Category Archives: Free/Libre/OpenSource Software

My jottings on FLOSS

Thoughts about the Fedora Community Working Group

A bit back I had posted a question to the advisory-board list – specifically asking whether there has been a process to understand how Steering Committees have made things better. While the thread petered out into nothingness, a recent announcement about the Community Working Group got me thinking again.

The initial question to the advisory-board was based on a scenario that the multiple domain-specific sub-committees work towards being excellent within the scope of their own deliverables but collectively don’t work together towards a greater purpose. More importantly, whether the work of the *SCo and the choices they make have proper communication both to their constituents and within The Fedora Project itself. Now with the announcement of the Fedora Community Working Group I have a set of queries that would perhaps require a bit of elaboration.

  • what is the mandate of the newly formed group ? Are they empowered to ‘act’ or, is the charter limited to generating and submitting a proposal for consideration ?
  • the “central point of contact” phrase is bit quirky. It doesn’t say as much as it is supposed to say – what does this actually entail ?

And then of course there is the mission

The long-term goal of the Community Working Group is to help to maintain a friendly and welcoming community, thereby ensuring the Fedora Project remains a great project enjoyed by all contributors and users

This is perfect as a long term goal. Across the year and across multiple specific Fedora lists there has been, I feel, instances of ‘stop energy‘ especially pointless and rambling ones (is there any other kind of stop energy ? I hear you ask, more on that later). If the CWG can sit down and straighten things out or even look into the frank admissions of burn-out it would perhaps be a good thing to have. Along with the stated charter of facilitating communications between the groups or even, doing post-release retrospectives (I’d rather love to see the various Steering Committees take the initiative in this – FAmSCo does a reasonably good job that needs to be appreciated) in order to plan for areas of improvement in processes. If the CWG can then obtain buy-in from the specific teams who can bring about the changes it would be wonderful to have.

The CWG is a good start. I’d perhaps like to see a bit more specific items that can be measured as success or failure of the CWG rather than goals well into the future.

The Document Foundation, LibreOffice and the road forward

It is incredibly wonderful to see forward momentum on a somewhat long wait for a Foundation for project. The Document Foundation has promised to be an independent self-governing meritocratic Foundation. And, that is actually a lot of good intentions to live up to.

Once the rush of news announcements are over it would be nice to see some concrete time-line driven announcements from the Foundation. These would possibly end up around areas concerning:

  • how LibreOffice builds upon the existing work done within the fold of community
  • the cohesive nature of participation amongst existing Native Language Communities for OO.o and, LibreOffice
  • would LibreOffice contributions start off from a point in time

The last two items are specifically close to one’s heart because it goes directly and deeply into how the existing community finds a place within the new infrastructure and, how the contributions keep happening. Whether this would require reaching out to all the existing community/project leaders and seeking consensus is something that the wise heads at TDF know. I would wait to see more decisions being announced around infrastructure, contribution processes and, actual contributions begin to happen at a rapid clip.

Here’s to a new beginning.

OLPC and other bits

I recently read this news about David Cavallo (who isn’t listed here). Together with the fact that NN seems to be back at MIT, this pops up the question about the “learning” part of OLPC’s mission.

However, what interests me more is the OLPC Foundation and the stated purpose. How, if at all, does that get impacted ?

The OLPC Foundation’s mission is to stimulate local grassroots initiatives designed to enhance and sustain over time the effectiveness of laptops as learning tools for children living in lesser-developed countries.

I didn’t read any official comments about these and of course nothing much by the way of providing a forward looking statement.

How does this impact SugarLabs ?

