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'Growth potential for open source software is limitless'

Interview, Manu Dhir, general manager of SUSE’s India Centre of Excellence

Manu-Dhir Manu Dhir

Manu Dhir is the general manager of SUSE’s India Centre of Excellence. SUSE is a Germany based open source software company that develops and sells Linux products. Dhir's expertise lies in digital transformation and building high performance teams. Based out of Bengaluru, Dhir is an alumnus of the Indian School of Business (ISB). In a conversation with THE WEEK, he talks at length about the increasing adoption of open source software and how Indian developers play a significant role in the open source software ecosystem.

What kind of growth open source software has witnessed across the globe and in India?

Open source is widely used around the world to drive innovation. It is deeply rooted in the latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), the Internet of Things (IoT) and underpins the global economy. A recent study SUSE published with The Economist found that 90 per cent of organisations have either implemented or plan to implement open innovation into their business in the next three years. According to Gartner's 2021 Hype Cycle for Open Source Software (OSS), through 2025, more than 70 per cent of enterprises will increase their IT spending on OSS, compared with their current IT spending.

The growth potential for open source is limitless and reigns true for the India market as well. Indian developers are major players in this ecosystem. According to GitHub, more than 7.2 million of its 73 million users in 2021 were from India, placing it at third position behind China (7.6 million) and the US (13.5 million). Furthermore, another study found that the Indian developer base is growing faster, close to 40 per cent in 2020-21 compared to 16 per cent in China and 22 per cent in the US. GitHub expects to see 10 million Indian developers on its platform by 2023.

In the present context, how does OSS compare with proprietary software when it comes to easy adaptability and user interface? There is a notion that open source software has a more complex user interface when compared to proprietary software!

We believe that openness, not technology alone powers innovation and digital transformation. We are seeing more companies shift to an open approach and many companies that offer proprietary software leverage technology that is built on the foundation of open source. There is no inherent relationship between the commercial nature of a piece of software and its UI (User Interface) complexity. The complexity of a software's UI can depend on a variety of factors, such as the intended audience, the features and functionality provided by the software, and the design and development approach taken by the creators. Ultimately, the complexity of a software's UI is dependent on the specific software and should not be assumed to be related to whether the software is open source or proprietary.

Open software has been used by large enterprises but common people and users do not use it extensively and prefer to use windows and other proprietary software? What is your take on this?

While consumers may not be inherently be aware of the impact that open source has on the technology they use today, it is driving the technology we all use every day. With more than 56 million developers contributing to open source projects around the world, and 95 per cent of organisations leveraging open innovation practices, open source is fuelling innovation for companies around the world. Whether you are working remotely, making payments, driving a smart car or using a smart device, open source is everywhere and is the foundation to how we connect and work with one another.

How immune is open source software such as yours when compared to proprietary software when it comes to cyber attacks?

It is important to note that no software is completely immune to cyber attacks. The open source community consists of millions of developers, including SUSE employees, who contribute to open source projects every day, resulting in rapid innovation, software enhancements and bug fixes. Open source is a development model based on pulling down walls, not throwing them up. One reason for this is that the source code for open source software is freely available and can be reviewed by anyone. This transparency allows security researchers and other experts to identify and address potential vulnerabilities more quickly and effectively than they could with proprietary software, whose source code is typically not available for public review.

Additionally, open source software is often developed and maintained by large, active communities of users and developers who are committed to ensuring the security and stability of the software. This collaborative approach can help to identify and fix vulnerabilities more quickly than if a single vendor were responsible for maintaining the software.

How does open source software compare in pricing verses the proprietary software? Experts say that open source software is cheaper when compared to proprietary software. What is your take on this?

Leading with openness is core to everything we do at SUSE, from innovation to partnerships, from customer solutions to support. It drives our co-innovation with our customers, and how we provide our customers with more sophisticated solutions. The beauty of open source technology is that users can test various solutions and incorporate into their business models before having to make a purchase. This is because the source code for open source software is freely available and can be modified and distributed by anyone. In contrast, proprietary software can lock you in to one option.

What is the significance of your India office to your global strategy? Will it carry development work or will it be just a marketing office? Where does the main development work for SUSE happen?

In order to continue with our current growth trajectory, we realise that we need to have the right talent in place. Our new Centre of Excellence in India incorporates all functions at SUSE. This is a strategic move to support our growth as a global open source innovator. By tapping into the strong talent pool India offers, we are looking to reinforce our brand as an employer of choice, strengthen our ability to attract and maintain top talent, and strategically position ourselves for further growth. To reiterate, we will have a strong engineering presence in India, and our Indian counterparts will work alongside their counterparts in Germany, Czechia and Hungary. 

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