Microsoft in talks for shared source license in India

Microsoft Corp. is in talks with the Indian government to offer a shared source license of Windows, company sources said Friday after the software maker issued a statement saying it is contemplating introducing the shared source licensing program here.

The statement was issued late Friday local time in response to a report in the Mumbai-based English daily, The Economic Times, that said Microsoft has already made a proposal to the country’s ministry of information technology to share Windows source code with a nodal government agency that will in turn share the code with others for education and e-governance applications. The Microsoft statement does not deny the published report. According to company sources speaking on condition of anonymity to the IDG News Service Microsoft already is farther along in the process than the statement would suggest.

The shared source initiative is in place in more than 30 countries with source code being shared with academic institutions, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), governments, system integrators and developers, Microsoft said in the statement.

“With its experience in China where the government has shown a marked preference to open source, it is possible that this move from Microsoft, if the report is true, is proactive in trying to build trust with the Indian government decision makers,” said Ravindra Datar, senior analyst for IT services at Gartner India Research and Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd. in Mumbai, a wholly owned subsidiary of Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut.

“The government would be advised to give prime importance to security while evaluating any software, while also looking for functionality, ease of use, multilingual capabilities, and other standard software selection parameters,” Datar added.

This recent move by Microsoft is the latest effort by the company to woo the Indian government and users away from open-source software. Countering open-source software in India was a key item on the agenda of Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft, during his visit to the country in November.

Gates announced in Delhi that Microsoft will invest US$400 million in India over the next three years in several areas including computer literacy, localization of its software products and increasing the size of its software development centre. Besides contributing its software to schools, Microsoft will also assist in training about 80,000 school teachers and 3.5 million students in government-run schools in India.

An immediate opportunity for Microsoft and other software vendors comes from large IT deployment plans announced by the Indian central and state governments, Datar said.

“With the large geographic spread, low IT penetration, a population of over a billion people and with the country being a complex multicultural, multilingual region, any IT deployment would be of very complex nature and the licenses would be in big volumes,” Datar said. “The scope of services is very large too.”

But Microsoft may not be able to stem the slow but steady proliferation of open source software in India, according to analysts and industry sources. The Delhi-based National Association of Software and Services Companies, for instance, is currently assessing the feasibility of using Linux for e-governance projects in India, said Kiran Karnik, the association’s president.

The government still must evaluate operating systems that compete with Microsoft, considering security, commercial and technical issues, said Pranav Kumar, research director for enterprise applications software in the Asia Pacific region for Gartner.