Indian Government Promoting Monopoly in Software Industry
It has come to our notice that several web sites of government of India agencies mandate the use of pieces of proprietary software such as Microsoft Excel. For instance, the website of the ministry of corporate affairs of the Government of India, namely, http://iepf.gov.in/IEPF/services.html, that allow companies to submit information regarding unclaimed and unpaid money to investors demands that the company uses a particular piece of software created and marketed by a company, namely, Microsoft Excel.
In the page, it says under the heading, "Steps sequentially to file statement of investor-wise unclaimed and unpaid amounts", that the first step is to "Install the Pre-requisite Software's to proceed. To know and install the same click on 'Prerequisite Software' link". The prerequisite software includes the following components:
MS Office (97 and above)
Microsoft Office XP Web Services Toolkit 2.0. Click here to download (linked to http://iepf.gov.in/IEPF/pdf/setup.zip)
We wish to point out that this government department apparently is behaving like the marketing agency of the particular company whose prodeuct it is forcing people to buy and use. They even provide the setup file! Let us point out that there are several similar pieces of software, both commercial and freely available. By specifying a particular one among them, the government is forcing companies to use that alone and no other, which could easily have been avoided by specifying a free and open format, such as odf or plain text, which can be created using any piece of software. In fact, if the government necessarily has to specify a particular piece of software, it could have been one of the Free and Open Source Software suites such as Libre Office. This is a product of community effort and is available for download free of cost too. Most importantly, it uses open formats that can be deciphered by anyone with the knowledge of the programming language, unlike proprietary formats used by commercial software companies such as Microsoft, which are kept secret by them. As we have done earlier also, let us again point out the dangers of storing documents, especially government documents, in proprietary formats that are secret and known to a private company alone. Such companies have withdrawn support for some of their products in the past and will do so in the future too, leaving us and other users with no easy way to read those documents created using their software.
Let us also point out that this web page prominently says at the top:
"Investor Education and Protection Fund - Empowering Business, Protecting Investors"
But this practice of forcing companies to buy proprietary software products to furnish mandatory returns to the government goes directly against this moto.
Another such example is from http://acesdownload.nic.in/. Here they do not provide the link to the software, but provide documents in proprietary formats that require Microsoft software to open. The user is expected to open these documents and use them to submit their Central Excise and Service Tax Returns. This again forces the user to purchase the products of Microsoft.
We had pointed out earlier the fallacy involved in using proprietary software and proprietary document formats. In fact, the government policy on e-governance states that free and open formats should be used for all documents. Thus, these web sites go directly against the government policy. It is only natural if someone suspects the vested interest of some individual or group in specifying such proprietary software for public purposes. We urge the government departments concerned to change the specified software and suggest pieces of software that use Free and Open document formats such as odf. The specified links to Microsoft Excel and to documents created using MS Office documents could easily be substituted with Libre Office Calc and documents created with Libre Office suite.