Involving the Indian Software Services Industry in the Free and Open Source Software World

Sachin Garg and Kshma Garg Navankur
Abstract FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) has taken the world by storm in the last decade. The emergence of FLOSS has been exemplified by the rapid rise of the GNU/Linux operating system, which has made inroads in computer systems ranging from supercomputers to handheld devices and mobile phones. FLOSS technologies have been embraced by almost all major computing vendors, who are putting substantial efforts and leveraging these technologies. A number of Indian Information Technology Service Companies have been providing solutions based on the certain FLOSS technologies to their customers and also using it internally, mostly on an ad-hoc basis. There is often no formal policy in place, nor a roadmap on how to go forward in this fast emerging, rule changing, arena. We propose an overarching strategy — the “Foundation and Four Pillars” view that will enable the Indian Software Services Companies to truly leverage FLOSS while moving forward.



Almost fifteen years ago, version 1.0 of the Linux kernel was released1 . That was also the time the world, especially India started wakening up to the Internet. Fuelled by cheap network access, liberalisation and other government policies as well as the impending Y2K problem, the Indian IT sector also reached an inflection point on its now legendary, exponential growth path. A casual observer who attempts to link the growth of the Linux kernel (a proxy for Free and Open Source Software) and the Indian IT sector’s rapid advances would be very far from the truth. Though both the sectors have seen growth together, India’s software services industry does not really use or contribute much to the world of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) as borne out by surveys [1]. There is disproportionately little institutional support for such software given the size of the industry. This is sad, and I would say, a strategic mistake. Innovation is an imperative [2] as the Indian IT sector attempts to move up the value chain. FLOSS technologies foster and will continue to


foster innovation in the sector. Therefore, the industry will need to both provide an increasing number of FLOSS solutions to its customers as well as also contribute to the FLOSS base. In this paper, we make a small attempt to reason why the Indian software services sector has not yet latched on to FLOSS in a big way and lay out steps as to how the situation could be remedied. To put everything in perspective, we briefly look at the history and growth of FLOSS; followed by a brief historical and analytical look at the Indian IT sector. Subsequently, we propose the salient points of our “Foundation and Four Pillars” strategy. This paper is a condensed version of the larger strategy document by the authors in [3].


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS)

The last decade or so, has seen a drastic change in the way software is developed, sold, given away and used. The Internet has made collaborative software development across time and distance possible. Both individuals and companies have started seeing value in software whose source is available and that can be modified to suit their needs. GNU/Linux has emerged as an alternative Operating System that can be used to power systems across the computing spectrum, from supercomputers to mobile phones. This has resulted in changing the traditional paradigms of the software industry as to how software is developed and sold. The notion of selling software as a product is fast taking a beating and vendors are increasingly realising the need to sell services around software, rather than the bits themselves [4, 5]. Free/Libre and Open Source Software is the umbrella term used to describe software whose source code is readily available and modifiable under several liberal licenses. FLOSS has become a model for collaborative work and other allied concepts. There are some subtle philosophical differences between the concept of “Free/Libre Software” and “Open Source Software”, but our purpose, we can safely assume them to be essentially the same. The interested reader is pointed to the GNU (GNU’s Not Unix) Project < > and also [6], [7]. 1.1.1 Origin of FLOSS

FLOSS has a history possibly as old as computing itself. In fact, the industry might not have evolved if it were not for the free and open contributions from the software pioneers themselves. We have to understand that the industry evolved by selling hardware and availability of software that was free to change and distribute was a given. For reasons of marketing the computer hardware and promoting computer usage, it was rarely that one could charge for the software, or prevent one’s users from adapting it to suit their needs, thereby increasing its usefulness and widening its application area(s). In this context, it is interesting to go through the historical, social and philosophical underpinnings of FLOSS which make us realise that it has been with us all along, just lurking in the shadows. Well documented timelines and history of Linux, Open Source and its use in government and other agencies [8, 9, 10, 11] are available which show the impact FLOSS has had over the last many years. Some of the FLOSS that many commercial vendors have been using and bundling along with their commercial systems include MIT’s X-W INDOW S YSTEM (the de-facto windowing standard for Unix™and Unix-like OSes), the Berkeley SOCKETS networking API, development 2

tools like MAKE, networking software like SENDMAIL (the de-facto e-mailing program on many systems) amongst many others. 1.1.2 The Rise and Rise of FLOSS

