; central and state governments will be asked to use Linux-based offerings. The West Bengal Electronics Industry Development Corp Ltd., the state's nodal IT body, has formed a Linux cell to support various government IT projects inside and outside the state. Talks with major FOSS industry players on joint projects are in progress.
See; ; ; ; ; and .

The Government committed in November 2001 to using FOSS in key agencies, such as the Treasury, and in areas such as e-procurement. The Malaysian National Computer Confederation operates an FOSS special interest group. The Prime Minister launched the Komnas (Komputer Nasional) Twenty20 Personal Computer, built on FOSS by the private sector. The Malaysia Institute of Electronic Systems, the ICT advisor to the Government, is pushing the shift towards FOSS, including an attempt to build a low-cost PC based on GNU/Linux.
See,39001153,39071821,00.htm ; ; ; and .

The Government Technology Resources Mobilization Unit has created a "Linux Force" task force that is expected to help Pakistan move toward FOSS. This would include funding for R&D programmes for client software, training and local-language application development.
See .

Congressman Edgar Villanueva has introduced Bill 1609, "The Use of Free Software in Public Administration", to mandate the use of FOSS in all government systems. Congressman Villanueva's open confrontation with Microsoft Peru has earned him and Peru the reputation of being the developing world's FOSS radical.
See .

The Philippines
Bayanihan Linux, developed under the Open Source Project of the Advanced Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines, has had its second release and is bundled with the latest office suite, image and text editors, Internet and networking tools and multimedia applications. Bayanihan is a single-CD installation tailored to local demand.
See .

Republic of Korea
The local company HancomLinux signed a deal in January 2003 with the country's Central Procurement Office to supply the Government with 120,000 copies of its Linux desktop office productivity software, HancomOffice. The open-source software, which is compatible with Microsoft's Office applications, including Word and Excel, is expected to save the Government money in the long run and stimulate business for local companies competing against Microsoft in the software industry.
See .

South Africa
A Government council convened to consider the use of FOSS published an official recommendation promoting the use of open-source applications when proprietary alternatives do not offer a compelling advantage, and highlighted the necessary strategic steps. In January 2003, the Government declared that it would use FOSS and set up a council for scientific and industrial research to help develop programming skills. South Africa has taken the lead in regional collaboration on OSS, including the Free and Open Source Software Foundation for Africa.
See .

The Government-supported technology development group NECTEC has developed a GNU/Linux distribution for schools and government desktops and servers – the Linux-SIS (School Internet Server) for servers and the Linux TLE (Thai Linux Extension) for government desktops. The project aims to narrow the gap between use of pirated and legal software, and to promote local business development.
See .

Viet Nam
Government delegates to a software seminar in Hanoi concluded that Viet Nam could save hundreds of millions of dollars annually and better guarantee information security by switching to FOSS. Vietnamese IT companies are working on FOSS projects by subcontracting with foreign companies and FOSS was included in the National Program on Information Technology.


IV. Organizations and associations


International and regional



FOSSAP – Free and Open Source Software Asia-Pacific

FOSSFA – Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa

FSFE – Free Software Foundation Europe

AFUL – L'Association Francophone des Utilisateurs de Linux et des logiciels libres

European Working Group on Libre Software

Free Software and the WSIS process: Free Software Foundation for Europe Portal

National and local

Argentina: Software Libre Argentina (SOLAR)

Austria: Verein zur Förderung Freier Software

Belgium: Association Electronique Libre

Brazil Software Livre

Brazil: Comitê de Incentivo e Produção do Software GNU e Alternativo (CIPSGA) 

Chile: Software Libré Chile

Columbia: Comunidad de Usuarios de Software Libre en Colombia (Colibrí)

FSF France

India: Free Software Foundation of India

Indonesia Open Source Contributors Group

Italy: Pluto Group

Japan Open Source Development Network

Korea, Republic of: GNU Korea

Macedonia (FYR): Free Software Macedonia (needs ISO 8859-5 character set to view)

Peru: Asociación Peruana de Software Libre (APESOL)

Spain: GNU España

Sri Lanka: Lanka Linux User Group (LKLUG)

United Kingdom:

· Association For Free Software (AFFS)

· The Open Source Consortium (OSC)

Yemen: Yemeni FreeSoftware & OpenSource Association (YFOSA)

V. Selected publications

The listed documents have an economics and policy orientation; they are not technical how-to's for using FOSS. A number of writings by Stallman and Raymond, the main thinkers behind the Free Software and Open Source movements, are also listed.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software: Survey and Study
Berlecon Research and the International Institute of Infonomics (III), University of Maastricht (2002).