Disappointed with deja vu

I had earlier micro-blogged about it. A bit earlier than that I was wondering about the ‘same’-ness of these meetings. The Kozhikode Declaration however, leaves me disappointed, dejected. It is a strange mixture of deja vu and ritualistic publication of well-meaning words that saps the energy. There is a large part of content talking about software engineers, entrepreneurs and source code but nowhere is it clear about a vision or, an objective that one should aspire to. Besides that there is the aspect of some quirk in the declaration. Just as an example, take the line

Information & Communication Technology (ICT) is one of the most powerful technologies ever developed by humankind. It has drastically changed the way we do things, the way we communicate and even the way we think.

ICT is supposed to be an amalgamation of communication and computing technologies and more often than not the abbreviation ICT4D is used in the context of using such a convergence to facilitate development. Even if we leave this strangely ambiguous statement aside, the single most important feature that the declaration lacks is the action plan to take it forward. I see a declaration as more of a mere PR exercise than an actual roadmap or, guide to implementation and sustaining the deployments.

A barrier to the adoption of Free and Open Source Software technologies in education and especially basic primary education is the mixing of the concepts of FOSS-for-Education and FOSS-in-Education. And inevitably, any discussion of FOSS and Education leads to a discussion, often misinformed, about the ways to improve the system. The root cause is often neglected – the lack of books/reading material/content that are necessary for anyone to actually adopt a methodology/pedagogy that is based around FOSS toolkits and stacks. If you pick up any book it would be obvious that there is a massive proliferation of non-FOSS technologies and terminologies in them. The change in terminology is fairly important as well – that leads to recognition of name and which in turn leads to awareness.

There is another somewhat odd aspect that I notice. FOSS concepts and discourses are being increasingly influenced by political currents. And, adoption of them are also depending massively on state-level political support. The potential downside of this is course that if political equations change, the discourses and deployments are also prone to get changed. Where would that leave us ?


A book on FLOSS and Hegemony

The actual title of the book is ‘Hegemony Resistance and Computing: A Study in Postcolonial Political Economy‘. And, as the author mentions, it took six years to write, a bit longer to haggle over the title and, finally, the short-hand of the title stuck 🙂

With the aim of initiating a conversation (link to discussion group) he has put for download a pre-release version of the book. I’ve been lucky, along with Sayamindu, to have had the chance to read drafts, drafts of drafts, notes of the chapters. Discuss over the issues put forward and sometimes help in looking up references or, cross-checking them. The book also got me to read up afresh on Hegel.

We often joke that he is going to end up with a triptych – the first book was a popular primer on GNU/Linux and was written in Bengali. Let’s see how that works out. It would be appreciated if feedback is provided to the author.

How would you accelerate the adoption of OLPC in India?

OLPC News has an article with the original headline (in fact I took the lazy way out and re-used it). It seems to be posted by ‘Guest Writer’ but the footer of the article says that “Satish Jha is the President and CEO, OLPC India” so I guess OLPC India is in some form involved with the content that is has.

It is an interesting piece. There’s another interesting thread on a mailing list here.

I would have expected it to talk more about the possibilities of doing OLPC stuff in India rather than becoming a somewhat neither-here-nor-there kind of non-committal response to the $35 device that the Ministry of HRD so loudly released. To understand what can bring about the adoption of OLPC India, one would have to probably go back to a post I wrote some time back.

The problem that was highlighted still remains. There is no community of any form,shape or sort around the OLPC in India when compared to OLPC efforts/initiatives and deployments in other countries (the nations that are so eloquently held up as shining examples of OLPC success). There is a significant lack of a downstream community of volunteers and participants and, more importantly, a lack of any sort of publicly discussed plans as to whether any educational institute would volunteer students for a while to keep the deployments going forward. Then of course there is the added discourse around availability of the actual XO hardware.

When I met Dr. Nagarjuna at GNUnify (that’s February this year), he indicated that he was actively looking at using the Sugar Desktop Environment on standard COTS desktops available much easily from vendors because there wasn’t much clarity about the how and when of the hardware availability. In fact, this has been a murmur that has been around for a while – what specifically is the value add of the hardware if the desktop environment is available via a standard Linux desktop/distribution. Which is where an active group of developers working on activities that would be useful in the context of the deployment is a good thing to have. And for that to happen, there needs to be work on building a downstream community – contributors who use the artifacts provided by OLPC and Sugar to develop their own thing.

