Indian admins love Linux, users stuck on Windows

Panelists at ZDNet IT Priorities roundtable in Mumbai discuss their experience with using open source platforms and difficulties faced in managing user migration.
Written by Munir Kotadia, Contributor on

The Indian ICT market was hit pretty hard by the global financial crisis. Although the country's tech economy avoided going into a recession, growth fell from around 30 percent in 2008 to just five percent last year. In 2010, a healthy rebound is expected.

India's uneven distribution of wealth, creaking transport and telecommunications infrastructure, combined with a massive army of highly skilled workers, means admins face some very unique challenges.

Microsoft took a bit of a bashing from panelists at the Indian Roundtable, attracting complaints for its complex and inflexible licensing policies.

Yogesh Dhandharia, administrator from manufacturing company Rashi Peripherals, said his entire organization was using Microsoft desktops and servers--but only because a planned migration to Linux had failed.

"My CFO told me, 'I want to use Linux, implement it on my system.' We got it implemented on his system and trained with Open Office...and he was happy, he said it was very good. But when we started [deploying Linux] for new and existing employees, change management was the toughest area.

"People started giving their resignations, saying no, we are not interested in change. Finally, the whole project had to be abolished because we cannot have mass resignations and people getting upset," he said.

Shekhar Ranjankar, IT administrator at Unitop Chemicals, revealed that Linux desktops and servers have formed the base of his company's IT system for many years.

"We are using a customized open source [desktop] operating system, purely Linux. We are using an in-house developed ERP [enterprise resource planning] application and since it's developed in-house, we know all the ins and outs: that solution is highly cost effective.

"Our entire reporting model is running browser-based, using open source and PHP. As a result, our entire IT cost is very, very low," he said.

Ranjankar explained that his present IT system has evolved over more than a decade and scaled extremely well.

"We have been using these applications for the last 14 years. When we started, my company's turnover was around 5 crore [50 million rupees]. Today, we are close to 100 crore [1 billion rupees] and we are easily able to manage these applications," he added.

One similarity between Indian admins and other Asian countries was the enthusiastic adoption of Google's cloud-based services.

Dhandharia said that his CFO had agreed to deploy Google Apps throughout the organization.

"With the Gmail server we got the Google Docs free, we got the collaboration free, even chatting and everything in the internal office was free. The Google servers are fantastic," he said.

According to Dhandharia, unlike migrating to a Linux desktop, convincing employees to use Google Docs was easy.

"I gave [one employee] training of five minutes and now she is doing all this stuff without any problems. Google Docs is really working like a charm for us, at zero cost. Because when we took the Google server, Google were offering it free of cost," Dhandharia said.

Vijay Prasad, a director of the Project Management Institute, admitted that even his organization had shifted to Google Docs. He also agreed that Microsoft needs to work on improving its licensing structure, but warned companies considering a migration to develop a long-term strategy--and manage the project well.

"Even if I see a very nice solution sitting there and attracting me, I really cannot jump on to it right now, I have to wait for three more years. If it is a Linux culture that you want to introduce, then imagine the change management you need to do, imagine the training you need to do.

"There are cost pressures... If I want to bring in 50 people Linux-trained, management will say, 'wait a minute, you are already on Microsoft. What is the big need to do it right now'," Prasad added.

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