Microsoft received a swift punch to the gut from an Indian state government looking to lower education costs by encouraging its school system to switch to Linux-based computers.

M.A. Baby, the education minister of the communist state of Kerala, located on the southwestern edge of the subcontinent, also expressed concern about monopolistic and imperialistic practices of multinational corporations.

Baby encouraged the 12,500 schools in Kerala, which is home to over 31 million people, to provide training on free and open-source software, including but not limited to Linux. The choice between Linux and Windows, however is left up to teachers and students.

Kerala boasts a literacy rate of 91 percent, the highest in the country, which means they can probably read a balance sheet as well. Kerala is allotted about $1.86 million annually to promote computer literacy among one million students. Microsoft has countered by saying the company strives to keep licensing costs low, around $25-$30 per computer.

But Linux is free.

It's not just the price, says Baby, it's an opposition to monopolies.

"Naturally, being a democratic and progressive government, we want to encourage the spread of free software," the communist education minister told the New York Times.
"We have great respect for the contribution made by the United States and its European allies in the fields of art and literature and culture,'' he continued.

"At the same time we are not happy with the monopolistic and imperialistic moves, both in political and economic spheres, made by these nations."

Though Baby is encouraging the switch, the ministry will stop short of banning the use of the software altogether.

"There may eventually be a few individuals at the margins who still choose to use Microsoft, but the majority should be free of this hardship," he told India Daily. "We have not banned Microsoft but we are against monopolies in any field and will vigorously encourage free software."

The same education ministry recently banned the sale of Coke and Pepsi, after environmental groups said soft drinks bottled locally had high levels of pesticides.

Linux has been a thorn in Microsoft's side for quite some time, especially as more and more government agencies choose open source platforms. In September 2005, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided to switch over to open standard software.

In Europe, Microsoft barely skirted losing licensing fees in Munich, Germany and Paris, France. Paris cited the cost of training municipal employees to use the new system, while Munich temporarily suspended switching its 14,000 computers to open source after patent issues arose. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer even interrupted a ski trip in Switzerland to try and talk Munich's mayor out of the switch.

Patent infringement concerns could be a trump card Microsoft has yet to use against its open source rival. According to ZDNet, Linux potentially infringes upon 283 patents, including 27 that belong to Microsoft. Many of the others are owned by Linux allies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel-all of whom seem to have distanced themselves from Linux, perhaps after pressure from Microsoft.