The industry has taken to FLOSS in a big way today and the adoption only seems to be increasing. All the big corporations — IBM, HP, Oracle, Yahoo!, Google, Sun etc. have put their weight behind Open Source and it is thriving [1]. The phenomenon of Open Source has been widely studied and written about. Eric S. Raymond chronicled reasons about why Open Source happens in his seminal work - The Cathedral and The Bazaar [4]. Bruce Peren’s article on the “Economics of Open Source” [5] tries to make a distinction between key business differentiators and enabling technology. He argues that businesses would be better off either open-sourcing or use FLOSS as enablers, while they may keep their differentiators proprietary. Business differentiators are not just software, and software may possibly be an implementation of a business process that is differentiating per se. Robert Young, co-founder and former CEO of Red Hat (1993-2000) in “Giving It Away” [12] has this to say about the strategic appeal of the FLOSS model: To escape the confines of this model, ISVs need an OS model where the vendor of that OS (Linux) does not control the OS; where the supplier of the OS is responsible for the maintenance of the OS only and where the ISV can sell his application secure in the knowledge that the OS vendor is not his biggest competitive threat. The appeal of this OS model has begun to take hold in the software world. David A. Wheeler has pointed out the very convincing facts and figures behind FLOSS adoption in his paper [13]. In [14], he analyses the Red Hat Linux 7.1 distribution and “It would cost over $1 billion (a Gigabuck) to develop this Linux distribution by conventional proprietary means in the U.S. (in year 2000 U.S. dollars).” He has also calculated that to re-develop the Linux 2.6 kernel would cost USD 612 million [15]. These figures by themselves point out the cost-saving economics of FLOSS and why it should be preferred over proprietary technologies at least for non-differentiating technology enablers. This along with myriad benefits relating to customer choice, a distributed development model, self-motivated developers, low distribution costs and marketing overheads are making FLOSS a very attractive option for corporates today. Organisations like the Free Software Foundation (FSF)< > and the Open Source Initiative (OSI)< http://www.opensource. org > have contributed significantly to the rise and increased usage of FLOSS. Rapid proliferation of the Internet has been a significant contributor to the increased FLOSS mindshare and phenomenal growth since it has allowed the marginal cost of software distribution to go down to zero.


The Indian IT Services Sector

Over the last three decades and more, the Indian IT Services sector has matured to be a major world player. The sector has grown by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. Current esti3

mates [16] put the IT–BPO services sector to account for almost USD 60 billion in revenues for FY ’09. As a proportion of national GDP, the sector revenues have grown from 1.2 per cent in FY1998 to an estimated 5.8 per cent in FY2009. Net value-added by this sector, to the economy, is estimated at 3.5-4.1 per cent for FY2009. The sector’s share of total Indian exports (merchandise plus services) has increased from less than 4 per cent in 1998 to almost 16 per cent in 2008.

Value Addition

IP Focused Development Consulting Projects Offshore Onsite Body Shopping Time Figure 1: Phases in the Indian IT Sector

Over the course of its history, the industry has been through a number of phases (see Figure 1), starting with extremely low value-add body-shopping work to doing high-end consulting today. Today, it stands at a cross-roads – what with the global economy in a slump and the established business models under pressure2 . We note from the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis in Figure 2, that the newer opportunities that could come business’s ways are in areas where the companies could leapfrog the competition and try to sell their products and services to the “Bottom of the Pyramid” consumers in the emerging economies. In doing so, it is imperative to re-think the strategy of the past few years and realise that Free/Libre and Open Source Software is going to be an important component in providing versatile and economical solutions to new smart, savvy customers who are not locked into legacy systems and more importantly, do not want lock-in.
newspaper “DNA” in its 9 April, 2009 edition reported that “Wipro Technologies, India’s third-largest software company, for instance, has asked employees on the bench, who have not been billed for a long period, to work for only 10 days in a month at 50% of their current salaries”[17].
2 The


