Communists love open-source in India

The Indian state of Kerala has decided to promote free and open-source software in education, although itwill not make it compulsory, a minister in Kerala’s communistgovernment said Wednesday.

The government would like to avoid a monopoly by Microsoft Corp.and provide equal opportunity for both Linux and Microsoft’sWindows operating system in schools, said M.A. Baby, education minister in the Keralagovernment.

The government is encouraging some 12,500 schools to givetraining on free and open-source software such as Linux.

The decision to use Linux or Windows would be taken by teachersand students in each of the schools, Baby said.

The move by the government reflects growing interest in free andopen-source software among students in Kerala, according toBaby.

About 60 percent of students use Linux in their school projects,rather than Windows, as they see the benefits of free andopen-source software, he said. “We want to increase the number ofstudents using Linux.”

Kerala in south India had a population of 31.8 million,according to the census in 2001 of the government of India.

The state has a literacy rate of 91 percent, the highest in thecountry.

The recent statements by the Kerala government in favor of freeand open-source software were prompted by the visit to the statelast week by Richard Stallman, president of the Boston-based FreeSoftware Foundation Inc. (FSF).

The government will take the lead in popularizing free software,the state’s Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said last week at aseminar on “Free Software for Kerala’s development,” at whichStallman was also a speaker.

Stallman, who also visited West Bengal, another communist-runstate, was able to win some support from local politicalleaders.

This is not the first time that the state of Kerala has showninterest in alternatives to proprietary software.

The IT policy announced in 2001 by the previous, non-communistKerala government stated that the government wishes to encouragethe judicious use of open-source or free software that complementsor supplements proprietary software.

The position of the Kerala government is different from that ofIndia’s federal government in Delhi, which has declined to take astand in regards to either type of software.

Some Indian federal and state agencies have been beneficiariesof Microsoft’s programs to promote the use of informationtechnology in schools.

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