An error in perception

Kenneth Gonsalves (a dear friend) writesIts however annoying to note that neither Redhat nor Novell who are the major suppliers of linux to the government have bothered to implement the remington keyboard. “. This is not a complete picture of things. The upcoming FC6 has Remington keyboard maps included which would be not all that hard to be released for FC5 as an update so you do get the stuff. But this would be possible only if you are using SCIM as your input method magic. The issue here is related to the perception that Red Hat can (and should) package everything under the sun in a standard enterprise class distribution. To put it bluntly we do not. Unless code is upstream and accepted by upstream maintainers it would be foolhardy to end up maintaining a fork of something that might become very specific to us. Might just be because of the mindshare we have or perhaps because of the “with great power comes great responsibility” bit, but the public perception of Red Hat supplying a panacea to all ills is scary and a slippery slope.

Jottings from the GPLv3 conference at Bangalore

I spent the 23rd and 24th of August 2006 at IIM-B attending the 4th International Conference on GPLv3. No thanks to the traffic on Banerghatta Road I missed parts of initial speech of RMS but was on time for the QA in which Eben Moglen was also an active participant. The audience was sprightly and of course we had Danese Cooper who promptly began knitting while sitting through the QA. Interesting bits and bobs came up in the session which was otherwise sluggish and marred by the repeated number of times the person asking the question “spoke into the microphone” while not pronouncing the consonants properly (, check Kalyan’s post). For example, question on the “Tivo-isation” which caught on since Tivo as a device is something that is a bit unknown in India. The sad bit about this session was that not many in the audience had an idea about GPL (either as v2 or as v3) and thus a whole lot of questions were actually contextually same with only semantic differences cropping up here and there alongside the old tale of “linking”. Although it also led to a number of question on GPL violations and Harald (who was there in the audience along with Atul) was pointed out as among the few who are taking active interest in this area.

Post lunch on Day 1 was “the” session for which I had landed up – the talk by Eben Moglen. I have earlier heard Eben speak but have never actually “seen” him speak. Now that I have been there and done that, I would say that it is a real treat to watch him have a restless audience spellbound. Starting off on the note that a Global Copyright License is something that is not an everyday task (like a walk in the park perhaps…) since normally Copyright is done on a per-nation basis, he delved into the concept of how Free Software and more importantly Freedom moves across boundaries. The GPLv2 was primarily written for audiences in the United States and thus the wording reflects a phenomenon that is more US centric. Resolving this crisis is not as easy as translation/transliteration of the license since that would lead to a large base of interpretations. The wording of the draft of GPLv3 is thus “independent of nation states”. While GPL is a licenses for individual programmers/developers it has to be relevant on a trans-national scale. But this leads to some additional issues like the fact that stuff like “Warranty Disclaimers” cannot be transnationalised. This is because the wording for Copyright is based on the statements of the local copyright law as given forward by a local lawyer and is relevant in the context of the facts of the program. Thus, the way forward is an agreement by the various stakeholders on the elements of the policy. The idea is not wrecking the existing business practices but at the same time not modifying or crippling the license. An upward swing in the proliferation of licenses leads to an increase in cost of acquiring sofrware. Copyleft actually provides an away towards innovation. This led on to a discussion on patents as the single largest nuisance in the current times. Patent laws are challenging since a whole mesh of cross licensing ensures that innovation is stifled. The big ticket players in the field indulge in Mutually Assured Destruction by ensuring they have enough patents in their chest to ward off any threat by the other big players. To which he added that 15 years ago Stallman had predicted this state of affairs and “Stallman was right then” while no one listened to him and “Stallman is right now” when everybody can see where this is leading to. Gandhi said that “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win”, Eben made a statement of fact that for 15 years the FSF has taken on the largest and most well funded players in the software economy and survived to tell the tale and he believes that this time “we will win”

