Indian OpenOffice rollout picks up pace

The Indian government is pushing an ambitious project to distribute CDs containing Firefox and OpenOffice in all official Indian languages

Open source groups are helping the Indian government meet its target of creating open source CDs in all official Indian languages by February 2006.

The open source applications included on the CDs, such as the Firefox browser and the productivity suite, have already been translated into five Indian languages — Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Punjabi and Urdu. But there are still 17 languages left to be translated in just three months.

The localised open source applications will also be available on PCs soon, after the Indian government struck a deal with a number of PC vendors to pre-install the software on computers sold in the country. The Indian government is trying to encourage the use of computers across the country by distributing free CDs that contain localised versions of popular open source applications.

R.K.V.S. Raman, a researcher at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, an organisation involved in the production of the CD, said on Tuesday that the success of the Tamil and Hindi language CDs has encouraged open source groups across India to get involved.

"Since the launch of the Tamil and Hindi CDs, a large number of open source groups have an expressed interest in contributing to CDs," said Raman.

Before the government started this initiative, many open source groups were reluctant to work with the government as they were unsure of its policy around open source, according to Raman. But the success of this initiative has roused the local open source community, who are now voluntarily carrying out large parts of the work, he said.

For example, a Linux user group, known as Punlinux, worked on translating the open source applications into Punjabi, and the Telugu translation work was done in collaboration with the Free Software Foundation India, according to Raman.

The Telugu CD was launched at the end of October by the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, a state in south-eastern India where Telugu is the official language. The Punjabi and Urdu CDs are ready for release and will be officially launched in December or January by the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh.

The Hindi and Tamil CDs, which have been available since early summer, have already been sent out to around 400,000 people. The organisation initially planned to distribute around 3.5 million copies of each CD, but it claims that demand for the CD has been less than expected as people are often sharing the CD or downloading the software instead.

"If one person gets the CD, the whole community or [company] department gets the CD," said Raman. "There are so many channels that people can it from — the Internet, their friends, from magazines — that we don't know how many people have access to it."

Although the Indian government has funded this open source initiative, overall it has a neutral policy to open source, according to a recent ZDNet UK article looking at open source in the Indian government.