Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) is widely accepted as the best way to develop software. With inherent qualities such as transparency, customisability and low or no cost, it has the most potential for meeting the development goals of a linguistically diverse nation like India through technological interventions. FOSS is already a major part of the lives of Indian citizens, with 85% of India's internet running on FOSS.
However, in spite of sustained efforts by a committed minority, FOSS has not yet been widely adopted by the Indian government, education, or industry, even though it makes up some part of massively-used technologies like the Aadhar system, Digilocker, the Center for Railway Information System's (CRIS) online ticket booking portal and the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System (CCTNS) among others. State governments like Kerala's attempt to incorporate it in every e-governance service for the innovation and data safety it allows. Despite its proven usefulness, FOSS still remains a perceived enigma or "inferior alternative" to most personnel in decision-making roles in government, education and industry.
During a year of ethnographic research, Jasmine Folz found many key reasons for FOSS's low uptake in India, despite the benefits it guarantees: namely, opposition from proprietary software companies with deep ties to government and industry and internal strife within the Indian FOSS community. These obstacles are not unique to India, but India’s need to harness FOSS is paramount if it wants to establish itself as an IT leader.
India is FOSS's largest consumer but not its most significant contributor, even with its various use cases proving beneficial for economic growth, innovation, technological ethics, and ecosystem building. Off late, India's industry is jumping on the bandwagon faster than the government, which is simultaneously telling, encouraging and worrying. A renewed push from industry to make FOSS an integral part of India’s digital future should be applauded, but it should also be carefully implemented to unite and expand the Indian FOSS community and foreground the needs of civil society.