Strengths # Mature Industry —
substantially high on the Value Chain

Weaknesses # Productivity is not
keeping the desired pace # Skewed structure — small number of large firms # Manpower supply constraints

# Strong and Vibrant
domestic IT market

Threats # Rising factor costs
resulting in lowering advantages on the cost-arbitrage alone # Emerging competition from Latin America, Eastern Europe and China

Opportunities # Global vendors playing
in the domestic market

# Leapfrog opportunities.
These require strategic direction and long-term thinking # Bottom of Pyramid Innovation

Figure 2: SWOT Analysis of the Indian IT Sector 1.2.1 FLOSS & Indian IT Services Sector

Based on the foregoing, it would seem that the Indian IT sector would have taken to FLOSS like a duck takes to water. Unfortunately, the truth is exactly the opposite. A study by Red Hat Inc. [1] shows India to be a place where FLOSS activity by industries is substantially lesser than in China. According to Singapore based IT services company M ETA PARADIGM ’s study [18], India ranks 34th , after Brazil, Romania and Venezuela. A study [19] says that Open Source is “split by a digital divide”, with almost no contributions coming from places like India. The United Nations University (UNU)’s International Institute for Software Technology (UNU-IIST) <> has studied the data and concluded that “as few developers in open source projects are from the developing world this means that these countries have little influence on the direction the project is going” [19]. Mr. Scott McNeil, General Manager of the open computing initiative at UNU-IIST at a UNU conference on free software in New York in March 2006 said: It is a problem, as local needs are not being met and developing countries are consumers not creators of open source software [19].


IT Services Industry Accepting and Using Free/Libre and Open Source Software

Foundations for Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) for the IT Services Industry

Figure 3: The Foundation and Four Pillars for a Successful FLOSS Strategy


Foundations and Four Pillars

We propose that a successful IT Services Sector FLOSS strategy consists of “Four Pillars” on top of a solid “Foundation”. This “Foundation and Four Pillars” strategy is underlined in Figure 3, which shows the key areas (pillars) that one needs to focus on—both external and internal. We are confident that this approach would lead to FLOSS becoming a first class citizen in the Indian software services industry. These pillars need to supported by a strong foundation which ensures that they keep standing. We start by discussing the all-important foundation in detail and then take the pillars one-by-one.


The Foundations for FLOSS

Mature organisations which have mission-critical processes in place need a properly planned strategy to enable them to migrate to a environment where FLOSS based applications and tools work alongside other proprietary/third-party tools. A strong legal and ethical foundation is one of the pre-requisites of such a strategy, especially in the context of FLOSS, because of the need to be extremely careful in respecting the licensing and other terms under which it is made available. We identify three areas that are critical to building a strong foundation and ensuring the success of FLOSS in any organisation, especially in a mixed environment. These areas are: Strong Legal Support Free/Libre and Open Source Software comes with specific licensing terms which need to be honoured while using such software. In order to deal with the complex legal issues arising out of this, it is important that the organisation has people