A distinct advantage that OLPC/XO/Sugar has is brand recognition. Anyone who is peripherally involved in doing things around Free and Open Source Software in India know these names. They may not fully understand the depth of work or, the roadmap of the individual projects, but the name recognition is a jump-off point that should be utilized much more. For example, in a space like the College of Engineering Pune, which has a fairly active mailing list for FOSS related stuff, holding a 2 day event with the aim getting work started on new or, un-maintained activities, teaching the basics of testing/QA stuff would probably be more useful than just wishing about growing a community. I am fairly certain that there would be other institutions like CoEP where a day-long or, similar camps can be organized. Why aren’t they happening ? On that I have no clue.

A question, a survey, a conversation and some feedback

During the recent elections Richard Stallman had a specific question for the candidates. Copying from the archives, here’s the question:

Here is a question for the candidates.
To advance to the goal of freedom for software users, we need to develop good free software, and we need to teach people to value and demand the freedom that free software offers them. We need to advance at the practical level and at the philosophical level.
GNOME is good free software, and thus contributes at the practical level. How will candidates use the user community’s awareness of GNOME to contribute to educating the communityn about freedom?
At a stretch the question is similar in theme to the questions/concerns around GNOME and Free Software ideals that come up from time to time. I recall reading similar questions during earlier elections and, it isn’t specifically new or, something that has come out of the blue.
I came to know of the survey when I read the micro-blog from Lefty. And, then we had a bit of conversation.
Personally, I don’t feel comfortable about the survey.
The line of reasoning is as follows – as a member of the GNOME Foundation one has the right to express one’s opinion about the direction and focus of the Foundation by supporting the appropriate (set of) candidate(s). From the perspective of a Foundation it is perfectly valid to focus on areas which are aligned with the very reason for the Foundation and the project to exist. In fact, focussing only on those areas wouldn’t and shouldn’t be taken amiss. In short, the Foundation can choose to exercise what it should work on in the near or long term future or, it shouldn’t. As long as such goals and tasks do not appear to be detrimental to the cause of Free and Open Source Software things should work out nicely.
I hasten to add that similar should be the focus of the Free Software Foundation as well. The survey attempts to somewhat codify this implicit responsibility areas and, I do get the feeling that the specific question
“In what way would you ordinarily refer to “an operating system based on a Linux kernel and using mainstream, mainly community-developed components and applications”? (Distributions representing such include Debian, Gentoo, Fedora, Open SuSE, etc. Android does not qualify, nor does WebOS, etc.)”
is implicitly divisive. An “us/them” meme that has been festering on the foundation-list for a while now.
I did not participate in the survey. I don’t want to. I’d rather like GNOME to focus on being an excellent desktop environment with strong technical and technology focus going back to the times when I started using it as my primary desktop. The Board needs to work out its focus and, work on the project’s future with much more rigor than it does now. To me the survey is just a passing distraction. Mildly entertaining but probably not productive.

Or, where we talk about digital future of the Bengali language

ABP Pvt Ltd has a history that goes back to 1922.

From the website

“In 1922, Anandabazar Patrika first came out as a four-page evening daily that sold at two paise and had a circulation of about 1,000 copies a day. Eighty-five years later, Anandabazar Patrika reaches out to over seven million readers, every day!

Today, the ABP Group has evolved into a media conglomerate that has eleven premier publications, three 24-hour national TV news channels, two leading book publishing businesses as well as mobile and internet properties. Touching the lives of millions of readers and viewers, daily.

We believe the legacy you leave, is the life you lead. We see ourselves as repositories of best practices and processes. And, at times, when we don’t have the very best within, we open windows to look out for expertise. Not surprisingly, ABP is associated with companies and personalities revered across the world.

