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Updated: July 3, 2011 18:10 IST

A window to open source operating system

D. Murali
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Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others,’ informs www.ubuntu.com. The word also means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’, adds the site. “The vision for Ubuntu is part social and part economic: free software, available free of charge to everybody on the same terms, and funded through a portfolio of services provided by Canonical.”

It was, therefore, a pleasant meeting that I recently had with Prakash Advani, Regional Manager - Asia Pacific, Canonical, Mumbai (http://bit.ly/F4TAdvaniP). “I have been using the latest Ubuntu 11.04 on a laptop that’s almost 3 years now and I don’t see any degradation of performance,” says Prakash. “It performs the same that it used to 3 years back when I installed Ubuntu 9.10. After that we released three more versions and they have all worked beautifully on the same hardware.” Our conversation continues over the email.

Excerpts from the interview.

How has been the growth of the open source operating system market in recent times?

Today, the open source operating systems market is growing much faster than proprietary offerings. Most of the growth is coming from dissatisfied Windows users who are finding their computers slowing down, leading to poor performance, or not being able to run the latest Windows 7. These users are replacing their current Windows system with Ubuntu.

What Ubuntu 11.04 brings is the opportunity to challenge that and disrupt the status quo, where the majority of users simply stick with Windows. Rather than a loveless decision to replace the machine with another Windows one because that’s all there is – there is a chance to make a really individual choice that has big advantages in terms of look, feel, and how the system operates.

In my experience, once a person settles down with an open source operating system, he/she starts enjoying the benefits and would rarely every switch back to a proprietary system. They find that they are out of the endless cycle of planned obsolescence in the proprietary world, where newer versions are released.

The new version has, for example, a new format which is not actually needed. Now they have to get the new version of the software because everyone is sending them newer files. To get the new version they need to upgrade their operating system for which they need to buy new hardware. With open source operating system they are out of this endless loop. In the open source world, LibreOffice supports the oldest and the newest file formats.

What are the main drivers of the growth in the open source OS market?

Open source operating system provides a completely legal alternative to pirating proprietary software. It works well, is virus-free, and can be installed on as many computers as you like without worrying about legal issues.

Users are also getting frustrated with their existing computers and are downloading alternative operating systems for their computers. Also, open source software, such as Ubuntu, are becoming much more appealing to wider consumer audiences, as they are easier to use, more intuitive with a more beautiful look and feel. This means that, today, a user doesn’t have to understand code, or be technical to use open source operating systems to receive all the benefits.

At the same time, open source operating system continues to provide a solid platform for power users who want to download an open source operating system because they want to write code, customise it, develop new applications and functionality, and generally get under the hood.

Can you tell us about your experience in the government IT space? What are their challenges, expectations and savings?

Many governments are deploying open source technologies such as operating systems because they directly lead to significant cost savings of tax payers’ money. Part of the government’s challenges has been deployment on a large-scale. Canonical has helped them address this by working closely with OEMs and providing a customised image, which has all the necessary drivers and applications required for their users. In India, we have engagements with Dell, Wipro, Lenovo, HCL, and eSys.

Many of the states expect good support for local language, and open source projects can ensure quick and accurate translation through local community involvement, which makes it easy for anyone to modify an open source operating system and localise it to their requirements. In India, for example, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Gujarat are some of the states which have large Ubuntu deployments.

Do students benefit from an early exposure to open source operating system? How?

We have found that students with early exposure to open source have a deeper understanding of technology. The nature of open source allows students to take a peek at the code and see – and get excited about – how things work.

Today, students are not just users of technology, but they also want to have an understanding of how things work internally. Many of them end up developing their own solutions and contributing to technology. These students also do very interesting projects; for instance, a student whom I met recently was doing a project on a grid search engine.

Students can participate in numerous open source projects which are around, or even start their own project. In a traditional software development company, cost of development is only 5-10 per cent of the total cost; the rest of the costs are in testing and marketing of the software. In open source, a lot of the testing and marketing costs get reduced as that is done by the community.

On the benefits to the academia.

The benefits to educational institutions deploying open source is that their students and teachers can copy the same software and deploy them to as many home computers that they like. This is completely legal and we encourage people to do that. Students can also share the software with their friends. That way, with open source, students learn about sharing and caring for others.

Many projects done in a proprietary way never end up being actually used. Institutes should, therefore, encourage students doing their project in open source. This ensures that the code that they write is reusable by someone else. Even if the code is not perfect, someone else can fix the code. This ensures that open source projects continue to be active. Institutes can work with the industry to propose projects based on business needs.

With large enterprises now migrating to open source, this will open up lots of job opportunities for students trained in open source. Education institutions should get their students trained on open source so that they are ready to provide services to these enterprises.

What factors do CTOs and CIOs consider before choosing an open source operating system?

Before choosing an open source operating system, the organisation needs to start getting ready for adoption. The IT team will need to ensure that all of their software works with the operating system they plan to deploy. Alternatively, if new software is required, staff will need to be trained to familiarise them with new ways of working.

For example, if they want to use Linux and LibreOffice/ OpenOffice they can first deploy LibreOffice on their Windows installation so users can become familiar. They should also ensure that any new applications being purchased or developed should be cross-platform. This will ensure that they are able to migrate to another operating system easily.

While CIOs can reap substantial savings by deploying open source, they should also budget for training and support. This ensures that there is professional support available to help them and ensure they have a smooth deployment.

**

InterviewsInsights.blogspot.com

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