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Open source software, boon for e-governance

Akhila Seetharaman

It offers greater freedom at a lower cost in the long run

CHENNAI: Open source software in e-governance should receive a shot in the arm now that the first national resource centre on free and open source software is being set up at Anna University. In 2002, the Government of Tamil Nadu became the first State Government to make open source the policy choice of government departments.

Open source protects governments and big organisations from depending on a single company. Proprietary software and hardware generally go hand-in-hand, so when the company upgrades hardware, users are forced to upgrade their software and vice versa.

Open source offers greater freedom at a lower cost, despite costly customisation and maintenance requirements. However, Tamil Nadu has an excellent resource base and abundant technical talent to plug the gaps. Even so, according to a recent report by Anna University, 80 per cent of applications run by government departments use Microsoft Office, which costs Rs. 18,000 a package.

Great saving

The report suggests that by using open source software, instead of Microsoft Office, the Government can generate enormous savings even while continuing to use other proprietary software applications. The software can be made available to all departments through a centralised web-enabled database However, to enable this, the report has suggested the formation of three groups: a certification group to the software from vendors as fit for use, a development group to drive public participation in innovation, and a deployment group to oversee implementation and train users. Since anyone can access open source software, the Government needs to address security concerns by adding certain layers of programming that are not accessible.

Not only will open source software call for "user intelligence", according to the report, it will also make use of Tamil Nadu's local talent in software development. To broaden the base of professionals involved, the report suggests the setting up of a training group that will liaise with educational and commercial institutions. A bottom-up approach was essential for open source software in government to become a reality, the report said.

The European Union, South Africa, Brazil, Peru, Hong Kong and parts of the U.S., have taken active steps to make open source code software the default software used in government organisations.

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