with a strong background in Intellectual Property (IP) Rights Law, both in the Indian as well as the International context. Therefore, it is important that the organisation’s legal department has enough resources well-versed in the area of Intellectual Property Rights law or be capable of drawing upon them. Compounding the problem of good legal talent being unavailable is the issue that good, sound and sane legal advice in the technology arena can only come from people who are intimately involved in technology, which means lawyers who have a Science and Technology background or technologists interested in the law. Organisations can also help in this regard by encouraging their engineers to take a keener interest in the areas of software licensing, Intellectual Property Rights Law etc. and probably create a career path. Another important area is that of contracts pertaining to projects using FLOSS conform to the licensing terms as applicable. This is an area requiring the lawyers, engineers and business development folks to sit together and brainstorm contracts and ensure that no risks are borne by the service provider. Sensitise Employees The industry needs to sensitise employees to issues relating to Intellectual Property Rights and Computer Ethics. These are two foundational pillars which will give employees a sounding board to grasp a better understanding of the import of their actions. Building up this sensitivity is an ongoing process that should be reinforced through continuous training. Some of the training areas are, importance of citing, referencing and using other people’s work and the right ways of doing so, ethical issues arising out of their conduct and the product and services they provide, effective and efficient peer issues to weed out any potential IP issues a good grounding in software engineering. Those who have a sound knowledge of software engineering principles and organisational processes will always be on the lookout and also question extra-ordinary occurrences, thereby leading to possible course corrections. Compliance is increasingly becoming an important part of corporate life and organisations are starting to pay a lot more attention to the compliance aspect so as to mitigate risks and avoid expensive lawsuits and business losses. Two major areas where compliance and oversight, are important are Intellectual Property Management is especially important when FLOSS and proprietary software can mingle. It gains added importance in the context of a software services company which serves multiple, competing clients simultaneously and needs to have a clear separation between all of these. We can manage IP risks judiciously by a proper use of:


Peer reviews that can ensure the proper management of IP and FLOSS in the organisation by including points in the peer-review checklist revolving around the use of FLOSS, Software IP Compliance Tools like Blackduck Software’s protexIP < http:// > and Palamida’s IP Amplifier < > which help prevent IP violations by checking all code against their repository of FLOSS and flagging any possible violations Information Systems Management is of the utmost importance to ensure compliance. The team(s) responsible for these systems should ensure that they have an extremely clear picture on what software runs within the organisation—exceptions should be truly exceptional and not the norm. This requires a user-centric team whose mission is to ensure that the user has what it needs to get his work done as well as policies that align with users’ needs and requirements.


The Pillars
Customers Pillar

Many customers approach the IT services companies, asking for either 1. to use the service company and its engineers as an extended part of their organisation to develop/extend FLOSS, or (a) to use the service company to extend their offering(s) using FLOSS. Both of these are distinct problems and need specific solutions and strategies to ensure that: adequate recognition is given to both the service company and its engineers, or they are able to let others know about the contribution. This is because making recognised contributions to certain high-profile FLOSS projects like the Linux kernel is a matter of prestige to all ensure that all licensing requirements are met so that • the company is not open to litigation, and • can claim to have had a hand in the work product 2.2.2 Corporate Sponsor Pillar

The IT service providers need to be visible in the community as vibrant and important contributors, one should have policies and mechanisms in place to proactively contribute to the growing FLOSS community and become a respected member. The FLOSS community is a meritocracy built on a foundation of trust and the only way to earn respect is to be a valued contributor. 8

In order to be able to leverage FLOSS for all-round development of our businesses, communities and nation, it is important to influence the direction of projects in ways that have a positive impact. Some of the ways these could be done is by way of providing sponsorship to FLOSS projects, events and organisations providing infrastructural support like test-beds, web-hosting, software mirrors building excellence around open source that will result in the development of new business models around FLOSS, as well as • allowing employees to contribute to FLOSS thereby challenging them and keeping them engaged • building internal excellence and technology leadership. This will also help in creating knowledge repositories and allow for a robust knowledge management system • innovations around FLOSS. As pointed out in §1, innovation is an imperative in today’s competitive environment and FLOSS provides a readily available platform to build innovative solutions • help in steering FLOSS projects, creating visibility leading to respect in the community. Respect is difficult to earn in the meritocracy that FLOSS is and the industry is in dire need of earning some. 2.2.3 Internal Use Pillar

