On April 9, the Dhaka Tribune announced a number of new agreements inked between Bangladesh and India.
Among these were two of interest to the local IT industry; namely “Cooperation in the field of IT and electronics,” and “Cooperation in the field of cyber-security.”
Hopefully these agreements would be fulfilled in a way which will enable Bangladesh’s IT industry to progress from its current foreign-dependent state, in which most local IT sales are simply resales or distribution of IT products from multi-national vendors.
One key to enabling progress for the Bangladeshi IT industry is to emphasise use of free/open-source technology locally, thus averting the effective “tax” on local IT industry which foreign products represent.
Some clarification is required: When a local company sells any foreign proprietary software, a big portion of the revenue simply goes abroad to the foreign software supplier.
This “software license tax” effectively reduces revenue and profit of the local IT industry.
On the other hand, if the computer contained free/open-source software such as the Linux operating system and the LibreOffice word processor/spreadsheet/presentation suite, there would be no foreign software payment, and a bigger portion of the local IT purchase would remain in the local economy.
Free/open-source software is pure import substitution given our traditional reliance on imported software, with huge potential benefits for Bangladesh.
Getting the word out
The problem with free/open-source software like Linux and LibreOffice is that no one has heard of these products and so everyone doubts their capabilities, in spite of the fact that huge government organisations like the French Gendarmerie (military police) has migrated 72,000 computers to Linux and LibreOffice.
In terms of cyber-security, a 2014 investigation by the UK government found Ubuntu Linux to be the most secure desktop operating system.
A major focus of the deals which have been inked with India should be to make free/open-source software like Linux and LibreOffice the default IT solutions at all levels of the Bangladesh government.
There are plenty of opportunities to get Indian assistance with free/open-source software, as India has already taken some steps to encourage use of Linux and LibreOffice at the government level.
The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) in Chennai maintains its own version of Debian Linux customised for the Indian market under the name Bharat Operating System Solution.
As part of the agreements just signed, the Bangladesh government should set up at least one centre for free/open-source software development and research similar to CDAC.
This centre should be in Dhaka, as that’s where the most skilled manpower is, and it should produce a version of Linux for use by all Bangladesh government personnel.
There should also be Linux/LibreOffice training centres opened in each division (and ultimately, in each district) with the goal of training all government personnel on how to use Linux and LibreOffice.
India also has a National Resource Centre for Free and Open-Source Software, which coordinates work on Linux at CDAC as well as other academic and research institutions.
Bangladesh also needs a government agency which will be tasked with exploring use of free/open-source software across schools, universities, and all government agencies.
The government’s software procurement process should specify that free/open-source solutions should always be considered first as a means of reducing national dependence on foreign technology vendors. India already has such a policy.
It also saves money
The Indian state of Tamil Nadu has already started using Linux on 30,000 computers, saving many crores in software licensing costs.
It’s worth noting that the word “free” in free/open-source software implies not just free of cost, but also freedom from commercial dependence upon multi-national software vendors.
To emphasise this, the biography of Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement which ultimately produced the Linux operating system, is titled Free as in Freedom.
In fact, it is impossible to run a modern government without computers; so it should not be acceptable that sovereign nations like Bangladesh be forever dependent on foreign IT vendors, especially when the Linux alternative offers both freedom and zero-cost.
Let’s use the opportunity of the new cooperation agreements with India to make our national IT infrastructure truly independent.
Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.