By Rajiv Rawat
February 17, 2007
As the state election campaign enters its final days, another poll is being held in the cyber world to determine the venue of an important information technology conference later this year.
Dehradun is one of three cities in the running to host the 2007 International OpenOffice.org Conference oriented around the increasingly popular open source suite of word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, database, and drawing applications. Voting is open to those registered on the OpenOffice.org web site, and ends this Sunday.
While Dehradun is a long shot compared to Barcelona and Beijing, both of which are past and future Olympic host cities respectively, it may still come out on top if a groundswell of support from the large South Asian IT community develops.
As its name indicates, OpenOffice.org is free to download and use, and is also available for all major OS platforms. Supporters are touting it as the free alternative to Microsoft products for cash-strapped governments, institutions, and consumers. It is also a flagship project of the open source community, who with the free software movement pioneered by Richard Stallman (RMS) wants to liberate software from proprietary control.
Dehradun-based Sharad Kukreti, president of the Sir George Everest Research Society and prominent free software activist, submitted Dehradun’s bid under the auspices of the All India Council of Mayors. Institutional and technical support has been pledged by RKVS Raman of BharateeyaOO.o, a Bangalore-based developers’ forum working on customizing OpenOffice.org for Indian Languages. Other open source and Linux working groups have also promised help.
It should be noted that late last year, the National Informatics Centre of India indicated its deep disappointment with the Uttarakhand state administration’s e-governance efforts, whereas hardware across the state lay underutilized for lack of software, network support, and staffing.
Despite the government’s Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft, and the much heralded meetings between Bill Gates and Chief Minister ND Tiwari in 2003 and 2005, the situation did not improve. Indeed at the time, there was apprehension in some quarters that Microsoft’s renewed interest and investment in India came hot on the heels of the growing threat of critics who have launched a grassroots campaign to encourage open source or even free software solutions to the country’s IT challenges. With India’s huge market, and increasing bold strides by Brazil, China, and South Africa to encourage software independence, the struggle between software corporations and independent innovators is set to intensify.
Thus far, the near zero cost of widely pirated copies of Microsoft products and the monopoly control of the Windows operating system and derivative applications has hampered the ability of OpenOffice.org to gain increased market share. However, the recent launch of Windows Vista, the next generation operating system from Microsoft, might change all that and prove to be the company’s “Waterloo.”
Unfortunately for a large number of users, Vista introduces an ever more restrictive digital rights management regime and a new series of intrusive security measures that will make software piracy exceedingly difficult. And while full-functioning pirated copies of both Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 have already made their appearance in China, Microsoft is going to continue targeting and prosecuting those they see as violating their intellectual property rights. In this regard, India is already being pressured to crack down on piracy that would otherwise jeopardize the export of IT products and services to the US.
OpenOffice.org suffers from none of these drawbacks. Moreover, unlike Windows applications, there are no known viruses that impact the data security and functioning of OpenOffice.org. As such, the no-cost suite can at least help solve the software end of the general e-governance failure in Uttarakhand. The rest may only require TSOs now working in Delhi to return home.