Open-source software, or more precisely the FLOSS (Free and Libre Open Source Software) is arguably one of the best gifts the 20th century had presented us with. With the turn of the century, we continued to nurture this gift, and polish it more and more. A vast array of open-source software arose from our collective efforts, and indeed they’re helping make the world a better place for everyone.
One point, that is often overlooked by the advocates of FLOSS is, the way FLOSS benefits the economy of an emerging nation. There are uncountably many benefits we derive simply by switching to FLOSS, and gradually they boost our finances, individually, collectively and universally.
Let us first consider the situation from ‘individual’ perspective. As many of my learned friends hailing from the Linux communities have mentioned it time and again, Linux lets us continue using our relatively older hardware. If you’re into Macintosh or Windows, you’d need to buy new hardware, or upgrade your existing system every few years or so. This is because day by day these operating systems get more and more resource-intensive. Windows Vista, for example, was more or less a failure, while Windows 7 did improve the situation much. But both of them have those fancy desktop features enabled by default. Windows Aero is beautiful, I’ve used it personally. But at the same time, effects of a similar, if not more, degree of excellence and beauty can be generated using Linux’s multiple desktop environments. For example, what Compiz fusion does is essentially beyond the reach of Microsoft even today. Turning your desktop into a cube, writing your name with your pointer in flaming letters and making it ‘rain’ on your desktop, they’re just elegant.
But while such fancy features serve as nice eye-candies, they can only serve that much. They help us lure more people to try a particular OS of our choice, but they more than often don’t contribute to our productivity. That’s why I like to keep my Linux distro simple and elegant.
With Linux, I can go on using the same computer for years and years. For example, the laptop I am typing this article on is a Dell Inspiron, 2 years old. Yet, I didn’t feel more than maybe once or twice, that it’s getting slower. I confess, once it got very cluttered, but just after cleaning the /var/cache/apt/archives and using Ubuntu tweak a bit, it returned back to normal. This is the beauty of Linux, it’s almost divine simplicity.
Government offices can switch to Linux to cut costs, and this extra money generated will be utilized for betterment of services.
Enough talks, now let me present a few points, which show how Linux benefits the economy of emerging, developing nations:
1. Use older hardware
Linux allows us to spend less on hardware components, and this gives a big boost to the collective economy of the nation. And one should also understand that computers are for working, not gaming. My cousin, who’s an avid gamer, keeps on buying those fancy graphics cards from Nvidia stores, and although I’ve tried to switch him to Linux, he’s just too reluctant to do so. But it is not almost a reality, that with the release of Stream, Linux is finally able to support high-end gaming.
For a country like India, this is important. An average Indian does not have enough financial capacity to afford a new computer every one-and-half years. And why should we do that? Computers should serve us, we shouldn’t serve them! Computers are for working, and changing them every one or two years also destabilizes the working environment.
2. Linux gives us access to a multitude of free software
This is very important for an evolving economy. Microsoft and Apple, they both are American companies. So, if you legally pay for the new releases of Windows or Mac, you’re actually shipping a part of your money to the USA. While this is good for the American economy, what about other nations? UK, Germany, France, Japan, India, we’re basically all forced to rely on Microsoft (more or less). And why should we pay for such software when we can legally get them for free?
The GIMP vs Photoshop debate is one such. Unless one is an expert photographer willing to work in some Hollywood production, I don’t think there’s any need to use Photoshop. GIMP does everything you want it to do. While the learning curve is a bit steeper with GIMP, you also have absolute control over everything. You pay $0 for your software, you can even download the code and modify some or all of its aspects if you don’t like it, you can request a new feature and it has the chance of getting implemented, you get to be the part of a vibrant community of GIMP users! Thus, the spirit of Open-Source benefits economy.
For an emerging nation like India, I believe Linux should be implemented everywhere. Stop paying for software, and stop pirating them, because you can have them for free!
3. Linux increases our level of understanding
Linux and most open-source software have a steep learning curve, but that’s a great benefit. It boosts the nation’s economy, by helping us set up local support centres for Linux-based systems. Since you can have the software and its code for free, you can essentially study it however you want to. The best part is, you can even develop a new distro and make a good business with it as long as you’re following the rules laid down by the respective license.
The Chinese government has fully recognized it, and they’ve teamed up with Canonical to build Ubuntu Kyelin, the Chinese version of Ubuntu. This is indeed a great achievement, because millions of Chinese computer users are now free from the monopoly of Microsoft. Thousands of Americans themselves can be free from the tentacles of Apple if they switch to Linux.
4. Spend less on those costly antivirus software
Yeah, people go on buying, and often pirating, licenses for those fancy antivirus software they ‘need’ to keep their PCs safe. Many Indian companies have started joining the business, for example the Quick Heal company of India. Antivirus software won’t be required if you’d switch to a more efficient, more secure platform. And that is what Linux is! I’ve been running Linux Mint and Ubuntu on my desktop and laptop respective for more than 1.5 years at a stretch (without reinstalling even once. I just upgraded them both when new versions got released). And not a single day came when I actually had to worry about buying a new antivirus software. And indeed, no infections occurred, ever.
Most people here don’t even know what Linux is, but the few who do often bring up this argument: Windows has more than 90% or market share, and virus-writers would want to cause more damage with their destructive pieces of code. That’s why antivirus software is needed to keep the system safe. If Linux grows that popular someday, or even half that popular, it will no longer be ‘secure’.
But a nice counter argument can be forged using the data we get from server-side computing statistics. The LAMP system is getting more and more common nowadays. And Apache by itself has more market share than Windows Server systems. Still, the number of attacks successfully launched on Apache servers is much less. Why? Because of the superior design of FLOSS.
5. Less maintenance costs
This is point by its own right. Using Linux and open-source, you get to be using bleeding-edge technology, and most of the time without paying a buck! Linux requires less maintenance, and actually helps you focus on your work. There’s a common joke regarding Windows, “Have you finished your daily Windows re-installation?”. Although this is really far-fetched, Windows really slower and slower with every usage. Its registry is just a dull thing is that also, however, ‘the heart of Microsoft Windows’. When I used Windows, I had to perform my routine re-installation every 3 months or so, installing every single piece of software thereafter. Why do we need that when we can go on running the same system for months and years? This makes us more productive.
Developing economies, and even developed ones, need their people to dedicate their time to working, literally. I am a student, and my primary task is studying. I intend to use my computer for the sake of boosting my education, and yet, with windows, I’m forced to spend a large chunk of time in maintaining the system alone! With Linux, I can actually focus on my work, rather than my system.
And those ‘specialized’ software? I don’t support the process of running Windows software on Linux using WINE. I understand that there are certain software which are still lacking in Linux. But the gap is actually being bridged up! As more and more people continue to join Linux, the authors of those ‘specialized software’ are releasing their equivalent native Linux versions. Microsoft Windows has a number of specialized, paid software suiting some specific needs because it has more market share, not because of its ‘superior design’. And it has more market share because more people use it! That’s not a virtue of the platform itself. So, as more and more people will continue to join the Linux club, we’ll be witnessing the development of more quality software for Linux as well.
In many other ways, Linux and open-source benefit the economy of emerging nations. And I personally believe the superior design, greater flexibility and more security of Linux will finally help the masses see the light and switch to this free, elegant platform.