The government, reacting to the software industry’s concerns on the open source policy, has said the order does not make it mandatory for all services to be designed using such software. Ram Sewak Sharma, secretary, department of electronics and information technology (Deity), said: “It is clarified that the policy does not make it mandatory for all future applications and services to be designed using the open source software (OSS). The compliance part of the policy clearly states that the solution suppliers should consider OSS along with closed-source software (CSS) while proposing solutions. They can always propose CSS solutions, provided they can justify it over OSS. While the government organisations shall ensure compliance with this requirement and decide by comparing both OSS and CSS options with respect to capability, strategic control, scalability, security, life-time costs and support requirements.” Deity said detailed consultations were held with all stakeholders, including the industry, through lobby group Nasscom before taking the decision. Business Standard had reported earlier this month that software firms such as Microsoft had expressed concerns over the policy, unveiled in March, as it had a clause that stated use of anything other than open source software had to be justified by the official concerned. Bhaskar Pramanik, chairman of Microsoft India, had said, “The government needs to be technology-neutral. You should be able to adopt the best technology, the most economical and the most appropriate technology for the problem at hand. Let’s not have biases one way or the other.” Because of this policy, he added, a company might end up choosing a technology solution that’s not the best and this might take the “country back”. In CSS or proprietary software, the copyright holder has exclusive legal rights and the source code is usually not shared.
An open source model typically does not have such limitations. Sharma said governments in many countries are encouraging the usage of open source software because it helps them use their limited financial resources optimally and provides scalability. France, Norway, Brazil, USA are among such countries. Adoption of OSS also reduces the dependency on closed source or proprietary software, ensures strategic control, helps in avoiding vendor and technology lock-ins and allows the organisations to use their in-house skills and support from OSS communities to modify the source codes according to their needs, Sharma said. The industry, however, is of the view the policy would detract departments from choosing closed software. Controversies such as the 2G telecom spectrum allocation and the coal block allocation had come back to haunt bureaucrats. This would make government officials risk-averse and opt for OSS to avoid a controversy, industry representative said. Sharma, however, said the objective of the policy was to ensure both the options are compared and the best possible solution adopted. The objective of the policy is not to narrow down the opportunities for closed source software companies, he said, but to ensure that both CSS and OSS options are properly evaluated. On the demand that the government be technology neutral, Sharma said this policy neither favours any particular technology nor does it restrict any technology. “The policy aims to facilitate faster implementation of e-governance in the country and help in achieving the vision and objectives of the Digital India programme,” he added.
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