Free CDs spread open source in India

To encourage use of computers, government distributes CDs containing localized versions of popular open-source applications.

Ingrid Marson
2 min read
The Indian government is trying to encourage the use of computers across the country by distributing free CDs that contain localized versions of popular open-source applications.

The government has started distributing CDs containing Tamil-language versions of various open-source applications, including the Firefox browser, the OpenOffice.org productivity suite and the Columba e-mail client. It plans to freely distribute 3.5 million copies of the CD to Tamil speakers worldwide, according to R.K.V.S. Raman, a researcher at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, a Bangalore-based organization involved in the production of the CD.

Raman told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that the CDs have been in considerable demand following a newspaper-and-television advertising campaign last month.

"We have had a tremendous response to this (initiative)," he said. "In the first two weeks of the campaign we got about 100,000 hits daily on the Web site offering CDs, and about 2,000 to 3,000 downloads (of Tamil-language applications). We have already sent out around 50,000 CDs and have a backlog of 35,000."

Once the requested CDs have been sent out, more copies will be distributed with computer magazines and newspapers, according to Raman.

Even the president of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has taken an interest in the project and earlier this month met the team involved in the production of the CD.

The next stage of the project is to distribute CDs containing applications in Hindi, the national language of India. This stage will be launched on June 21 and likely will involve more than the 3.5 million CDs earmarked for the current phase, said Raman. Eventually, the government plans to release CDs in all of the 22 official languages of India.

Raman believes open-source software has two main advantages for the Indian population--it is relatively inexpensive and it can be modified fairly easily. "We are sometimes not comfortable with Western user interfaces--they don't make sense in our culture, particularly for rural people who haven't had much access to technology. If we want to modify the software we have to have access to the code," he said.

The Indian government's decision to ship free software in this way likely will be a blow to Microsoft, which plans to release a low-cost version of Windows in India soon. Microsoft originally hoped to release its Windows XP Starter Edition--a low-cost, feature-restricted version of Windows XP--by the end of March, but it's now aiming for a June release.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.