Category Archives: Free/Libre/OpenSource Software

My jottings on FLOSS

Toolkit Technology

If you ask any student passing out from the education system of West Bengal to define technology, 9 out of 10 would use definitions found in J Bronowski’s piece which is a part of the syllabus. Here is a definition that I like.

This post started from idle flipping through TV channels. I have this odd (and often annoying) habit of rapidly flipping through the channels, as a result the mishmash of images tend to form a chaotic blur. A few days back I was indulging in the same when I chanced upon some channel where Shobhaa De (I am sure there is one ‘a’ too many that I have put in !) was chatting with Sam Pitroda. At that particular moment in time the talk had veered to “Technology and India” when Sam had made an insightful observation. According to most “technology” is seen as something as elitist, glamorous and sexy. In fact in its simplest form “technology is a problem solver”. And that is exactly what it is.

In its simplest forms Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are problem solvers. These technologies provide the toolkits which attempt to successfully address and resolve the everyday problems. ICTs based on FLOSS are important in 2 aspects. They integrate the blue-sky vision as well as the ground level real world. Existing between these two paradigms is difficult and perhaps this is one of the reasons why FLOSS-ICT projects are more often than not addressing the grander aspects of the world vision.

First Native-Language Group Launched at

Do check here and here

This is an important step in consolidating all the Indic Native Language Projects working in

As part of its mission, the Indic native-lang group will have to:
* coordinate localization efforts and developments
* mutualize and help the projects with the localized builds’QA.
* speed up the adoption of on a local basis and help
coordinate its promotion
* coordinate documentation writing
* communicate with the other projects of OOo and the native-lang confederation
* ease the communication between the Indic native-lang projects

This group comes as an answer for the native-lang projects to avoid the “walled garden” effect that some projects have to face, while at the mean time help these projects who lack ressources and time to develop and build themselves. Expect more groups to come in a near future. I would also like to congratulate Vijay Kumar and Rajesh Rajan for their newly appointed positions as the Group coordinators. Meanwhile, the rights and deeds of the native-lang projects’ leads remain unchanged.

A reminder and an invitation

This is to be considered as an open invitation.

As part of our efforts to increase the number of heads on Planet Floss India we request all those involved in Free/Libre Open Source hackers/developers/activists/writers/enthusiasts who blog on a regular basis to send us the feed links of the blogs

And this is to be considered as a reminder

Those already on Planet Floss India but whose heads have not reached us, kindly note that randomly chosen images will be used to fill up the spaces.

In both cases, do get in touch with sankarshan at randomink dot org or sayamindu at randomink dot org for necessary steps.

Is this it ?

Sometime back I had asked whether we were at the initial stages of a change. There was a reason to the introspection.

The roadmap for the Indic L10n began with a demonstration or (to pacify the purists) a Proof of Concept desktop. We have come a long way from there. The times when getting a desktop to be presentation ready was more of an arcane art than straightforward intuitive actions are behind us. We are now slowly but surely moving towards application oriented L10n and framework oriented L10n. Of these 2, the latter model is very significant. A framework model leverages the existing toolkits and provides an extensible platform for developers and programmers to work with. As a logical extension to the Services Oriented Architecture the framework model allows creation of L10n Services which can be commodified into L10n Products.

Commodification of Services is an important aspect required to keep costs down and make deployment affordable. The positioning of L10n in ICT4D is based on immediate relevance and deployment-readiness. A major factor in pushing such choice is cost. Keeping recurring costs to an affordable level while ensuring that service cost centers are present for the developers would lead to a healthier subsystem of service vendor leading perhaps to a more functional ecosystem.

L10n in India has to include a wider range of people bringing in more varied and much diverse skillsets. They need to have an understanding of the deployment scenario, a basic knowledge of project management but more fundamentally – a thorough understanding of the value of L10n provided through FLOSS. Such a group should necessarily include application developers, application service providers, technology managers and the like. For a range of these skillsets there are no real formal training programs available, and thus consequently no codified knowledge. The metadata has to be obtained from field work and from sensitivity to the Indic L10n sphere.

The question still remains as to why I feel these are special times… Very important. Primarily, I see a change in the way Indic L10n is being done. I see a roadmap for the efforts – an initiative to consolidate the resources and create shared knowledge pool. I see an acceptance in government sphere of the deployment readiness of FLOSS based L10n technology stack. I look around and see small components which complete L10n stacks falling into their assigned places in the jigsaw – good quality fonts (and font families), converters, application toolkits, applications, component -driven base framework, localised applications (including Office suite components and others like avsap), collaborative platforms and web application servers such as Plone, Digital Library Information Systems and repositories (like DSpace and Koha).

One of the major factors that favor adoption and acceptance of FLOSS as a technology stack is the lowering of TCO. Moving a bit further, what L10n does is it changes the way groups of developers and end users collaborate and participate. This is a fundamentally important principle. End users want to and if given a chance can be innovators with the technologies they consume. The participatory model of FLOSS is unique that it encourages (and perhaps mandates) such User Driven Innovation. UDI would go a long way in providing a positive push to FLOSS efforts in the Indic L10n sphere. By reducing application development cycle, by putting in more responsive project management ground rules, by ensuring optimal feature and scope creep and by providing rapid prototyping with sharing of knowledge.

Would adoption of User Driven Innovation be the one little thing that will make the big difference ?

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.