How Opensource can help Himachal


It’s been beaten to death that basic education in Himachal is far ahead than any other state of India. But not only the government but private players need to take the literacy campaign to the second level where stress would be on computer literacy.

I always give references to Shimla as, one, I come from there and two, being the state capital it’s obvious that references would often be made to it. I see a lot of people now a days surfing and comfortable with computer lingo. Many have computers and internet connections at home. Thanks to Sukh Ram for his telecommunication revolution in Himachal.

However, what’s perturbing is that I am convinced (though I’ve no data or research to support, I’m going by my conviction.) that 99 per cent of the computer owners and even cyber cafes in Shimla have pirated Windows and other softwares. If you take all Himachal into consideration, the figures could go up to 99.99 per cent.

Windows is giving an opportunity to legalise your OS but that costs not less than Rs 6,000. Mind you it’s a cost just to legalise Windows. And if you have to legalise MS Office, costs can shoot up. Add to that other softwares on the machine like Anti-Virus etc. And God forbid if Nasscom decides to crack down on these business organisations, less than one per cent would be able to use computers. So a legal machine could cost more than a Lakh though we proudly say that the costs of a PC fully loaded with multimedia and even a printer have come down to even Rs 20,000. But that’s the cost of just the hardware. Not the software.

This second level of literacy focussing on Computer literacy could face major hurdles going by the costs a PC would incur. Teaching on a pirated software is not the solution. Herein, opensource could play a major factor in spreading computer literacy. Opensource itself is an idea to spread education and preventing it to be in the hands of a handful. For that Unix and Linux can play a major role. Even Wiki softwares.

One, most of these softwares come free. Well, there’s nothing like Free in this world. The only thing free is the source. But the hardware costs like the CD costs which have come down to Rs 20 would only have to be borne.

But the apathy is how many people are apt in Linux and can operate it? I feel the next generation is of Linux. Business organisations are relying more on it. It’s stable and robust. And Linux can be a major factor in spreading computer literacy in rural Himachal, because of the meagre costs. If a PC – just the hardware comes for Rs 15,000, minus the printer or a TVS Gold keyboard; the costs go down further if you delete the mutimedia like a Hi-Fi speakers and all, the software – that too legal can come for a couple of hundred Rupees, provided it’s opensource.

Though Microsoft has been working on e-governance in India for long now, but one they want to make you dependent on it. Secondly, it’s part of their corporate social obligation. Well they are not spending Crores on marketing just for the heck. They want people to be dependent on them and buy their software. But why when you can get it for free. So what’s the cost of a freeware. Either you popularise it or contribute to the Opensource by adding more features to it. Well that’s spreading education I suppose, and that’s what we want to do. And the best part being, we can customise it to our needs. Most of the junk we get in MS Office, we don’t need it. I’ve never used Access. Most people use Word and at times Excel. But why pay for Frontpage, Access or even Powerpoint when you would never need it?

We have to train our youth and teachers to learn Linux. E-governance can be brought through Linux. LIC and other offices are using Unix. In Himachal, Linux could be customised for one education, second, business, third agriculture, farming, getting prices, and Internet.

Forget telecommunication, the problem with most of the Indian rural areas is that they don’t have even electricity. Intel is coming out with a ruggedised PC especially for the rural areas, that can be powered by cycling. And would cost around Rs 20,000, according to newspaper reports. The company hasn’t quoted a price as yet. And thankfully, Himachal doesn’t need it. We have enough electricity. Rather we are selling it to other states. The only problem would be the software – legal software. As I said earlier, Linux could play a major role in it. Once haats are set up on the lines of e-chowpal, Wiki softwares too could come into help, where people could edit content on their own. And farmers could share their experiences of high yielding crops, get mandi prices at these haats for their fruits and vegetables. Right now, people either send fruits either to Delhi or Chandigarh or Lucknow. They rely either on other farmers who sold a couple of days ago for the price or get to know of the price after reaching the mandi. At times, they have been repenting after visiting the place. It’s not easy to go back from Delhi to Chandigarh or even Shimla. Through these haats, you could get the price for the day and decide where to send your produce. In fact, you could haggle your price on the spot with the middleman, if you know the mandi rates on the spot itself, through the haat.

Opensource could play a major factor in bringing about a revolution in computer literacy in Himachal. This could be said for whole of India also. However, why I’m focussing on Himachal only is because we are in a position to move to the second level even in the rural areas, because of high literacy rate, availability of electricity and even telecommunication, hence Internet could play a major role too.

I’m leaving this topic open-ended and not coming to a conclusion, so as to initiate a discussion on it and have more ideas on it from all of you people.

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A perfect story-teller, who is madly in love with the hills. Shimla is his first love, and probably the last too. Won't get tired reading Rudyard Kipling. Hopes to pick up poetry again soon.

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