Currently, though FLOSS is being used internally within organisations in certain areas, the use is not as widely disseminated as one would like to. Also, one would expect that the IT services companies would have world-class IT systems in place. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Business expediency ensures that internal projects (which by definition are non-remunerative) get overlooked in the race to win clients. It is at times when growth is slow and the infinite bench3 starts to hurt, that organisations wish to convert it into the infinite productive bench. Recently, Infosys has started to shift almost 10% of its employees to internal projects to make better use of them[20]. Other companies have used previous slowdowns to build-out their internal systems. Working on internal projects is definitely one of the ways to turn and make the bench productive, but the not the only one. FLOSS provides a perpetual mechanism to keep the bench productive—in good times, as well as bad. FLOSS projects for internal use multiply the benefits many times over. Organisations need to strengthen the internal use of and support for FLOSS in the organisation and build a comprehensive policy for the same. We highlight a couple of areas where organisations could leverage FLOSS internally are
“infinite bench” is treated as an asset to the Indian software service companies because it gives them a flying start in terms of manpower resources when projects are taken up. The concept of how it could be converted to a “productive enterprise” using FLOSS was discussed by the one of the authors with Dr. Rahul De of IIM, Bangalore on the sidelines of
3 The


Software Tools — organisations need to invest in software tools and some of the FLOSS tools are excellent platforms to build on Alternatives to proprietary systems—FLOSS provides many alternatives to proprietary systems, alternatives built upon open standards and virtually free. 2.2.4 Employee Pillar

Indian Software Service companies have a huge talent pool which many times does not feel challenged enough because of the work they do and need other avenues for intellectual sustenance. FLOSS provides an avenues. Also, in this day and age with the increasing penetration of the Internet and residential broadband, the infrastructural barriers to Open Source contribution by individuals have been made practically non-existent. This had led to many individuals to either start private contributions to Open Source or contemplate doing so. Unfortunately, the lack of a comprehensive policy and many times, the structuring of the employment agreement precludes the employees from contributing to FLOSS projects of their interest. It may also prevent many FLOSS enthusiasts from considering the services companies as employer of choice. In order to attract and retain talent it is imperative that a comprehensive FLOSS policy that balances the mutual interests of both employer and employees be developed. Some other advantages of allowing private contribution to FLOSS projects by interested individuals, on their own time and resources would be: Gives employees a chance to work on projects close to their hearts Employees hone their skills while not on the job Employees learn to participate in communities and community building From the employer’s perspective, allowing employees to contribute privately to other projects could provide an avenue for leakages of their clients’ Intellectual Property held in trust by the service company. Therefore, we require a policy and a set of measures that minimise the possibility of such events without putting a blanket ban on the activity itself. Some ground rules that can make this possible are: Transparency and honesty are key to any such policy. It is extremely important that both sides are completely honest with each other in all their dealings. Conflicts of Interest are inevitable in any such arrangement. The onus is on both parties to try and identify all areas where such conflicts could occur. Potential contributions falling under such areas should be carefully scrutinised on a case-by-case basis. Client Clearance is important so as to ensure that the client is also aware of what the employees providing the service are doing. This becomes even more important when a potential conflict of interest is identified. Nodal Agency to take care of all issues related to the governance of Free and Open Source Software should be created within the organisation 10

Intellectual Property ownership should be clearly defined so that there is no confusion in that respect. So as to ensure clarity in this area, the employee should seek a-priori clearance to contribute to existing projects and follow the project’s licensing terms. If starting fresh projects, it will be imperative to get clearance from the nodal agency. It is also important to identify who owns the IPR when the FLOSS is being developed on company owned equipment and/or company time and uses other company resources. The policy and agreement have to be explicit and clear in this regard.



We have had a brief look at the foundations and four pillars that if implemented property could allow the Indian IT Services companies build FLOSS leadership, thereby helping them to become more innovative and competitive. Just having a strategy is not enough, proper implementation is even more important. Towards this end, it is imperative that companies create an “Open Source Office” that serves as a nodal centre and clearing house for all things related to FLOSS. Such an agency should function at the highest level and be tasked with the job of overseeing all FLOSS related activities in the organisation, across all dimensions.

