We are here to rock your world…

We are back. In case you did not notice, we had a meeting last week and since then a large chunk of the ActionItems have been worked upon. We have new members and I daresay that the GNOME Foundation would see a more responsive Membership Committee. The old adage of a stitch in time saves nine holds all too true for us, but with a larger number of folks looking into the RT, we expect to have much decent coverage and thus better turnaround times.

Someone has to do it…

Atul writes that “As I said during FOSS.IN/2006 – in the end, it is “Free and Open Source SOFTWARE”, and someone needs to *write* that software. Waxing eloquently about freedom and how to do FOSS is *not* a functional replacement to actually writing and contributing code.” That kind of puts to rest the argument why does India not produce FOSS contributors. However, that sort of limits the context of FOSS. Free and Open Source is linked with the concept of Freedom and Commons which in turn is intertwined with the concept of a public space (which is what commons should be about).

The country has a healthy legacy of using and utilising the commons – for creativity and for protests too. As someone reminded me recently, the concept of ধর্মঘট or dharmo-ghat (strike/protest) originated from the practice of protesting against the unjust laws of the ruler of the land by establishing a ঘট at the place of worship and then organising ovens for cooking simple meals for all. The commons was also the space where the ladies participated in rangoli or আল্পনা and the tradition of কথা or tales ie the oral history of myths and legends was also fostered through a healthy participation in the public commons. So, you may have noticed by now that the idea I am trying to get across is that the commons fostered creation of content through active participation by community members. And naturally what it did was also allowed certain freedoms in extending and/or deriving the works (or content) and thus provide an area to allow creativity and consequently innovation.

So, limiting the idea of Freedom and Communities to Software only would really limit the participation from a large base section of the population. Even now (in the era of falling hardware prices) the access to a computer is somewhat limited. I don’t have the figures for PC penetration handy but I am sure that they are really not there. On the other hand, figuring out a means to digitize the output of the commons and make them available under appropriate licenses would lead to a significantly larger number of contributions. Before you shout “Wh0a !!” I am not for shunning code and making non code stuff. What I am for is extending the reach to non code bits to encourage more inclusion. For example, take a look at this photoblog. Code is an aspect that is must – non code stuff is equally important to ensure that the language evolves and the various nuances of the language can be fully explored. Language or content is not limited to what we write or the way we speak (or even the way we are on our social networking circuit). It is a living thing that finds expression in the widest possible media and the concept of Freedom and Commons should go all out to embrace it.

If “non code FOSS is not FOSS” then let’s figure out a term and a process to make it worthwhile to do non code stuff – that is one of the things which is interesting for me these days.

Defining standards – need or semantics ?

Venky writes about his observations on the state of affairs at the BIS Summit (incidentally I guess this was the one where Craig Mundie muddled up standards, specifications and intellectual property) and concludes that a lot of ground needs to be covered for getting the concept of Open Standards across. Here’s what the Wikipedia says about Open Standards (italics are mine):

Open standards are publicly available and implementable standards. By allowing anyone to obtain and implement the standard, they can increase compatibility between various hardware and software components, since anyone with the necessary technical know-how and resources can build products that work together with those of the other vendors that base their designs on the standard. Many technical specifications that are sometimes considered standards are proprietary rather than being open, and are only available under restrictive contract terms (if they can be obtained at all) from the organization that owns the copyright for the specification. 

There are examples of such standards here.

I mildly disagree with Venky here. The one singular issue that has stood out at every (in)formal body of standards folks I have attended is the mixing up of standards with specifications and therein move on to the slippery slope of IP (Intellectual Property). Apparently, there isn’t a way one can traverse that ground however given that the standards committee/bodies are normally populated by gentle folks from the world of research the captivating essence of IP is not far. What does not however get discussed is the need to distinguish IP from public knowledge and this I think would put a finer understanding of the concept of Open Standards. The key context of the usage of the word standards is that it could mean a common set of guidelines that facilitate interoperability. Thus, taking an example, the font rule-sets are public knowledge but the glyph shapes (the cursive elegance perhaps) is an intellectual property. I am not a lawyer so I might be way off track in this example but it suffices to convey what I am trying to get at.

The need of the hour is to detach the intellectual property bit from Open Standards so that comprehension of the concept and usage of the same is facilitated. This would be more important in cases where one is talking to the government at the state or central level to adopt and use more of Open Standards. The explanation should also include aspects of how the economics of business is not harmed by adopting Open Standards.

Innovations, platform and v12n

When does innovation occur ? When the tools that drive and facilitate the innovations are available in a state of maturity. What does innovation mean ? It means a lot of things, but most importantly what it means can be summarised as:

  • Increased quality (and utility) of the product
  • Reduction in cost (cost to consumer and cost of production)
  • Scalable products which are easily commoditised
  • Affordable commodities

In fact the above can be wrapped in the catchall term as qualities of innovation. Thus, a lowering of prices and/or complexity of the tools that lead to lowering of the development barriers result in an increase in the entropy mix of innovation. So where does this fit in ? It fits in the scheme of things of the (in)elegantly termed LongTail. The current tools that enable creation, maintenance and deployment of solutions have reached a state of maturity that will enable a larger number of small developer outfits to develop and deploy FOSS based applications. Couple this with v12n (virtualisation) and it is no longer necessary for the application to keep on chasing and being autobuilt for the base operating system. This is perhaps as good a time as any to start thinking in terms of application stacks that bundle along with the operating system and sit as a guest stack on a virtualised platform.

Inflection point for localisation

An “inflection point” can be defined as a point on a curve in which the curvature changes sign [1] ie the curve might change from being concave downwards to concave upwards. The next inflection point when it comes to discussing localisation in Free and Open Source Software [2] is the deployment of localisation in Citizen Centric Services or what is covered by the catch-all term “eGovernance”.

If one is tempted to figure a linear equation as to what stops localisation from being deployed in eGovernance it would be like as:

No project scoping <- Lack of applications <- Lack of specifications for applications <- Lack of standardisation <- Lack of a resource center. However simplistic that appears a large bit of it is accurate. So, to begin with, let's talk about standards [3] and especially Open Standards [4]. These are are publicly available and implementable standards. By allowing anyone to obtain and implement the standard, they can increase compatibility between various hardware and software components, since anyone with the necessary technical know-how and resources can build products that work together with those of the other vendors that base their designs on the standard. The standards that would be relevant are Unicode, W3C, LISA etc that would make the end user experience complete and useful. Add to this standardisation of glyphs. What this ensures that the solutions are interoperable and consistent. This also means that the user experience and user goodwill is enhanced. Accessibility or a11y is also the fallout of using standards in deployment. The next stage is creating Specifications for the applications. Specifications which leverage Open Standards and create solutions in an Open Architecture allows the creation of applications by the developers which are scalable and (re)usable. If the developers have incentives to create applications adhering to specifications, the roadmap for deployment becomes much more easy. Once these are in place, the ideal way forward would be the creation of a resource center. The top level objective of the Resource Center would be a framework of collaboration between Industry and the Research Units involved in Localisation Research. The Center would also include linguists and Special Interest Groups who would have innovative UseCases for Capacity Building. Building of skills would be required in the areas of IT infrastructure operators, IT managers, developers and deployment support personnel. Additionally, the Resource Center would be involved in the tools and solutions required for deployment of FOSS, incubate entrepreneurship. Most importantly it would participate in Policy formulation in the various relevant fields. References: [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflection_point [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FOSS [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standardization [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Standards