What good is free software?
Bessen J (2002). In: Hahn R, ed. (2002). Government Policy toward Open Source Software. Washington, DC, AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies.

An empirical look at software patents
Bessen J and Hunt R (2003). Research on Innovation. 

Open-source software in e-government
Danish Board of Technology 

Open source software: Perspectives for development
Dravis P (2003). The Dravis Group and World Bank InfoDev. 

A Collaborative Fact Finding Study on Open Source Software in Canada
e-Cology Corporation (2003). (English version) (French version)

Politics and programming: Government preferences for promoting open source software
Evans SD (2002). In: Hahn R, ed. (2002). Government Policy toward Open Source Software. Washington, DC, AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies.

GNU General Public License, v. 2.0
Free Software Foundation) (FSF) (1991).

The Free Software Definition
Free Software Foundation (FSF) (1996).

Cooking pot markets: An economic model for the trade in free goods and services on the Internet
Ghosh RA (1998). First Monday 3 (3). 

Licence fees and GDP per capita: The case for open source in developing countries
Ghosh RA (2003). First Monday 8 (12). 

Free Software and WSIS: Civil Society reference paper on Free Software and its impact on the World Summit on the Information Society
George Greve

The economics of open-source networks
Iannacci F (2002). Communications & Strategies 48. International Telecommunications Society.

Collaborative development of open content: A process model to unlock the potential for African universities
Keats D (2003). First Monday 8 (2).

Economics of Linux Adoption in Developing Countries 
Kshetri N (2004). IEEE Software January/February.

Open source software as lead user’s make or buy decision: A study of open and closed source quality
Kuan J (2003). Paper presented at the second conference on “The Economics of the Software and Internet Industries”, Toulouse, France, 17–18 January.

Code, culture and cash: The fading altruism of open source development
Lancashire D (2001). Code, culture and cash: The fading altruism of open source development. First Monday 6 (12). 

The simple economics of open source
Lerner J and Tirole J (2000). Working Paper 7600. Cambridge, MA, National Bureau of Economic Research. 

The open source movement: Key research questions
Lerner J and Tirole J (2001). European Economic Review 45.

Open source baselines: Compared to what?
Lessig L (2002). In: Hahn R, ed. (2002). Government Policy toward Open Source Software. AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, Washington, DC.

Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution
DiBona C, Ockman S and Stone M, eds. (1999) O'Reilly & Associates, Sebastopol, CA.

Economics of open source software
Pappas Johnson J (2001). F/OSS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The revenge of the hackers
Raymond ES (1999a). In: Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. O'Reilly & Associates, Sebastopol, CA. 

The Open Source Definition
The Open Source Initiative. .

The magic cauldron
Raymond ES (1999b).

The cathedral and the bazaar
Raymond ES (2000).

The GNU operating system and the free software movement
Stallman R (1999). In: Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution. O'Reilly & Associates, Sebastopol, CA.

Free as in freedom
Stallman R (Ongoing).

Free and open source software: Implications for ICT policy and development
UNCTAD E-commerce and Development Report 2003, UNCTAD/SIDTE/ECB/2003/1

Free and open source software: Policy and development implications
UNCTAD 2004, TD/B/COM.3/EM.21/2
Also available in: French  Spanish  Arabic  Chinese  Russian

The political economy of open source software
Weber S (2000). Working Paper 140. Berkeley Round Table on the Information Economy.

VI. Some Open source Training initiatives

 1.ILIAS – Tool for creating teaching material, coordinated at the University of Cologne. There are numerous participating universities. (

2.Spain: 80,000 computers for students running Gnome in the region of Extremadura.

3.Organization for Free Software in Education and Teaching. Software for institutions that are interested in proliferating OSS technology, Includes live CD-ROM of free software for schools:  Cost effective good material for school (

4.Linux for Schools Project. The goals of this project are to help schools do the following on their internal networks: Manage Linux user accounts in bulk, set up PHP and MySQL enabled personal webspace, encourage pupils to write their own home pages, help pupils learn the multi-user Linux environment. (

5.K-12 Linux Project. A consortium of projects that aims to proliferate FOSS among school children. (

6.Open Source Schools – The Online Journal of Open Source Software in Schools

7.IteachNet – Tools for international education. (

8.Sourceforge-like repository of software, lessons plans, projects, etc. (

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