Open Source in India
India is not particularly known for its Open Source community. In a recent lecture that I attended, one of the luminiaries noted that if you
Almost a year ago, I wrote a guest post on the benefits of Open Sourcing your app. Though I cannot recall my motivation for writing this, the editors at Pluggd.in manged to get a nice headline out of it. Recently a reader of this blog, egged me on to write more on Open Source. In the last few months, I have been observing the Open Source community (mostly home-grown projects) in India trying to see if there is an opening somewhere for us to fit in. Here are my views:
India is not particularly known for its Open Source community. In a recent lecture that I attended, one of the luminiaries noted that if you take country-wise rankings of consumption (download) and contributions to Open Source, India comes very low on both those lists.
There are a couple of projects that keep appearing at all places (apart from ERPNext). One is a web based accounting app called GNU Khata ("khata" is "Account" in Hindi). I have tremendous respect for its author, Krishnakant Mane, who is a great role model for the visually impaired, but the project itself seems to be in a bad shape and does not seem to go anywhere.
The other Open Source app in India is Fedena, an Open Source school ERP. The company behind it seems to have a knack for marketing and PR and the design looks nice too. But if you give the app a spin, you will realize that its a pretty basic app and would make anyone instantly suspicious of their claims that it is used in 40,000 schools. The app, no doubt, has good potential, but the company, in my view, takes a big dent in its credibility due to their claims. Can Fedena have more users (20 million) than Basecamp (7 million)?
There are very few Open Source events in India, big or small. I attended the recent Ubuntu lanuch event in one of the local elite universities (IIT Bombay) and it did not seem to be a great place for discussions. None of the "bright" IIT students asked a single question to Prof Phatak, who had just started heading the Indian government's low-cost tablet project. And when I asked, I got admonished by one student after the lecture in a near threatening tone, how did I even dare.
There are a couple of flagship events, Open Source India Days and FOSS.IN. Incidently both are happening at the same venue in Bengaluru and that too one after the other. A quick glance tells me that OSI Days is are targetted to the large software service companies of India and an opportunity for the large enterprise vendors to show their stuff or sell services.
FOSS.IN on the other end seems to be a conference with a more international speakers and focussing on large FOSS projects. Focus seems more evangelizing and networking. Also did not find any home grown Open Source project disucssed here.
Some of the Open Source groups like the Linux User Group and Python group are pretty harmless too. They are mostly hunting grounds for recruiters and people wanting to practice their public speaking skills or newbies who are too lazy to read manuals or use Google to find solutions.
If there are individual contributors to popular open source projects, and I am pretty sure there have to be a handful, I have not personally come across them. I think they might be more active in global online communities rather than Indian ones.
Here is a partial list of Indian FOSS contributors (though the ""developer of the month" has not been updated since April 2008).
Apart from RedHat India and the tons of small Elance job shops who can install / setup any Open Source software out there (OpenERP, Magento, Wordpress etc) for under $100, there are not many Open Source Companies in India.
One exception is Gluster. Gluster is a remote backup system that is now a part of RedHat. It says it is headquartered in the US, but I am sure a lot of the development took place in India. So that makes it a welcome anamoly.
The United States, from where practically 90% of all Open Source software comes, has a great Open Source eco-system comprising of spunky small companies like Automattic and 37Signals, large Corporations like RedHat, IBM, Sun (now owned by he who must not be named) and universities contributing to Open Source.
So what does India have? (No, mother (maa) will not be helpful)
Higher education in India is completely dysfunctional, yes including the famed IITs. Since it is common knowledge, so I won't dwell on this. The large enterprises too have yet to exhibit any kind of innovative energy that would lead to more contributions to Open Source. In other words, if they are not pushed by some crisis to become more innovative, they will soon be dinasours.
A few years back, I was invited to be a part of an elite group formed by the most blue chip Indian Software Vendor and the local IIT to explore the Open Source ERP space. Though I was a misfit in this group belonging to these elite institutions (I know I am done with my quota of the word "elite") it was clear in a couple of meetings that this was going to be only a theoritical and back-rubbing exercise.
There are very very few startups in India that publish "anything" as Open Source. Among the noteworthy exceptions are a small media and event company, HasGeek who have open sourced their pretty job board.
Where Does ERPNext Fit?
Initially we started with Open Source since most of the web frameworks (Rails, Django, Zope etc) were Open Source. So Open Source was the default option. When we started to build ERPNext, it just made sense to take that forward. There were a dozens of ERPs in the market and I thought atleast we could stand out. There was lesser competition in Open Source (the famous ones were, and still are, Compiere, OpenERP and OpenBravo).
So it was not all altruism that got us started. Consequently, Open Source is not something we have based our strategy on. Our focus is on the services we provide (hosting, support, bugfix, backups) based on our product. Commercial support for Open Source is only a small fraction of our overall revenue.
I think we have survived the torrid early days and we are surely maturing. Even though we are in near isolation, all is not lost. Every now and then we get someone who gets genuinely excited about ERPNext. But its a long process and it takes time.
This has turned out to be a longer post than I anticipated, but the writing on the wall is unmistakable. The Indian FOSS movement is in a pause mode and there does not seem to be much energy out there.
[edit: Updated my views on FOSS.IN after seeing their schedule]
Rushabh is a software developer and founder of ERPNext. He usually writes about the startup experience, open source and the technologies he is working on.