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Developing Countries Breeding Grounds for Open Source

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Red Herring’s Falguni Bhuta predictsMore (Open Source) momentum in developing countries“:


“Open-source software’s transparent nature and low-cost will make it more popular among developing countries such as China and India (see India State: Linux In, MS Out). Marten Mickos, CEO of open-source database company MySQL, says the fast-growing BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) will be breeding grounds in 2007 for interesting open source startups because of the large market and talent. “China and India are so large together, like they have become the physical goods factories of the world, the same will happen with open source,” Mr. Allison says”

While I hope that Falguni’s prediction materializes, a conversation with my cousin in India a few days ago made me wonder for a second.

My cousin works as an IT Admin for a very large American bank with operations in India. His group develops and manages applications, (along with the related OSes and hardware) for use in the bank’s Indian operations. This isn’t an outsourcing operation. I figured they’d be using lots of open source like LAMP, Tomcat or Geronimo to keep costs down. They weren’t. They’re using a lot of Microsoft technology. When I asked why they weren’t using Linux, he asked about how secure Linux and open source in general was. To be honest I was a little surprised that (1) they weren’t using more open source products and (2) he questioned the security of Linux vs. Windows. Note, this is based on a sample size of 1 (well 2 because I’ve heard similar things from another cousin when I asked about Java or PHP vs. .NET, and MySQL vs. Oracle usage), so take it with several grains of salt.

Upon reflection, I shouldn’t have been too surprised:

1] I’ve heard about how important MCSE and other Microsoft certification is in India

2] Microsoft continues to invest heavily in India. Microsoft also benefits from Indian outsourcing companies working for overseas customers with investments in Microsoft technology. If the overseas customer is outsourcing work on Microsoft technology, then Indian outsourcing firms need employees with Microsoft skills.

3] I came across this post from Christopher Blizzard who writes:

.. students who are in schools to which we suggest that they get involved in open source software in India often ask “how will doing work in open source software help me get a job?”

Remember that many of these students are becoming the highest earners in their (extended) family by securing an IT job. This sometimes means that they are, wholly or in part, supporting their parents and siblings through these IT jobs. As a result, they’re very focused on taking steps that will directly result in “a good job with a good company“. Why contribute to an open source project when I can be studying, (which is what classmates are doing)? Sure contributing open source code is good experience, but good exam results often play a larger role in securing a job in India. And yes, one can argue that if you contribute a lot to, say, kernel.org, you may get a job with a commercial Linux distro vendor, but that’s an edge case scenario today.

Maybe the increasing penetration of open source in North America & Europe will drive the need for more open source skills within Indian outsourcing companies. As a result, students will have an incentive to work on open source projects while in school. As this happens, some will surely decide to found an open source-based venture, or decide that such a venture is “a good job with a good company“. It’s also good to see commercial open source vendors like Red Hat hiring more Indian staff. And from a personal standpoint, we have a sizable team of IBM India employees working on Geronimo & WAS CE development & support. Oh, and let’s not forget about the buzz from Indian Government agencies adopting Linux, which should drive more interest for working on open source projects.

The future is definitely bright for open source innovation from India and other emerging countries, but there’s plenty of work to be done yetit’s going to be a fun ride indeed!

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I am taking a semi-break from IBM life as I return to finish a PhD in Industrial Engineering. I’ve held roles in market intelligence, strategy and product management. I’m ex-product manager of IBM WAS Community Edition, and blog about enterprise open source topics.

Developing Countries Breeding Grounds for Open Source
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