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Tamil Nadu government laptop programme runs into trouble as Microsoft OS named in tender

Prasanth Sugathan, an open source advocate and the counsel at the Software Freedom Law Center said the contract could set a wrong precedent.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 03, 2014, 08.59 AM IST
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BENGALURU: A laptop freebie announced by the Tamil Nadu government has hit a snag, with questions being raised over the state naming a Microsoft operating system in the tender for supplying over a million devices for poor students. In its tender notice, the state government has specified that “Windows 7 Starter or higher should be preloaded; antivirus software with one year support shall be preloaded and BOSS Linux from Centre for Development of Advanced Computing will be sourced by ELCOT (Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu) and the same shall be preloaded”.

On the face of it, this goes against Tamil Nadu’s transparency rules that say “unbiased technical specifications shall be prepared by observing the following safeguards, namely: use of brand names and catalogue numbers shall be avoided and where it becomes unavoidable, along with the brand name the expression or equivalent shall be added”.

Debasish Choudhary, vice-president of marketing for United Telecoms, which is one of the bidders for the contract, said the forced inclusion of Microsoft Windows 7 will increase the cost of each laptop by at least Rs 1,200, and that the government has opted for Microsoft’s proprietary software instead of open source, raising the cost of the laptop and leaving no option for students but to pay for anti-virus software and all future operating system upgrades.

At an estimated cost of Rs 20,000 per laptop, the tender value is being pegged at about Rs 2,200 crore.

The other issue with Windows 7 is that Microsoft will end mainstream support for the operating system by January 2015. This means that by the time students get the laptops, the operating system will have become obsolete.

Also, Microsoft’s operating system requires anti-virus while open-source software like Linux does not.

United Telecoms claims that it raised the issue with ELCOT, the IT arm of the state government, but did not get a satisfactory response. “We raised the issue in the pre-bid meeting that the government should go with the open source platform, since Microsoft Windows will add to the cost of the laptop and students will also be forced to pay for any future upgrades,” Choudhary told ET.

The state government’s recommendation of Microsoft software in this contract is in sharp contrast to a letter issued by the state’s IT secretary, TK Ramachandran, a few months ago in which he adviced against use of Microsoft Windows.

“Phasing out of proprietary software may necessitate upgrading to a higher version, which may call for an additional spending not only on the software, but may also be on the hardware,” the letter, dated March 12, 2014, said. “Open source software is almost free of virus. Hence, loss of information, damage of software and hardware, hacking, phishing etc. can be prevented. There is no need to spend on expensive antivirus software,” the letter said. Ramachandran is also the chairman of ELCOT.

Prakash Advani, regional director for sales & alliances, India & SE Asia, for Ubuntu, said, “To ensure that the students of Tamil Nadu get the best experience from their laptops, we feel it is important the government considers a range of operating systems at tender.” Ubuntu, which is a free and open source software, directly competes with Microsoft Windows.

Ubuntu is being used extensively by schools, universities and state governments in India, including those of Delhi, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. “This is actually a scandal. In no procurement for any goods you can mention any brand. Free and open source software is popular across the world. It is supported by government policy and there is absolutely no reason why the Tamil Nadu government should prefer proprietary software,” said Gurumurthy Kasinathan, director at IT for Change.

Prasanth Sugathan, an open source advocate and the counsel at the Software Freedom Law Center said the contract could set a wrong precedent.

“It is an issue of competition. If one company gets preference in such a large contract, it sets the precedent for similar future contracts. Affected parties can directly approach the high court since this is a violation of statutory provisions set by the Tamil Nadu government itself.”

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