In the world of journalism, we are not just a media house. We are really an alma mater.

Given the reach of the group and, the important role it plays in giving shape, form and direction to the literary content that is produced from Bengal, it is not too much to expect them to be at the forefront of technology when it comes to news and content published electronically. The association with Ananda Publishers, which publishes books from a variety of authors for a consumer base that spans ages, it is not too hard to anticipate that they will be heralding change and, changing for the better.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Bengali/Bangla and digital standards, the group is one of the laggards since they stick to an antique non-standard technology. In short, it is surprising that they are yet to think over adopting Unicode as a part of their online version.

This lack of interest in adopting Unicode has created an unique situation. The digital content published by the ABP group requires extremely unorthodox parser development to be encoded into Unicode and, used in any form of language study. The inability to be able to easily use the corpus is all the more important from the perspective of being able to extensively use Bengali/Bangla in the digital domain. Additionally, while browsers have demonstrated improved support for Unicode, the online content, including the shopping cart of Ananda Publishers, are unfit to be rendered on such browsers. Stop here for a moment and imagine a plethora of mobile and portable devices which may have extensive support for Bengali/Bangla at the user-interface level, the ability to input, print and render Bengali/Bangla but, would be unable to work with the content provided by the most circulated Bengali newspaper in India.

A group of folks led by Golam M Hossain have devised a prototype of an Unicode Proxy for Anandabazar Patrika. The attempt is not aimed at facilitating the reading of the newspaper, that is a happy collateral. The experiment is focused on demonstrating that it may not be difficult for Anandabazar to adopt Unicode.

Please read this page and if you desire to support it, write in with your name and affiliation to support the petition. If you know someone at ABP/Anandabazar who would be interested in a discussion, it would be good to get a conversation going.

On the road to an Indian language GNU/Linux OS

The history of Indic localization of Linux (GNU/Linux …) may never be written down with the amount of detail that it deserves. Especially to ensure that the significant events are well recorded.

Lest we forget, with the help of sayamindu and karunakar I came across the following dates:

  • IndLinux Hindi v0.37 (Milan) released on October 2003. It was a LiveCD that allowed you to check out a localized GNU/Linux desktop environment, input and display
  • The AnkurBangla LiveCD was also released somewhat later that same year
  • From May 2004 onwards, the Utkarsh Project released and maintained Gujarati Localizations
  • In November 2004, Fedora Core 3 shipped and you could choose to boot into an Indic locale and get your work done. You can also check this page for the RHEL release that happened.
  • In 2006, the IndLinux project released Rangoli
  • In June 2007, Debian Etch was released with an installer localized in Indic languages (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Nepali, Punjabi, Tamil). As a consequence, Debian (and Ubuntu) users may experience a full Indic-localized system from scratch.

So, before you go and listen to folks talk about the “first Indian language GNU/Linux Operating System” on the media channels, keep these dates in mind.

Update: This does not in any way claim to be the only dates that are relevant. So, if you do recall the dates of releases from other groups working on Indic L10n on Linux, please feel free to leave them in comments with URLs if possible.

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On the Goddard bus

I installed Fedora 13 (Goddard) on two of my boxes. The profiles are here and here. On the X200 things worked out of the box, the only reason it took time was because I needed to back up the entire data on it before installation and then transfer it back. And, post install I’d to figure out which of the software I had in F12 before unleashing a massive yum install on the system. I wish there was a simple way to create a profile of applications and, thereon apply the profile to a freshly installed system to get the software just the way one desires.

On the HPMini210-1095TU, the wireless and the touchpad do not work yet. They aren’t much of an issue, though it would be nice to have them working and, suggestions are welcome.

The new release feels much snappier, the GNOME desktop looks good. A big thank you to all those who make it happen each time, on time.

Update: A new kernel, as indicated at fixes the touchpad issue


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