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Microsoft uneasy with open-source policy

Nasscom, the sectoral body, too, said the policy has received mixed response from its member companies

Surabhi Agarwal  |  New Delhi 

Bhaskar Pramanik

The technology-savvy Narendra Modi government may have upset large software firms, especially Microsoft, in its bid to be more efficient and transparent. In March, the government announced an open-source policy that makes it mandatory for all future applications and services to be designed using the open-source software (OSS). In case of an exception, where proprietary or closed-source software (CSS) is deployed, officials have to justify their decision.

Microsoft India chairman Bhaskar Pramanik told Business Standard the government's preference for open source is not an issue. However, putting a clause where use of anything other than open source has to be justified is an area of concern.

"Open source is preferred, that is not an issue, but everybody has to justify doesn't make sense... If you select anything other than open source, then you have to clearly justify why. If you are a government servant told to do that would you take that risk?" he said.

With recent controversies such as the 2G and the coal block allocation scams engulfing many bureaucrats, most government officials have become risk-averse. Nasscom, the sectoral body, too, said the policy has received mixed response from its member and the industry body is mulling whether it should take up the issue with the government.

"The government needs to be technology-neutral. Everybody needs to be technology-neutral. You should be able to adopt what is the best technology, what is the most economical and what is the most appropriate for the problem at hand. Let's not have biases one way or the other," he said. Because of this policy, Pramanik added, a company may end up choosing a technology solution that's not the best. " you are going to be in the Stone Age when everybody is moving much forward," he said, adding that this may take the "country back".

Given the fact that Digital India is the Modi-led government's pet project and aims to radically transform the delivery of citizen-centric services by the use of technology, the open-source policy may significantly narrow current opportunities for proprietary software

Nasscom president R Chandrashekhar said the policy has received mixed views from the industry. "It would have been a better approach if there had been some consultation on it. It's a sweeping measure and can do with some stakeholder consultation since the consequences and the ramifications can be better understood (through consultation)," said Chandrashekhar.

He added as it is a complex domain, the impact of such a policy's on innovation needs to be understood.

"We need skilled manpower for implementation, skilled manpower to run those projects most of which will be mission critical. So, you can't wish these away," he said. Chandrashekhar, who is a former telecom and IT secretary to the government of India, agreed with Pramanik that the clause that requires officials to justify use of closed software is a matter of concern. "Nobody (bureaucrats) would like to take onus and responsibility since you are starting the whole process as an accused," he added.

Nasscom is currently in the process of finalising its position on the matter since some of its member have expressed concerns over the policy.

The policy, announced during March-end, said: "Under the overarching vision of Digital India, the government of India aims to make government services digitally accessible to citizens in their localities and to ensure efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs." The policy will be applicable to all government organisations under the central governments. Adoption of the policy for state governments is optional.

First Published: Thu, May 21 2015. 00:50 IST