ELCOT modifies specifications to cut costs

The Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT) which has floated tenders for the State government's free laptop scheme has dropped open source software from the required technical specifications.

Modifying the specifications, it has said the laptops need to have only Windows Starter Edition with anti-virus licensed for a year. The plan to install Linux (Tamil) software has been scrapped, as per the new proposal. “We wanted the price to be as competitive as possible, and the installation of open source software was costing us Rs.100 more a machine,” said a top official in the IT Department.

The pre-bidding process that got over last week has opened up the deal for bidders across the country and abroad to apply online. The prerequisites for applying, including the required ISO certifications, manufacturing capacity and annual turnovers have been specified, and the global tender will remain open till September 21.

Consultants reveal that while the cost of the machines was initially estimated at approximately Rs.10,000 each, the lowest bid received was around Rs.18,000. “This excess of Rs.8,000 led to the compromise in the specifications,” said a senior consultant.

The warranty period of the laptops also has been reduced to one year instead of three and the machines will have a 160 GB hard disk drive, down by half from the original requirement, and a power backup of two hours. The processor speed and memory specifications, however, remain the same, which would allow the installation of another operating system.

“We have a Linux service centre at ELCOT. With help from NIC, we can always start a counter to help students who wish to install Linux in their systems,” said a senior ELCOT official.

The laptops will also be loaded with Open Office, Tamil font, Tamil glossary, and Tirukkural software, apart from the syllabi of class XI and XII. Nearly 28,000 class XII students of 152 schools in the city will receive free laptops in the first phase of distribution, which will begin on September 15. As many as 9.12 lakh laptops this year, and 15 lakh next year, are proposed to be distributed as part of the scheme, involving an outlay of around Rs.10,200 crore.

Renewal of tenders

IT Minister R.B. Udayakumar said the specifications were recommended by a set of experts from the industry and academia, taking into account what would suit students the best. “The tender would be renewed every year to accommodate the best and make the process democratic,” he added.

Activists' view

Free and open source software activists feel the scrapping of Linux will endanger the freedom of the students to choose an operating system that is freely available and customisable. “It is ironic and illogical that ‘free' software is being left out in the name of cost-cutting,” said Shanu Sukoor, convenor, Free Software Foundation, Tamil Nadu. Questions of renewal of licences, especially after the warranty period, and whether students would need to buy the additional software applications are also unaddressed. “While other States have recognised the many useful educational applications Linux provides and are promoting it, Tamil Nadu alone seems to be going backward,” Mr. Sukoor added.

  • Machines will have a 160 GB hard disk drive, down by half from the original requirement
  • “It is ironic and illogical that ‘free' software is being left out in the name of cost-cutting”