Originally Published: Sunday, 30 April 2000 Author: Prakash Advani
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Why Does Linux Make Sense for India?

Everything that is free has a catch. Maybe not this time. However, just to give you the benefit of the doubt let's take a peek to get a fair representation of Linux and how it compares as an operating system.

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Everything that is free has a catch. Maybe not this time. However, just to give you the benefit of the doubt let's take a peek to get a fair representation of Linux and how it compares as an operating system.

Computerization today is no more a luxury; it has become a way of life. It increases efficiency, processes huge amounts of data and is an important driving factor behind the economy of a country. Every organization has an IT budget, whether it's large or small, commercial or non-commercial. Budgets are limited in most organizations and they all face a common challenge of making optimum use of funds along with utilizing the existing IT infrastructure.

Why does Linux make sense for India? Does it really make sense? Let's find out.

The open source movement has started and companies no more consider revenue in selling software. The new revenue model is in making money out of services. Linux helped to bring about this change. Moreover, it has brought about a paradigm shift in software delivery.

When I first heard about Linux, I got a choice of installing it from a CD, from the hard disk, from the Internet, over the network, or creating floppies and installing them. I found Linux to be very flexible and easier to use compared to all the Unices that I had worked with before. Similarly, when non-profit organizations look at Linux, they say "it's free so might as well give it a try." Corporate managers know it will save them a lot of money.

Cost Benefit

Let's compare the cost of a Linux system to that of Windows NT, since that is a popular server operating system. You can also compare it with other commercial operating systems and the results should be similar.

If you use Linux as a print and file server for a network of about 50 users, you will save close to 100,000 Indian Rupees. This is based on the approximate cost of Windows NT, which is Rupees 30,000 for a 5-user version and 1,500 per additional user. One can save more if Linux is also used for services such as e-mail server/Internet gateway. If you have 50 users you can save close to 275,000 Indian Rupees. This is based on the approximate cost of Windows NT being Rupees 45,000 for a 5-user version and 3,000 per additional user.

Linux also reduces the cost of hardware as it runs more efficiently than other operating systems. Now organizations can pull out their old hardware, which may otherwise be lying idle. They can load Linux and get serious business applications running on them at no extra cost. Other savings include the fact that no investment is required for anti-virus software as there are no viruses for Linux! The OS is free but you may have to pay for services, if you do not have expertise within the organization.

Linux reduces the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). TCO is the cost of owning the total system, which includes the cost of hardware and the software, as well as running and maintaining the system. There is no cost per user/client/server. In fact the cost benefit improves as you add more nodes. Since Linux runs very efficiently, the more people start using the Linux server for various applications, the more effectively you are utilizing your server.

In one organization that I worked with, there was a strong consideration to go for Windows NT and Microsoft Exchange. They had more than 100 employees and they realized that if they did that, it would cost them 1,000,000 Rupees. I convinced the management to go the Linux way. They pulled out an old Pentium computer, which was not being used and converted that to a Linux mail server. Today it runs very well, requires almost no maintenance and it didn't cost them anything, as they didn't even have to buy a server.


Linux comes bundled with commercial grade applications. The reason why I use the word "Commercial Grade" is because people consider commercial software to be better and more reliable than free software. This isn't true any more -- Linux distributions bundle includes Sendmail, which is the most popular mail server and powers some of the largest mail servers. It comes also comes with Apache, the most popular Web server. Several other powerful applications are either bundled with the base distributions or are available separately such as Qmail, which is another mail server and powers Hotmail.com.

Linux is a reliable and stable OS. No more crashes. A small telecom software company decided to deploy Linux for one of the big cellular operators in Mumbai, India. The server is running non-stop for more than a year now without any maintenance. That's the kind of reliability that Linux offers that is needed for mission critical applications.

It offers scalability and inter-operability. Linux can run on a Palm computer right up to a supercomputer. It can peacefully co-exist with other operating systems.

Extensive support for Linux is now available from various sources on the Internet as well as companies specializing in providing Linux support. There is also strong industry support for Linux from traditional Unix companies that have always had their own Unix flavor and looked upon Linux as a competition. These companies are now realizing if they don't support Linux they would be out of business. SGI, IBM and Compaq are some of the companies that are now supporting Linux extensively.

Linux is based on open architecture. It also supports all the open standards and protocols. This does not force the organization to be tied down with any proprietary protocols. There is also a lot of scope for further development as more and more companies are now developing applications for Linux. They are also contributing to the overall development of the Linux operating system. Two years ago someone asked me for a good commercial database under Linux and I couldn't think of any. Today all the major databases such as Oracle, Sybase, Informix and IBM DB/2 are available for Linux except one: Microsoft SQL server. It's not available for any other platform anyway.

Another benefit of Linux is that you don't depend on a single organization for your operating system. When you need to buy a PC you can choose among - IBM, Compaq, Dell, your local assembler or any other source. Do you have a similar flexibility with your operating system? You may like Windows but you may not want to buy it from Microsoft. Do you have a choice? No. Linux gives this flexibility.

The Indian Linux Project

I have been on a personal crusade to bring Linux to the Indian masses. One of the problems is that English is not native to most Indians. More than 90 percent of the population cannot read or write English. I had been thinking about it for long, when I met Venkatech Hariharan. He has been involved with Indian languages for a long time as he helped develop the bharatbhasha project where they developed free Indian language fonts for Linux. I discovered that he had similar goals.

Since he understood the language issues and I had an understanding of Linux, we started the Indian Linux project. Our goal is to make Linux available in all Indian Linux. Since then, we have received thousands of responses from people interested in helping us with this project. We don't have anything ready as yet but we are working towards it with our volunteers.

The Indian Linux project is at http://www.freeos.com/indianlinux E-mail: il@freeos.com

Prakash Advani is the Founder and CEO of FreeOS.com. He can be reached at prakash@freeos.com.

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