Day 2 had a panel discussion which I wanted to attend and listen to primarily for the participants rather than expecting anything radically innovative to come out. Raj Mathur turned up late (err… make it late enough to make an entrance) while Abhas, Sunil, Dinesh and Kalyan held the fort. Raj (when he finally turned up was his I-take-no-bullshit frame of mind) presented on his take on how to make money out of Free Software (money always gets a crowd going). The lame questions of the session: Should there be a standard in fees charged for FOSS based solutions (come on dude – you charge what you can and pay what you think is best) and Should someone take an attempt on doing a Tally-like accounting project (feel free to hook up on or even get Kalculate to release its code). The DRM panel I had no plans to sit and listen to since somehow or the other I figured that not much was going to be discussed out there. So did the next best thing and went outside for some back-channel work with a few friends from FSF-I. Interesting things were discussed, the fruits of which I might be able to blog a bit later in the coming month. Onward onto the FOSS in education panel we went. The one thing that was the major irritant was folks who wanted to talk about what they are doing (and thus earning a smattering of applause) and folks who just dozed off (seriously, there has to be some item in the lunch that will keep you awake rather than get you snoring noticeably loudly). The Education panel did not have a student in it as mentions so she got on stage and did what can best be termed as coining the most mis-used mantra in the whole conference – “to fell a tree one must strike at the root”. I am just waiting for that phrase to sprout across a large number of mailing lists and other conferences. I did my by now usual round of questions on the syllabus

The good side – excellent arrangements and you could actually get the speakers to talk to you separately. The bad side – not many new faces and not many young faces either. Much work lies ahead

has put up the photographs

Stallman talks on OLPC

Yes – the title is deliberately that. On 19th August 2006, RMS spoke to a small gathering at the Faculty Hall of the Indian Institute of Science. Now if you have listened to his speeches more than once you realise that it is more in terms of a socio-economic interpretation of the current community of programmers and society as a whole rather than an exposition of the deep technical designs of the GNU Project. In fact he continues with a whole bunch of hoary old jokes that appeal to those who are hearing him for the first time but more than once lose their charm. However, this time it was different. The talk was more deconstructed in terms of patent laws encompassing software patents, patents on generic drugs etc, collaboration and community but most importantly it was about getting the message of Free Software across properly so that more and more people appreciate both the need and the existence.

Somewhere along the line the importance of Free Software in Education became the central point of discussion and RMS talked a little about the recent decision by the Indian Government to shun the OLPC project. Although there is not much publicly available information on the decision (or could be that I don’t have access to them), RMS was certain enough to comment on record that it was not a decision that would be beneficial in the long run. As he said, projects like the OLPC which have involvement and participation as their main way of doing things are best placed to succeed and are surely on of the innovative ways one can approach a solution to a problem.

“Localisation Support ?” What “are” you talking about here ?

Two words – “localisation support” and a whole dam of ideas break loose. Here’s what I feel folks should be talking about:

o Locales : ownership/maintaining of/the CLDR data
o Fonts
o Rendering & Printing with relevance to Rendering Engines
o Input Methods with associated Keyboard Layouts

o Spell Checkers
o Thesaurus
o Dictionaries
o Sorting & Collation Algorithms
o Standards (ODF, W3C [especially relevant to Browsers], Unicode)
o Application level L10n (application development related areas)

W3C would be a nice place to begin when looking at web centric application services

A case for OLPC love ?

Kushal posted about Bijra High School. Given the current skew in education demographics, the interesting fact that might slip unnoticed is that “The school proudly announces that the number of Muslim girls reading in this school is more than the number of boys.“. This is a piece of information that was repeated here.

At some point in time in the distant past, I was associated (albeit more actively than now) with something that was acronym-ed CASTLE (Computer Aided Systems for Teacher Led Education). While the pedagogy was clear in the “teacher led” bit, the deployment was focussed on madrassas. The entire effort was LTSP based and is something which L2C2 is carrying out nowadays. The problem then and the problem now is that the initial capital outlay for the project needed some bit of bankrolling. Moreover, since the machines were desktop PCs – the ownership or the sense of belonging did not happen.

Is this a case where a bit of OLPC love can help ?

Playing around with locking down systems

In the good old days, setting up the desktop to a particular preference used to be done through this link. GConf, even though it took sometime to get used to and caused a lot of nightmares in the kickstart %post section while testing, was edited by hand (or hand hacked so to speak). Pessulus would allow one to define and figure the limits of the configuration. So here are a few screenshots:

The main screen of Pessulus

The main screen of Pessulus

Locking down various bits of the GNOME Panel

Locking down various bits of the GNOME Panel

Locking down the screensaver

Locking down the screensaver

Locking down the browser

Locking down the browser (epiphany in this case)

At the same time one can use Sabayon which is a system administration tool to manage GNOME desktop settings. Sabayon provides a sane way to edit GConf defaults and GConf mandatory keys: the same way you edit your desktop. Sabayon launches profiles in an Xnest window. Any changes you make in the Xnest window are saved back to the profile file, which can then be applied to user’s accounts.. Here is what happens when you combine the two of them together.

The combination looks fascinating on a Fedora box – now to get them working towards a mass deployment scenario simulation