BharOS is not the first attempt by India to develop a homegrown operating system. In 2007, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing unveiled BOSS, billed as an alternative to Microsoft Windows.
Much buzz has accompanied BharOS, billed as India’s first indigenously developed operating system. Developed by an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras-incubated firm, it was successfully tested on January 24 by Union ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Dharmendra Pradhan, who termed it a step towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of a “strong, indigenous and self-reliant digital infrastructure in India”.
But how indigenous and Made-in-India is BharOS? Before going into that question, it is essential to note that these developments are taking place when India’s competition watchdog has found Google to be abusing its dominant position in multiple markets in the Android mobile device ecosystem. Google has challenged this decision at the Supreme Court, which has refused to provide interim relief to the company.
Now let’s look at what BharOS exactly is, how it works, how indigenous it is, and ultimately, how different it would be from Google’s Android.
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What is BharOS?
Developed by IIT-Madras incubated firm JandK Operations Limited, BharOS is an operating system based on a Linux kernel, V Kamakoti, director of IIT Madras, told Moneycontrol. “We have used some early versions of Linux — it’s a derivative of the Linux kernel”, he had said.
What does it do?
BharOS can be installed on commercial off-the-shelf handsets. In a statement earlier, IIT Madras said BharOS comes with no director of the firm that developed BharOS, said the system also supports Native Over The Air updates, which would ensure that the device is always running the latest version of the OS, including security patches and bug fixes.
How long did it take for the OS to be developed?
Kamakoti said that it took JandK Operations a year to develop the system.
So is it 100 percent indigenous?
Well, no. As mentioned earlier, this OS is based on a Linux kernel, which is a part of the Linux operating system developed by a Finnish national. Several customizations have been done on top of the Linux kernel to create BharOS, Kamakoti said.
How different is it from Android?
Kamakoti told Moneycontrol that the Android operating system, too, is a fork of the original Linux distribution. Since BharOS too uses the same software as a base for the operating system, it can be safely assumed that there will be similarities between BharOS and Android.
Where the two differ is in their offerings. While Android comes with many default apps such as Chrome, Google Maps, and so on, BharOS has no default apps. Users can choose what to use.
What is the need for BharOS?
The IIT-Madras director said that there was a need for a level playing field and fair competition in the app market.
Kamakoti said that in operating systems with default apps, there is no incentive for a user to try and use a different app whose functions will be similar to the one that is already present.
“Essentially, that’s not fair right; there’s no fair competition. Without default apps, I am giving a fair playground,” he said.
Kamakoti also described a mobile handset as being akin to a “digital home” and compared the presence of default apps to “strangers inside the digital home.”
“So from a user, consumer perspective, I am not forced to have something which I do not want,” Kamakoti said.
How will data be shared/stored on BharOS?
“Data belongs to the consumer and organization,” the IIT-Madras director said. An organization, he added, can decide on what data to collect, and that it would be under “your control and not somebody else”.
How does one load BharOS on a handset?
BharOS can be loaded on any phone for which development manuals and other details are available, the IIT-Madras director said.
“The hardware vendor should come and share these development manuals,” Kamakoti said. Earlier, on January 24, when BharOS was successfully tested, one of the phones on which the OS was installed was a Google Pixel.
Where is it currently being used?
As of now, BharOS is being provided to organizations that have stringent privacy and security requirements and whose users handle sensitive information. However, Kamakoti said, based on the popularity and the demand for BharOS, the system can be easily scaled.
Is BharOS the first attempt by India to develop a homegrown OS?
No. Sixteen years ago, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) developed Bharat Operating System Solutions (BOSS), another system derived from Linux, as a homegrown alternative to Microsoft Windows.
The CDAC is a government body under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), and it was released in four editions: BOSS Desktop for personal use, EduBOSS for schools, BOSS Advanced Server, and BOSS Mool.
BOSS’s website says: “It is mainly created for clients in the defense sector. The defense environment always requires an OS which is free from intrusion and cyber attacks.”
What happened to BOSS?
A 2014 report by the Economic Times said that BOSS was “dying a slow death due to lack of government support and investments”. The report said updates to the OS were infrequent and described customer support as “inefficient.” The report said there was a lack of coordination with hardware vendors for wider support across devices.
Now one has to wait and see what the fate of BharOS would be. As of now, the Indian government seems upbeat about BharOS’s capabilities and potential.
On January 24, after testing the operating system, Union minister for electronics and information technology Ashwini Vaishnaw said: “The challenge begins today. I don’t want to get tired. There will be lots of difficulties, and there are many people around the world who do not want a system like this to succeed. So we have to be very careful, cautious, and persistent and we have to continue working on making it successful.”
Developed by an IIT Madras-incubated startup, BharOS is being pitched as India’s answer to the Google-owned Android and Apple’s iOS, the two most dominant mobile operating systems in the world.
BharOS’s endorsement by the government not only signals India’s ambitions to have a localized competitor to Silicon Valley operating systems but also ensures that competitors have a fair chance to succeed against these heavyweights.
Although there are many unanswered questions about this OS and whether it can emerge as a true competitor to Android, it is clear India is taking a page out of China’s playbook in developing its own local tech ecosystem to fuel the economy. We explain India’s efforts to develop its own operating system and how it could help put a check on Big Tech, even if the OS fails to challenge the Google-Apple duopoly in the mobile ecosystem.
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