It is possible to achieve a substantial reduction in costs of computing equipment in the academic environment by investing in open systems and low-cost software. Vendors who insist that everything be done with them are likely to substantially hamper research since any advances to be incorporated into the system will have to be done through them. Of course, the package deals offered by such vendors seems attractive since the user can do without hiring additional competent person(s) to make the necessary choices and installation. However, it has often been observed in practice that the personnel representing big vendors in India are not neccessarily very comptent in the requirements of the academic environment and thus a local resource person or persons are often required in any case.
The major obstacle to obtaining information about availability of low-cost software and hardware as well as obtaining the software itself could be resolved if the Education and Research Network (ERNET) set up in India under various Government of India and United Nations funding agencies could set up a National Software and Information Archive where such information and software would be archived. The re-distribution could then be undertaken at a nominal ``copying'' cost. The information and software could also be made available to users of ERNET via a ``mailserver'' with restrictions on the priority and time-of-use to prevent clogging of the channels. Some competent personnel could also be hired by this Centre who could resolve users problems (perhaps for a regular ``software maintainence contract'' which could also include provisions for upgrades etc.).
In the opinion of the author it is very much worth the while of the leading scientific institutes to devote some manpower towards deveolping and maintaining such public domain software. It will substantially reduce costs required for computer infrastructure. Moreover, since the computer is often an experimental tool for people carrying out work in numerical simulations etc., one should perhaps consider such work as part of experimental research. The current large scale use of vendor-based software (either by purchase or by piracy) will eventually lead users into a trap of spiralling costs in addition to keeping us behind the leading countries (where such software is being developed by research workers).