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Indian communists support open source

But don't plan to make it compulsory

The Indian state of Kerala has decided to promote free and open-source software in education, but will not make it compulsory, a minister in Kerala's communist government said today.

The government would like to avoid a monopoly by Microsoft and provide equal opportunity for both Linux and Microsoft's Windows OS (operating system) in schools, said MA Baby, education minister in the Kerala government today.

The Kerala government is encouraging some 12,500 schools to give training for free and open-source software such as Linux. The decision to use Linux or Windows would be taken by teachers and students in each of the schools, Baby said.

The move by the government reflects growing interest in free and open-source software among students in Kerala, according to Baby. About 60 percent of students use Linux in their school projects, rather than Windows, as they see the benefits of open source, according to Baby. "We want to increase the number of students using Linux," he said.

Kerala in south India had a population of 31.8 million, according to the census in 2001. The state has a literacy rate of 91 percent, the highest in the country.

The recent statements by the Kerala government in favour of free software were prompted by the visit to the state last week by Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation.

The government will take the lead in popularising free software, the state's chief minister, VS Achuthanandan said last week at a seminar on Free Software for Kerala's Development, at which Stallman was also a speaker. Stallman, who also visited West Bengal, another communist-run state, was able to win some support from local political leaders.

This is also not the first time that the state of Kerala has shown interest in alternatives to proprietary software. The IT policy announced in 2001 by the previous non-communist Kerala government stated that the government wishes to encourage the judicious use of open-source or free software that complements or supplements proprietary software.

The position of the Kerala government is different from that of India's federal government in Delhi, which has declined to take a stand with regard to either type of software. Some Indian federal and state agencies have been beneficiaries of Microsoft's programmes to promote the use of information technology in schools.

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