[1] Red Hat, Inc., “Red Hat Publishes Study on Worldwide Open Source Activity and Growth,”, April 2009. [2] L. V and K. Katdare, “Innovation – Imperative for Indian Software Service Industry,” 2007. [Online]. Available: InnovationImperative-for-Indian-Software-Service-Industry [3] S. Garg, “Road to the Future: How Software Service Companies can benefit from Free and Open Source Software,” NavankurIT, Tech. Rep., 2009. [4] E. S. Raymond, Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. O’Reilly Media, 2001. [Online]. Available: [5] B. Perens, “The emerging economic paradigm of Open Source,” First Monday, vol. 10, no. 2, October 2005, [Online]. Available: [6] Wikibooks, “FLOSS Concept Booklet,” Available Online, FLOSS_Concept_Booklet


[7] ——, Open Source Wikibook. Wikimedia, available as: [Online]. Available: wiki/Open_Source [8] C. Rasch, “A Brief History of Free/Open Source Software Movement,”, original site not working :(. [Online]. Available: brief-open-source-history.html [9] Open Source Initiative, “History of the OSI,” [Online]. Available: [10] S. Williams, “A Timeline of Open Source in Government,” Online Article, July 2002. [Online]. Available: timeline.html [11] LJ Staff, “Linux Timeline,”, May 2006, linux Journal celebrated the publication of its 100th issue in 2002 with the release of the Linux Timeline. It’s now 2006, Linux itself turns 15 this year and Linux Journal, a little older, grayer and wiser, is soon to release it’s 150th issue. In celebration and in honor of an amazing community’s history we’re compiling the significant events of 2002 through 2006 (and of course anything from earlier years that we may have previously missed). [Online]. Available: [12] B. Young, Giving It Away: A capitalist entrepeneur’s view of Open Source. April 2003. [Online]. Available:,

[13] D. A. Wheeler, “Why Open Source Software/Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, or FOSS)? Look at the Numbers!” [Online]. Available: [14] ——, “More than a Gigabuck: Estimating GNU/Linux’s Size,” Online Paper, 2001. [Online]. Available: [15] ——, “Linux Kernel 2.6: It’s Worth More!” Online article, January 2006. [Online]. Available: [16] NASSCOM, “Strategic Review [Online]. 2009,” Available:

[17] “Working days shrink for benched code writers,” DNA Money, Bangalore Edition, p. 19, April 2009. [Online]. Available: [18] Metaparadigm, “OSS Activity Study,” Online Article, July 2005. [Online]. Available:


[19] ZDNet, “Open source ’split by digital divide’.” [Online]. Available: http://www.zdnetindia. com/news/software/stories/135384.html [20] P. Mohandas, “Infosys shifting 10% of its employees to internal projects,” Mint, vol. 3, no. 67, p. 6, March 2009. [Online]. Available: 19214953/Infosys-shifting-10-of-its-em.html


Authors’ Bio:
Sachin Garg is the Principal Consultant with Navankur, a consulting startup focused on providing innovative, economical & scalable Information Technology solutions to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. He has over 12 years of diverse industry experience. He is currently focused on the innovative use of technology to solve real-world problems. As part of that focus, he attended the prestigious “Design and Evaluation of Innovation Policies”, an international training programme conducted by the United Nations University-Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology, Maastricht, The Netherlands. He holds a Masters degree in Computer Science Engineering from the Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology, Allahabad and a Bachelors in Electronics Engineering from the National Institute of Technology, Rourkela. He can be reached at: Kshma Garg is a Lead Consultant with Navankur, specialising in the area of Human Resources. She has over 8 years of experience in various facets of Human Resource management and is currently working at the crossroads of HR and Technology as a domain specialist. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the ABV-Indian Institute of Information Technology & Management, Gwalior. She can be reached at:


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