All posts by Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay

This and that and some FLOSS

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

A few days back, I was chatting with my friends at #l2c2 on and the topic slowly came round to How to talk Open Source without sounding like a fanatic. This might be surprising to a few since regular readers of magazines like Linux For You know that Open Source is happening. But then again there are some pockets where Free/Libre Open Source software is still looked upon with a feeling of being part of some nerdy child’s toolkit. This article is a small exposition on how to achieve what that reasoned (and seasoned) level of advocacy.

While we are talking about Linux For You, go ahead and get a copy of the latest issue. It has my dear friend M K Pai splashed all across. Good show MK – that red color looks great on you.

These are crucial times for the Linux User Groups across India. During the nascent stages of the FLOSS wave, the LUGs were the hubs of activity. With a steady adoption of FLOSS across various deployment domains of SMBs, SMEs, Governments the LUGs have shown a remarkable ability to withdraw into their reclusive shells. The vigour which marked the early days are missing. And in some cases the ranks are not being filled up with younger folks. This is not to say that FLOSS is not being taken up by the next generation. But perhaps, the organisation affiliation into the LUG world is something that is not happening. Any student of group dynamics would understand that such role reversal was predictable and is in fact very text-book. On a personal note, I feel that this is the ideal time that LUGs and LUG coordinators should expand their horizons and look towards a more visionary and strategic role. Such efforts should include participation in policy making bodies to ensure that Open Standards are being adopted. This could also include the championing of Open Access clauses and related movements. An immediate project might include a rating of on going citizen centric projects based on the inclusion of FLOSS components.

There are 2 immediate benefits to this. One, the energy which drove the FLOSS fervour in India during the nascent stages would be properly utilised to ensure that follow up actions are in proper shape. Two, an increasing visibility of LUGs would lead to a greater understanding of region specific issues than taking a pan Indian viewpoint for all issues. Frederick Noronha has long been writing about the need for the LUGs to coordinate among themselves and act. Now is the time. A lot of strategic initiatives are slowly being put in place or proposed and this requires a tremendous depth of understanding of the issues-at-hand.

Open Source in Biotech

Businessworld has an article in the current issue with the same title. Talking about BioForge, it takes The Patents & Copyright Debate forward in various application domains.

The basic premise of the story is that

Cambia has challenged the patents web of the biotech giants by offering its gene transfer technology free.

. Earlier we have seen the clarion call to OpenAccess for knowledge being put forward and very systematically implemented by the BOAI and PLOS. A BioForge is a better way to allow

scientists in diverse locations to work together with those who are positioned to apply their research. Many great ideas and inventions are never practically applied, commercialized or used by those who need them, because of the lack of connection with the people who have the testing facilities, farm fields, appropriate germplasm etc. to try it out locally; or the people who have the local expertise to recognize needs that the technology can fill.

Check out the whitepapers at this site.

A collaborative platform motivated through peer driven acceptance of ideas would lead to a more transparent system with scientific accountability. Not too long ago, dipankar-da talked about the fact that Linux or such like initiatives would become the brand-name through which Open Sourcing or Open Access would be seen. And success of Linux has certainly made it clear to a lot of other projects that the model is scalable and easily replicable.

Are we at the initial stages of a change ?

A long time back, when all of us were still thinking up magical things to do with Ankur, the most often talked about point was the price point of computing.

At LinuxAsia 2005, the last session on ICT4D hovered over and over again to the need to make computing pervasive by delivering services which are of immediate requirement. Through its various issues, i4D has also attempted to bridge the gap between localisation theory and localisation practice. The question that is relevant is that – are we there yet ?

If one looks back at how the computing hardware prices are moving, it is obvious that far better hardware platforms are available at appreciably lower prices. In this respect, Joel’s post is important.

A complement is a product that you usually buy together with another product… All else being equal, demand for a product increases when the prices of its complements decrease.

Step back for a moment and visualise the Operating System as a product. In a simplistic interpretation of the above statement, demand for OS should increase if the prices of hardware decreases. Or in more telling terms, prices of OS should be moving upwards in sync with the downward movement of computing hardware. Now, extrapolate the Operating System as a base for providing services. Thus, with the increasingly affordable prices of computing infrastructure, the demand for services would increase. This is exactly what is happening in the Indian FOSS space. So the lesson in here is that the more the complements are commoditized, the better chances the Application Software vendors have.

Does this sound like a model of Service Oriented Architecture gone wrong ? It could if you look at the wrong end of the spectrum. For a moment take a pencil and paper (or fire up the calculator program) and do some simple math. Take ‘x’ as the number of NGOs who are actively engaged in ICT4D domain (‘x’ < 'X', where 'X' denotes the total number of NGOs in the country), consider 'y' as the lowest common domain serviced by such NGOs. Multiply 'x' by 'y'. This gives you the total subset of application domains. Straightaway eliminate around 40% of the figure by assuming that these would in someway be linked to proprietary technologies. That brings a consideration of the remaining 60%. How many of such deployments would be common ? I would hazard a guess as to many-many and surprisingly enough, most would be doable through a LAMP stack. When GRIND was being considered, it was based on the concept of being a base Operating System which will lend itself well to be customised towards a L10n Services Framework. I think that one of the ways such a framework concept could grow is by following some sound project management. So are we there yet ? I think we are there at the initial stages. The concept is sound, a few deployments around it have produced desired user feedback. And what’s more, being based on the fundamental principles of Free/Libre Open Source Software Development, taking ahead a community driven participatory model would not be difficult.

Built to Last

Am currently reading Built to Last : Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. It is an interesting read primarily because of the fact that the conclusions drawn from the study can be easily applied to those companies who are trying to make their mark in the Free/Libre Open Source Software Development sphere.

The following paragraph would summarise what the book tries to get across using the various examples.

The core myth, according to the authors, is that visionary companies must start with a great product and be pushed into the future by charismatic leaders. There are examples of that pattern, they admit: Johnson & Johnson, for one. But there are also just too many counterexamples–in fact, the majority of the “visionary” companies, including giants like 3M, Sony, and TI, don’t fit the model. They were characterized by total lack of an initial business plan or key idea and by remarkably self-effacing leaders. Collins and Porras are much more impressed with something else they shared: an almost cult-like devotion to a “core ideology” or identity, and active indoctrination of employees into “ideologically commitment” to the company.