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India eyes own open-source license

Does anyone really need another open-source licensing model? One of the leaders of India's IT movement says yes.

MUMBAI, India--In the seemingly never-ending quest to balance openness with profits, one of India's more influential professors is devising yet another open-source licensing program.

Deepak Phatak of the Indian Institute of Technology has kicked off an effort to create the Knowledge Public License, or KPL, a licensing program that will let programmers share ideas with one another while at the same time allowing them to retain the rights to their own software modifications. The license will likely function much like the Berkeley Software Distribution or the MIT License programs, he added.

The idea is to create an environment where developers can take advantage of the collaborative power of the open-source movement while giving individuals the ability to exploit their own twists.

News.context

What's new:
Deepak Phatak of the Indian Institute of Technology has begun an effort to create an open-source license that will let programmers share ideas while also letting them retain the rights to their own software modifications.

Bottom line:
The number of open-source licenses has exploded, leaving many in the community miffed. But Phatak's proposal comes with the power of numbers. India's 1,750 colleges with computer science and electrical engineering degrees admit about 250,000 students a year. Combined with the outsourcing boom, that makes India one of the major centers for software development.

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Ideally, such a program could also help ease the raging tensions between the open-source software movement and proprietary software companies.

"The free software people are afflicted by what I call the J factor, which is the jealousy factor. The proprietary people are afflicted by the G factor, the greed factor. They want to maximally extract money from the world," Phatak said in an interview here. "I am working to tell the world, 'Please permit these groups to coexist peacefully and harmoniously. There is a tremendous advantage to everyone.'"

"Legally, we have to move very carefully because the Americans have a tendency to sue anybody for anything," he added.

The number of open-source licensing programs has expanded rapidly in the past few years. Under some programs, such as the General Public License, developers have to publish their modifications if the modifications are used outside their own operations.

Many in the open-source community have complained about the proliferation of licensing models and taken action to curtail the numbers.

Budding software powerhouse
If anything, Phatak's licensing proposal comes with the power of numbers. India's 1,750 colleges with computer science and electrical engineering degrees admit about 250,000 students a year, he said. That's up from 1983, when there were 70 colleges admitting 5,000 students a year.

Deepak Phatak
Deepak Phatak
Combined with the boom in outsourcing, this makes India one of the major centers for software development.

A contest sponsored by Red Hat seeking new concepts for open-source software drew more than 2,000 proposals, Phatak said. Winners will be announced in a few weeks.

Phatak has also created the Ekalavya program to stimulate open-source ideas. Under the program (named after a Hindu legend), students submit ideas to a collaborative portal. Those with promising ideas are then linked up with mentors in the industry.

"Let me tell you my dream: Today, India is a net taker in the open-source community. In four years, I want the world to recognize India as a net giver, and that is entirely possible" he said.

While collaboration between universities and private enterprise is not as pervasive in India as it is in the U.S., it's growing, according to many sources. For instance, start-ups created to exploit technology that was developed at universities have begun to pop up, according to Rishi Navani, managing director at WestBridge Capital Partners, a venture firm specializing in Indo-U.S. investments. One example is Strand Genomics, which specializes in analytical software for drug discovery and development.

Professors at major institutions such as the Indian Institute of Technology or the Indian Institute of Science also sit on technology advisory boards with corporations and government agencies, which are often run by their former students. ("The IIT is a big club," said one graduate.) Recently, a large insurance company adopted thin clients rather than PCs in part because an IIT study showed that it could cut ownership costs by about two-thirds, Phatak said.

A recent visitor to Phatak's office was Microsoft Chief Technical Officer Craig Mundie.

"I told him a competitive price point (for a desktop OS) would be in the single digit dollars," Phatak said.