Free software and Linux in India

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Medialinx AG

Medialinx AG

Made in India

With BOSS Linux, the Indian Ministry of Communication and Information has developed its own Linux distribution. The system is gradually establishing itself in the local public administration as the successor to Windows XP.

After much agonizing, Microsoft finally decided to let go of its long outdated Windows XP on April 8, 2014. Although many state agencies in Europe overslept and ended up paying for patches for common vulnerabilities with tax money, those responsible in multicultural India took another route: They parted from Microsoft and migrated to Linux.

Late Sleeper

India has been committed for some time to a consistent open source strategy. To act on it, the country with its more than 1.2 billion inhabitants has worked with the research and development teams of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and National Resource Centre for Free and Open Source Software (NRCFOSS) to get its own Linux distribution on its feet.

C-DAC provides the Indian Linux with various guises for different purposes. The distribution is supposed to enable a cost-effective modern IT structure on clients and servers for agencies as well as schools. A focal point for the development of Bharat Operating System Solutions (BOSS) [1] Linux is the support for as many local languages as possible to provide citizens access to computing systems in their mother tongue, thus eliminating the entry hurdles into the world of data processing.

BOSS Linux is based on Debian and, therefore, is extremely stable – and not just because of Debian's long release cycles. It also provides a wealth of software applications, ranging from servers to student desktops. The operating system also brings native development from the Indian software forges. The developers also organize regular workshops for users and solution providers. To facilitate easy entry into the world of free software, they give free disks with BOSS Linux to C-DAC related organizations across the entire country. Interested parties also get free onsite phone or email support.

In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where BOSS Linux development is taking place, the strategy has already been fruitful. At the end of Windows XP support cycle, agencies are moving over to the native Linux system [2]. India's banks are also planning a large-scale migration to BOSS Linux after the end-of-support for Windows XP Embedded on January 12, 2016. This migration should affect around 115,000 ATMs from NCR and Diebold [3].

The Indian ATM manufacturer Vortex [4] is first and foremost responsible for Linux making quick strides in the previously Windows-dominated Indian subcontinent – and in many other countries in the future. With its 450-kg Ecoteller, the company is providing the world's first ATM completely running Linux. The ATM is extremely energy efficient and can run on solar power. It's also compatible for use in the hot tropical temperatures common in South Asian countries.

Free Choice

The freely available BOSS Linux is downloadable in various versions as ISO images [5]. The universal desktop in version 5.0 includes a roughly 3.5GB image appropriate for 32-bit architectures. The current kernel in version 3.1 contains the Physical Address Extension (PAE); however, so some older mobile Intel processors and many Atom CPUs can't handle it. Other than that, the extension allows access to more than 4GB working memory even on 32-bit systems.

If you have a processor that doesn't support PAE, a version of BOSS called NetBOSS Linux is available especially for Atom processors. The Indian Ministry also provides EduBoss for educational applications and a BOSS server that provides a wide range of services and many – among them graphical – administrative tools. New to the program is the MOOL project [6] that, by decoupling the kernel and driver modules, aims to improve the system's maintenance capabilities.

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