[Fsf-press] Press Release from FSF India

gnu@gnu.org.in gnu@gnu.org.in
Fri, 15 Nov 2002 12:38:46 +0530

Free Software Foundation of India

Press release: Friday, November 15, 2002

The Free Software Foundation of India would like to bring to the
attention of the Government and the general public the negative
implications of the "investment pledges" made by the Microsoft
Chairman, Bill Gates, during his present visit to India.

At the outset, it needs to be made very clear that the proposed
investments have no motive other than the motive of profit and nobody
should be under the illusion that these "investments" are being made
for the betterment of society or for the development of India. On the
contrary, the type of software developed and sold by Microsoft,
proprietary software, -- software which is supplied without its
underlying source code and without the freedoms to study, modify and
redistribute it -- constrains indigenous development and divides

Of particular concern is the Microsoft Chairman's pledge of money to
`Project Shiksha' aimed at educating 35 lakh children, tied to the
condition that the Project will purchase and use licensed Microsoft
software! Mr. Gates magnanimously declared that "In education, we have
very low pricing. For big education projects, we will have larger
donations so that the cost of software is lower." However, this is not
a question of initial software cost. Microsoft would benefit
tremendously from such a project even if it were to supply its
software free of cost as long as it is Microsoft software. That is
because the children and teachers would learn (or shall we say
"indoctrinated") to use only Microsoft software, allowing the company
to maintain its monopolistic stranglehold in education and
beyond. This is akin to an MBBS course teaching potential doctors how
to use medicines manufactured only by one particular pharmaceutical

To quote Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation:
"This `gift' is no act of generosity.  Giving Microsoft software to
school children is like giving them cigarettes: it is a way to get
them hooked, so that once they grow up they will be a captive market
for Microsoft." Thus, Microsoft is not "investing" in Indian Education
but in its own future captive market.

Besides the obvious issue of monopoly, there is another far more
fundamental concern, that of software freedom. As pointed out earlier,
Microsoft software is proprietary -- it is supplied without its
underlying source code under a restrictive license which denies its
users the freedoms to study, modify and redistribute the
software. Which means that the students and teachers of `Project
Shiksha' will not have the means or the right to study how the
software works or to change it -- studying and changing the software
one uses is one of the best ways to learn programming. If they find
problems with the software, they will not have the means or the right
to make required corrections, either by themselves or by engaging a
third party. They will have to depend solely on Microsoft to provide
such corrections. They will be denied the right to share the software
with others outside the purview of the project premises, leading young
and impressionable minds to believe that sharing is wrong!

The People and the Government of India should reject outright any
grant or "investment" which is tied to such restrictive conditions
whose sole aim is to perpetuate a monopoly and make a nation's
software infrastructure so hopelessly dependent on one corporation.

The Government should set up an expert committee to look into the above
implications and seriously consider formulating an IT and education
policy based on Free/Swatantra Software. Swatantra Software gives the
users all the rights and freedoms denied by proprietary software. It
enables and encourages collaborative development independent of any
corporate entity thereby guaranteeing the freedom and independence of
its users. It facilitates devising local solutions to local problems
independently of the software's supplier. It gives the users the means
and right to study how the software works and, as software
educationists know, the best way to learn to write good software is by
studying other peoples' work. It allows the software to be shared,
both "as is" as well as in modified forms, in keeping with the ethical
tradition of the free flow of knowledge.

An example of Free/Swatantra Software is the GNU/Linux operating
system which is in widespread use especially in the enterprise, in
government departments and in academic institutions around the
world. The development of the GNU system started in 1984, and the
GNU/Linux operating system has been in use since 1992.

The country-wide SchoolNet program of Namibia, for instance, uses
GNU/Linux. Other countries like Peru are in the process of mandating
or legislating the use of free software such as GNU/Linux to ensure
their independence.

About FSF India

The Free Software Foundation Of India is a non-profit organisation
committed to advocating, promoting and propagating the use and
development of swatantra software in India. Our goal is to ensure the
long term adoption of free software, and aim for the day when all
software will be free (swatantra). This includes educating people
about software freedom and convincing them that it is the freedom that
matters. We regard non-free proprietary software as a problem to be
solved, not as a solution to any problem.


Online version of this release:

Peruvian Congressman's Open Letter to Microsoft:

An Interview with Peruvian Congressman Villanueva:

Namibia: SchoolNet rebuffs Microsoft:

The GNU Project:

FSF India Web site: