Thursday, December 31, 2009

SSPM engineering college will start FOSS based education

Back from Konkan with fond memories

Just last sunday, I was busy in the computer lab of SSPM engineering college in Kankavali with my colligues and friends Anusha, Prathamesh and Prashant, setting up the machines for the 5 days workshop.
Those were 5 beautiful days and another success for free software in education.
Looking at those 5 days, I think there is a lot to write and might not be sensible to do in just one blog post.

But here is the complete overview of the workshop and its conclusions.

day 0 20th December 2009

Mr. Mhapeskar, the HOD of computer department was waiting for us in the lab. At around 10.00 AM, the car came to pick myself, Anusha, Prashant and Prathamesh from our hotel.
At first look itself the college seemed to be impressively built. The infrastructure was extremly good and the construction was fabulous.
Anusha commented "it looks just great and seems they have maintained it very well". While Prathamesh, who was to take on the lab setup with Prashant, noted, "it looks more like a management college in a city instead of an engineering college".
In the lab, the HOD was rather surprised to see us (I in particular look, too young for a professional of this caliber and add to it that I am visually disabled). "Who is Krishnakant?" he asked and although it did not look obvious, he was a bit shocked to find that it was me.
Meanwhile Anusha, and Prathamesh took on the responsibility of checking the configuration, while Prashant was busy sorting out the computers we planned to setup and those which we would keep for the participants for hands-on installation.
to our amazement, all the computers were having 512 MB ram and were pritty fast given the configuration.
We soon got out the Ubuntu 9.04 cds and the 3 of our most talented and dedicated colligues started to take on the mission of setting up the machines sorted out.
Mr. Bane sat with me to understand the entire schedule and how we planned to manage the hands-on.
while I was busy checking out the internet availability and if all needed ports were open, Prashant was told by the HOD that there were faculties from other colleges who were about the age of 35 or even 40 and will become a challenge for convincing them to realise the advantage of Free Software.
"We don't think it is a problem because we have gone through this before", said Anusha and Prashant who were discussing about a couple of machines whose cd roms were not working.
I then took the pen drive from Prathamesh and got even those machines installed by setting up Ubuntu through the USB startup creater.

I had set the target for installation till 3.30 in the afternoon and we were almost completely done around 2.30 but the machine on which we were installing Fedora took a bit of time because we needed a blank dvd for burning the ISO.
Never the less, we completed the installation by 4.15 and went off to a late lunch.
The lunch was good (I had the konkan style chicken and Anusha took some fish).
I already had a good taste of prawns the previous night when we had arrived at the hotel (by a some what delayed mandavi express).
Any ways lab was set and we were all set for the 5 day mega workshop under the Short Term Trainning Program (STTP) which many universities recommend specially for teaching "linux" to the faculty members.
Now since universities like Mumbai have included GNU/Linux to a fair degree in the books, it has become necessary for training the staff and also an opportunity for we free software promoters to spread awareness.

Day 1, 21 December 2009

The innogration was totally formal and we all went through the sterio type mechanical speaches from Principle and other people on the stage.
The 4 of us were really waiting fo all this to get finished so we could get on with our sessions.
I finally got to speak to the audiance who was actually wondering "how can this man be a main resource person?" I think it is natural for people to think like this when they meet me for the first time.
Later on this became obvious from the feedback we got.
I did my best to make people realise that it is not just the matter of learning this because it is in the academia, but because free software respects our freedom and now has become a successful revolution. It is used in the main stream industry due to the fact that it is flexible enough to let us make changes and add new functionality.
Besides what matters is the fact that the openness of the source code discourages evils and so GNU/Linux can't really be cracked for wrong reasons.
I made it a point to let people know that Unix had already provided a complete solution to the so called "virus problem ". Linux kernel just adopted the same method but Microsoft purposely ignored that same solution for carrying out their dirty spying business and helping anti-virus companies to grow.
There were many points I covered and from the feedback I could make out that what I attempted to say was taken seriously by all participants.
After Lunch, I took on with the desktop overview for a short period of time, demonstrated the menus on the desktop and also showed them the Orca Screen reader which I use.
Then the entire session was taken over by Anusha as an experienced Developer in the Free Software circle and a great promoter of GNU/Linux, this was not her first workshop. Within no time, she had all the participants interested in GNU/Linux (Ubuntu distro).
She really did this in an impressive way, involving participants in activities such as asking them to open their own word and excel files and also making them understanding that what openoffice or Microsoft Office offer is a concept with different brand names.
She uses some good technique for impressing people by making sure that they try out their daily computer tasks on the desktop.

For example, she invited some one who had a digicam and told him to attach it to her laptop with his power cable.
Every one is usually surprised that the camera not just gets opened but the photos get imported. What's more she did demonstrate the fact that those photos can be uploaded to on-line galaries directly from fspot photo manager.
I can see that she has been very successful with such interractive experiments.
What such methods of demos do is that these techniques help to remove the fear of linux from the minds of regular end-users.

Towards the end of the desktop overview session, people were more than impressed with what Ubuntu had to offer.
As if this was not enough for the already impressed participants, Anusha Invited Prathamesh to demonstrate the 3D desktop and that was the most impressive show of the day. People were plesently surprised and were amazed at the look and feel of the cube effect and how people can have many applications which can stay on the cube.
Also other themes were demonstrated by Prathamesh. Mostly importantly Prathamesh made it a point to tell people that this 3D desktop can run on moderate ram Memory and does not require extreme graphics display card etc.
This is a lesson for those who do such workshops or hold seminars for FOSS awareness.
The most important point is that the sooner you manage to remove the misconceptions about linux and the faster you take the fear off, it becomes that much easy to promote the entire culture easily.
How convincingly you can show the ease of use of the desktop will determine how comfortable people will feel switching over from Windows.

Also we all make it a point to inform the participants that commercial support is indeed available for this free software and that FOSS has got great commertial popularity although Community is the main driving force.
In the following sessions of the day, we took up hands-on installation, both the live and alternate cd.
Again we took about 1 hour to explain the partitioning option of GNU/Linux. We generally prefer to show the manual way of partitioning so that we get a chance to explain some fundamental concepts like mount points, and file systems.
Rest of the day went perfectly well. People enjoyed installing Ubuntu and we soon found out that the participants are now going to enjoy the rest of 4 days for sure.

day 2, December 22 2009

The morning session started from where we left the previous day evening. Anusha started the day with the hands-on demonstration on adding and removing additional software through Internet and apton cd.
This is another point to note. Keep in mind that at many places the Internet will either be very slow or won't be available at all. In such a situation you have very limited choice for demonstrating the process of adding (installing ) softwares on on any Linux distro.
We always carry an apton cd containing most demanded programs such as the codecs for audio video, audacity, VLC, Latex and other development tools.

Though there were some glitches during the practicals, we some how got it working soon.
The day continued with me demonstrating the usage of on-line help resources such as the IRC channel. I also made it a point to demonstrate the use of internet data card (tata indicom in my case).
Anusha meanwhile did a smart thing by instructing all the participants to make use of the apton cd and install packages like latex, postgresql and glade.
We soon found out that participants, at their choice were installing more packages.
I also demonstrated the file permissions and explained why viruses don't attack GNU/Linux.
We had a nice time demonstrating them the installation of xampp for the up coming php sessions.
Prashant ended the day by demonstrating the gcc compiler and also a bit of PHP to start with.
He also gave a short demo of dia and xmind, he seems to like the 2 tools a lot.

Day 3, December 23 2009

By day 3 we had already got encouraging feedback from Mr. Mhapsekar that participants are really having great fun learning the technology and are just loving to come in the Free Software world!
He told us that participants are not really willing to leave the lab even after 5 and so wanted to extend the timings of the lab sessions.
at the same time Prathamesh made a nice observation, "you know kk, as soon as the participants come in the lab, they streight away go into Ubuntu, even though they have the choice of windows as the second OS".
This essentialy means that people were finding our workshop pritty interesting and as time was passing, they were getting more and more comfortable with the new desktop environment.
Ever since the first day, we had been asked time and time again about LaTeX and it was Anusha again who took over the stage and did her session in her own style.
"either pay attention to me right now else loos out on some thing interesting ". Anusha addressed the back row where Prashant was trying to handle some confusion. Any ways she got hold of the entire classroom pritty soon and with her tryed and tested methodology, started to make participants aware of the bennifits of using the most popular type setting tool.
By the end of her session almost all participants had done a fair bit of hands-on under the supervision of Anusha, assisted by Prathamesh and Prashant.

It was then Prathamesh all the way till the evening with his networking sessions where he covered ftp, ssh and pritty much every thing which people expect to see from a network based OS.
I was observing from behind that every participant was trying to get into each other's machine through ssh and also downloading some goodies from prathamesh's laptop through ftp.
He actually configured proftpd and put up all the little software tools which he wanted participents to download.
The day ended with continuation of php session which actually went on till the next day morning.

day 4, 24 December 2009

Morning session started with tuns of questions from participants. The interesting fact is that the questions being asked were no more of the beginner category. Participants had by now gone well over basics and wer asking very focused questions.
This goes to show that if properly oriented, People soon loos the fear of the GNU/Linux OS and once they know that it is not "just command line " system, they start loving it.
And even on the forth day, people were after Prathamesh, not so much for his networking experience but for the 3D desktop!
(not that his networking session was bad, infact He already got an offer to setup the mail server for the college).
The first session of the day was taken over by Anusha half way, when Prashant who was teaching PHP, changed ends and while he handled the hands-on, anusha did the demo on concepts like MySql connectivity with php etc.
Meanwhile we were informed that there will be an interruption before lunch because the principle of the college wants to hold the validictory on the 4th day itself.

The formality went as informal as it could get.
We all felt very nice to know that people did not take the workshop as a compulsion, but actually enjoyed learning what ever little we 4 of us could teach them.
The rest of the day went on with a very intensive session by Prathamesh on Kernal compilation.
"our participents are so impressed about this workshop that they actually are demanding an extention to it for a couple of More days", said Mr. Mhapsekar.
I would have even loved to do it, so would the entire team, but Myself and Anusha had to go to amrawati for conducting another 2 days STTP on Linux.

Any ways we had already covered enough and so did not want to overload the participents.
I ended the 4th day by introducing the participents to the Python programming language.

I must say that the 4 days were heavy but we were not at all stressed, not to mention the delicious sea food for which Konkan is so famous.
Some participants like the faculties coming from Karjat came to our roomm. We had nice fun sharing our experiences with other colleges and also some PJs which even those people were better than us at cracking.
due to the encouraging feedback from participants we planned the day 5 in a different way.
The first decision we made is to drop the Bash session all together.
We wanted to take the time for teaching more of python vs teaching the good old bash.

day 5, December 25 2009

The day started with anusha taking over the entire lab for her most favorite session on UI design with glade and event driven programming using pygtk.
People were amaised to see how easy it was to design interfaces.
Since anusha had ended the 4th day with some introduction to glade, it became very easy for her to continue fresh on the same topic.
People particularly liked the fact that they did not have to do a lot of widget alignment and placement like they do in VB.
Eventually the session ended with a great trouble stopping people from continuing with the UI design.
Infact in many sessions we had to force people to stop the current session and move on to the next one.
One thing we all must learn as a lesson is that people get carried away when they like some thing and specially when you teach the basics to perfection.
With the given time constraint we had to control the hands-on sessions.
After Anusha finished, I took on with postgresql and how python connects to the popular free software database server using pygresql.
One thing which we had done particularly for this workshop was that we had setup an ftp server on prathamesh's laptop and provided all the resources like deb packages for participants to download on their machines.
By now people had really got involved in python. I then took up the post lunch session till the evening on pylons.
"our participants are enjoying so much that they wish to extent the sessions", told Mr. Bane who was escorting me to the HOD's cabin for the formalities to be completed.

I had to eventually terminate the pylons session due to time constraint.
Many participants told anusha that they were ready to come to Mumbai for learning this amaising web framework.
Infact we had planned to go to Kudhal and many enthusiastic participants even joked about coming behind us to Kudhal to learn pylons.
Overall the sessions were successful and Prathamesh even got an offer from the HOD to install and help train the server administration staff for their college.
Participants gave very good feedback except that they felt there was not sufficient time.

Indeed the happyness we got from the workshop was some thing we will carry in our minds for a long time.
We are now in the process of finalising the program to shift their lab totally to Ubuntu. The HOD was already into it from the second day, after anusha and prathamesh did a comprehensively convincing session on Ubuntu installation and adding new softwares.
it is sure that the lab will switch over to FOSS, the only question is how many weeks from now.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Back from 2009

I just came back from Yesterday night (after a delayed flight as usual ) from Bangalore and I must say that the conference was true to its "show me the code " theem.

I arrived at the venu on 2Nd December 2009 along with Anusha, Preeti and prathamesh who are the part of the team developing GNUKhata,

I actually had a workshop/ tech talk on developing web applications with pylons on 4th, but we as a team had booked the FOSS expo space for putting up a display of GNUKhata.

As expected GNUKhata attracted majority of the crowd at the conference and we got some very good feedback and also a few constructive critical comments.
One particular achievement of GNUKhata was that we, with the help of Siddhesh from Redhat, could manage to make rpm package for GNUKhata. We also got offers for deployment in maisur univercity and also from some small and large organisations (details will be put up on the web site ).

One thing is for sure, The feedback which we got has now confirmed that the decision to focus more on web based client is correct. The developers of GNUKhata will rappidly work towards releasing the web based version at the most by end of Jan 2010.
We were very happy that more than 25 hackers vollenteared support for speeding up the development. All that remains now is to edit the wiki and add documentation for new features with the stable 1.0 version.
I will be updating the wiki by 10th December. I believe one major thing which has gone in favour of GNUKhata is that we managed to hire a full-time accountant as a domain expert. This helped us to really understand the proper accounting standards because none of the developers had an accounting background which was at the B-com or M-com level.

Another interesting side-effect was that while preparing for, we created a screencast for the display at the expo. It was done by our domain expert preeti and is available at
We are just about to finish fixing the miner bugs we recieved last week and we will make another screencast, this time with audio by preeti or anusha explaining the features.

While GNUKhata was a hit at the conference, there are a few things which impressed me apart from the venue and the overall "let's help them " attitude for every one.
The best talk in my view was the Indic OCR by debain (I hope I spelled that corect).
he seems to have tremendous understanding on the subject and I admire his hacking capability.

He actually solved many of the problems which I had in mind and I wished I had sufficient time to sit and work with him on integrating espeak with OCR Feeder and tesserac.
I know we are still in a nasent stage on Indic OCR but it is not so nacent now that we can't use it for test and research.

although I never had the time to tell him "show me the code" but I will surely be working on integrating his work with espeak and other related tools to create a OCR to Speech software.
Such a software is available in proprietory form under windows but not in FOSS.

Another highlite was the talk given by Rahul Sundarum on package kit. Amongst a few reasons for GNU/Linux not becoming popular with desktop users, the one major cause is dirth of one-click installers for for any software.
On windows, talk about install shield, nulsoft etc. and we have a user friendly installation for any kid. But after what Rahul showed, I think we already have a solution. Add to it we don't need to do "next,next finish!" on GNU/Linux unlike on windows.
I think the packagekit will become the turning point in filling the last gap in the way of popularising FOSS, particularly on advanced distros like Debian, Fedora or Ubuntu.

I think package maintainners should seriously look at this tool. And yes I will create a few one-click installers myself soon, because I do a lot of workshops in colleges and other organisations. One question they keep asking is "how do we make resolving dependencies and overall setup of software easy?" It is an irony that the installation of linux itself is so easy but not additional software.

On the last day, we at GNUKhata stall, got the maximum crowd and seems that GNUKhata will soon be in many organisations at least on a test drive. All that we now need is to further refine the interface and make it simple enough for people to work on for long hours.

Another important thing was the workout by Santhosh. I think his dwani speech synthesizer has really improved over the last few months. He told me that some hacker from afghanistan helped him to add pustu phonemes.
I and Debain were having fun over that issue with the throaty words like Khhha in Khan.
So Santhosh is doing a good job although his synthesizer still laks the proper internation and also needs a bit of more inflection.

Well, we actually also discussed about the need for India english as a synthesizer option. But we concluded that there were so many accents of Indian english that we may not actually get one. Although the kind of english which Indian news readers use is some thing which he may look at.

The only one thing which I did not personally like about this time's was the dirth of non-technical talks. I know "show me the code " is the theem. But I will say "show me the functionality and also the code ". I and my colligues observed that there were quite a few students who attended sessions like the one I took. Many for example had never used a web framework and could not pickup what I was talking about. Same thing hapened with the jango talk by Laksman Prasad.
Ah, that reminds me that I will be trying the jango templates with pylons to see how well they blend.

I will just like to suggest the organisers of that next time we must have at least 10% non-technical talks so that absolute beginners can get their hands wet.

And it might not necessarily be about "getting starting with linux " or stuff like that. Do allow emerging projects such as GNUKhata, or new modules on the desktop to be presented as a talk.

My overall view is that as a technical conference it was really great and yes, do keep this same venue next time.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

FOSS In Malaysia

I was in Malaysia for an international conference in the first week of november.

I actually came back on 5th November 2009 and wanted to publish about how I analysed the state of Free Software in that country.

2 faces of FOSS

I landed in Kuala Lumpur on the second day of the conference (my paper presentation on accessibility in FOSS was on the 3Rd, day any ways ).

Right from the day I landed there, I was observing the way people think about Free Software (o.k. Open Source as they know it ).

I just dumpped my bagage in the hotel and rushed to the conference hall because I wanted to attend the morning session.

I quickly realised in the morning session itself that the government is pritty serious about FOSS and already the tourisom department, and most of the school education was using FOSS. Government had made plans to shift other departments to FOSS. For this they had invited many international speakers who had already done this successfully.

But sitting next to me was my escort/ assistant Ting (I know name would sound a bit funny to Indians, but he was a really nice guy ).

He told me that these Malaysian speakers who are talking about "Planns to shift to FOSS" or "we have already shifted to FOSS", at their personal machines hardly use the Free OS or the Free Softwares on proprietory OS.

Many of them though were using openoffice and firefox commonly with vlc.

I was later on informed that Many IT consulting enterprises are trying to push FOSS into the mainstreem market but companies like Microsoft have a very strong hold on the market and somehow still managing to hold the fort in the digital freedom war.

The main reason is that while government is taking serious initiatives to move to FOSS, most of their resources in this context are going in big deployments and office staff trainning.

What this means is that the masses of users will still not care or not be made aware about FOSS as a completely free, safe and flexible alternative to what they have been using.

Although many schools are using GNU/Linux in their labs, they do have windows machines as well and students get their hands wet first with windows. "that's the mindset of our teachers " said Ting who was escorting me to the lunch table along with a couple of guests from sudan and a group of school teachers.

I did inquire off the teachers about this and all of them told me that they were given trainning but somehow feel that this is an alien OS and windows probably will be the only thing they would like to teach because small kids get many interesting things to do on windows. "we dont' want to expose the small kids to ls and mkdir and whereis and ..." said one of the teachers.

I told them that it is not true and even the GUI is very beautiful and userfriendly. "that is what you linux people think " was the answer.

I went on to demonstrate the desktop to all of them in an informal session and they were amaised (not just with the orca TTS, but the way I was manipulating the desktop). I showed them the same things which they might have learned during the trainning program, but just in a different way. I have come to develop this orientation technique after many many trial and errors, thanks to many experienced people and my guru Dr. Nagarjun who has been my initiator in this.

So I realised that the only wrong thing government is doing is, "no orientation, just deployment and staff trainning in a limited sence ".

the state of FOSS awareness amongst the blind

I happened to visit the Malaysian Association for the Blind as a part of my main agenda.

I was not surprised but felt sad that the blind people were not aware about the FOSS based alternatives.

But what made me more sad was that the people who knew had a very bad maintality, "we easily get pirated jaws for windows and can openly give it to you as well. What and how will we bennifit from your orca?" was the common question every one asked.

I think that's but natural, given the way awareness is happening or not happening in Malaysia.

I had a tough time explaining them the merrits beyond cost and eventually got success in doing so with one trumcard which I had left at the end.

I asked them "do you have jaws speaking in Malay langauge?" Obviously it does not and will not because Freedom Scientific, the company that makes jaws (of course without giving freedom ) does not find business in that country.

I told them that it is very easy to get orca talking int that language and this fact proved to be the major thing which impressed them.

Malay language uses roman script and same english characters. So it wil be very easy for a person like Jonathon duddington to write a language module for Malay in Espeak.

And since this is the default speech synthesizer used by Orca, the malaysian blind people will easily get what they never got from their favourite proprietory jaws, for which they never pay any ways.

Let's see how things develop now.

I have recently got a mail from moses Choo the main person in MAB that he has got the organisation ready to use FOSS and we have started to work on malay module for espeak.

Things will change soon I believe, but government has to understand that big deployment and short staff training on-site will not help in the larger scope of their vision.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Proprietory Software currupts Mhada

I was one of the members who attended the 11th October meeting of FOSSCOMM (, and one of the important issue on the drafted charter was whether all software developed by public funding should be released as FOSS.

The reason everyone in the house agreed on this point was that the money comes from tax payers and the software should belong to all we tax payers.
Here is a latest case of how dangerous can proprietory software be to public at large.

MHADA's lucky draw for the housing scheme seems to be flawed

the details can be found at
and also in all the recent news papers.
High court is still in doubt about the entire deal and it seems that the software was manipulated for bennifiting some people.
On one hand there are people who did not get a single flat and on the other hand in just a lot of few applications there are many cases where people have got 3 flats.
In one case a gentleman got 3 flats on a sequence of 3 numbers seperated by 4 each and another person got 3 in a row, that too in the much sort after, lokhandwala complex.
Analysts say that such a lot of cases in a few thousands of numbers can't be "just randum ".

The court will investigate and we never know what will be the eventual outcome. But the question in context is,
"if such public sector schemes will be run using proprietory digital technology like a proprietory software for a lucky draw, then how would one know if the software is realy flawed and manipulated or is it pure?"
In the said case, had the software available as free and open source, any 3rd party expert could have been brought to find out the reality.
Today every thing is uncertain about this digital lucky draw because we *don't* and *will* never know the reality of the software in question.

This case is a best example to stress the need for exclusive use and development of FOSS in public sector.

A software created for such a big public housing scheme can't be so week and flawd that

Friday, July 31, 2009

SNDT college Decides to go FOSS

Hello all,
I have been busy off late doing a lot of awareness workshops and some gnu/linux deployments in some organisations.

However I am back with some great news!
I did a couple of large workshops with 2 colleges. One was with Vidhya Vardhini College of Engineering in Vasai. This was in the last week of June this year and it went moderately successful.
However the next workshop was a grand success. It was a 3 day hands-on seminar in the IT and Computer Science college of SNDT Womens Univercity in Mumbai.
Infact we started this as a workshop but it was a mission which some authorities in that college had taken up.
So let's get the news out first since it is indeed a great thing to happen for FOSS.
SNDT has decided to totally migrate to Free and Open Source Softwares!

This was infact the planned mission by very visionary faculties in the college backed by their IT Head Of Department and the principle.

This was really well planned

I had been planning this workshop for a long time with Mr. Sanjay Shitole, the IT Head Of Department and Mr. Sumedh, the Head of Department for Computer science.

These 2 visionary faculties of the college had realized that exclusive use of Free Software based operating systems like GNU/Linux and other related softwares will not just benefit the college in terms of cost savings, but would help the students to learn in a much free and open way.

“our students will get to learn in a much better way because the source code for proprietary softwares are not available.” said Sumedh Pundkar.

Inspired by RMS

Infact Richard Stallman had delivered a talk at SNDT University which many of the faculties had attended.
“I had attended the seminar given by Richard Stallman about 4 years back and I got inspired by the ideology of Free Software. I had ever since decided that my students should also get the chance to acquire and share software and knowledge freely”. Said Sanjay Shitole, who had been discussing about this workshop with me for more than a month. We had also been planning the subsequent shift of the college labs to gnu/linux. Not to mention MRS Kumud Wasnik, the current college head had also provided her own time from her busy schedule in all the pre-workshop activities.

The workshop

On day 1, I and the rest of the team started with the demonstration of GNU/linux based GUI applications on the Gnome Desktop. It was actually not the first session but the first hands-on session. We started the day by a talk on Free Software and its impact on the digital society. That talk actually set the tone for the following 3 days which were packed with hands-on practical sessions on various free softwares.
Followed by the basic desktop computing, we moved on to some moderately advanced topics such as the shell and people enjoyed learning that some interesting shell commands can even give them detailed hardware information or many other things which were not really difficult to remember.
Throughout the workshop we kept on discussing about how we can make the learning experience of students much better and how practically we can teach any given topic.
For example practical examples on using commands like cat or grep were particularly interesting to the attending faculties.
All of them played a lot with the lspci command using grep to only print out information on the device they were interested.
The most happening session was on day 2 morning when we did the 7 easy steps of Ubuntu installation and every one present were amaised at how easy it was to get Ubuntu running on the computers. Infact One of the faculties Mr. Lahane got his laptop the very next day and not just installed ubuntu on it but also found out by himself how he could configure his touch-pad and many other things.
One of our Team members Akshay demonstrated the 3D desktop on a machine and the participants were zapped at the cube effect and all other Eye-candies. All in all one impression which Myself, and my Team members Prashant, Akshay and Prathamesh got was that all the faculties had not come there just to learn for themselves but with the mindset of “we must give this to all our students”.

We also had some fun at the lab configuring the printers. Actually HOD and other authorities had been misled by some resistant, pro windows people that those printers won't work on “linux” and they had tried doing it for quite some time.

But we had 2 of their printers working within 5 minutes.

Another query raised by many participating faculties was “how do we go about teaching C and C++ to our students “ and related to it, another query was “we don't know specially how to do graphics with C”. We changed our scheduled modules a bit and went in-dept on those issues.
This was the third day and by now Mr. Shitole and Mr. Sumedh backed by their principle MRS. Kumud had already decided that they will migrate all the labs to GNU/Linux.
“just imagine, we never used to allow the girls to put in their pen drives in those machines and put all kinds of restrictions including usage of Internet. But now since we have no fear of viruses, we will be happy to remove all the restrictions”, Mr. Shitole was happily telling me on the third day during our morning tea.

Infact we also did a demonstration of the permissions system in the linux based file systems and why viruses can't propagate like they do on windows.

We left a thought provoking question in the minds of the participating faculties about the virus issue.
I asked them after showing the file permissions etc, “if Unix had solved this virus problem around the 1970s, then just like linux, why Microsoft did not adapt the same method for their most popular Desktop OS?”

The answer is obvious and visionary teachers like Sanjay and Sumedh realize this very well that such loopholes are kept purposely by companies like Microsoft so that an exploitation based business can be built.
“first you by the OS with all the backdoor entries and let the virus in. Then you pay for the anti virus” is the straight forward justification for Microsoft's policy on windows development.

And one thing I personally noted about teachers like Sanjai Shitole is that they are passionate about the progress of their students and he has always tried to give them the freedom to learn which is indeed one of the major goals of Free Software.

We had made the 3 day workshop completely interactive and as one of the member faculties rightly pointed out “we could not differentiate between the organizers and the participants.” The seriousness of the college on shifting to Free and Open Source is evident by the fact that their principal personally attended all the 3 days. Infact she was one of the front bencher (not that the back bencher were not involved ).
As I said, we experienced the true wiki culture of teaching and learning in those 3 days.
I really can't count how many things we learned or taught. It was an overall learning process for all of us.

SNDT has set an example for colleges

Now it is certain that many colleges will follow the example set by SNDT.

Just yesterday Sanjay Shitole called up and he was happy to tell me that they are getting good response from students. He also informed that they have started to use other free softwares like octave.

Indeed a great move and lucky you SNDT Girls!

All I can say at the end is that The girls in this college will now be lucky that they will learn in the most creative way and will be able to openly share knowledge. “Free softwares like GNU/Linux will obviously improve the skill set of our students because they can see more and more source code for components like kernel.” said Sanjay Shitole who was as happy and excited as I was at the end of those 3 days.

Now, the next step planned is to change the course for the college a bit and add currier oriented modules such as the Python language.
Already all the labs in the college have shifted to GNU/Linux with Ubuntu installed on all the machines. I won't be surprised if the students of SNDT are the majority in getting jobs in the IT sector.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

FOSS is the future?

Hello and welcome back to this set of articles on Free Software.

In my last article I talked about the need for free software and the motivations to start such a revolution, which eventually happend in 1984.

In this article I will continue the story and we will explore the level of impact Free Software has created on the world.

Indeed Free Software also refered to by many people as "Open source ", has made the digital world a much better place to stay in.

At least those who use FOSS don't face the dangers the proprietory softwares have created.

However it has been off late that free software has grown in popularity and as with every revolution, this one took time as well to impact the society.

There is an old english saying "you can fool some people for all the time and all people for some time, but you can't fool all the people for all the time ".

This one saying fits as the best reason why FOSS has gained so much popularity both at a common man's level and at the scale of industrial use.

The only problem today is that many of us are not aware of free software and how often we use it.
We don't realise that from search engines to telephone exchanges and from routers till set top boxes, free software is being used every where.

And if at all we know that there is some free software such as the gnu/linux operating system, we just know it is free of cost.

even worstMany people are aware about only the misconceptions about free software such as:
* it is not a commertially viable and professional solution which can be used in daily computing tasks or in main streem industry.
* it is absolutely unsupported commertially or non-commertially and is not at all userfriendly

But as I said these are just misconceptions and infact lack of awareness is the genesis of such wrong concepts.
Add to it proprietory software developing organisations have used all their marketing power to do negative propaganda about operating systems such as gnu/linux and high quality softwares like Open office or Firefox web browser.
However the Free Software Foundation has been a pivot around which the entire Free software Revolution has revolved and today there are many organisations involved in spreading awareness on Free and Open Source thus helping to clear the fear uncertainty and doubt about FOSS in the common man's mind.

It is high time that we come out of our proprietory software boxes and look around. All that is needed is to be a bit more positive about the digital technology. For example many of us believe that virus is a part of any software or operating system. But this is again a misconception and we take it for granted that it is an excepted reality. But virus is a feature (well a dirty feature ) of just one brand of operating system called Windows.
Also a common misconception about gnu/linux or popularly known as “Linux” is that it is totally commandline based and does not have softwares which are needed in daily computer use. This is not just a mith but the reality is exactly the other way round. The desktops running on linux are not just user friendly with all the GUI based softwares, but provide much more than the proprietory softwares provide.
Of course there is one thing which gnu/linux does not provide which windows does, the virus!

If some one asks me “how successful and popular is the Free and Open source revolution?” I just take the names of 2 extremly popular and high quality softwares. Mozila Firefox web browser and VLC media player. These two softwares have created history and go to show how successful the free software moment has been. They also prove that when public participation is allowed in software development, the result is obviously superior as compared to proprietory development modles where a few programmers decide what should the software do.

There are thousands of firefox extentions written by the public for the public.

Similarly when linux is installed on a computer we don't even realise that most of the devices work out-of-the-box. This is not a miracle but the result of huge contribution of device drivers from the free software community.

Again since the software is developed transparently and with public participation in the FOSS model, the quality is generally very very high because meny talented programmers write the code and collaborate openly. Not just that, the development cycle and the roadmap is open to public and even non-technical end-users can chip in suggestions or can help write documentation.

Moreover such development model has also given rise to a huge service oriented business because any one can start a software firm to customise already developed software and also provide support for the same.

Due to so many advantages, free and open source softwares are used in many mission critical tasks and in a lot of large and small enterprises.

Many South American countries make extensive use of FOSS in education and government administration.

Huge organisations like NASA in the United States and Life Insurance Corporation in India use gnu/linux as their main operating system.

And that google search engine which most of us use every now and then? Yes that too runs on gnu/linux. Who does not know wikipedia today? The entire wikipedia including the web application they use is Free Software and they too run exclusively on gnu/linux.

There are companies like Redhat and Canonical which provide commertial quality, professional support to those organisations which are running gnu/linux.

Reliance in India uses a lot of free software such as the python programming language for some of their applications.
And guess what? The number of downloads for firefox is fast approaching 1 billion!

Openoffice, Firefox, VLC, Thunderbird are just a few examples of how user friendly free software is. And distributions of linux such as Ubuntu can be easily installed and used by any one with little or know technical understanding.

All this just goes to show that Free and Open Source Softwares have really brought about a revolutionary change in the digital technology and whether we know it or not, we are already reeping the bennifits.

The question then is “why aren't we aware of such a big revolution and why such misconceptions?”
Obviously Free software revolution has come in the way of selfish businesses who have always exploited the technology users. For example Microsoft will naturally not like their custommers to know that an alternative exists which is not just extremly user friendly but also totally virus free. How would windows stand against an operating system which does not cost any thing for a license, and is developed transparantly and best of all it is totally virus free.

Due to such waisted interests, the big business houses systematically see to it that the common man and industry is kept in darkness and is remaining unaware about better alternatives.

This blog will attempt to reverce the dirty policies.

Keep coming to this blog for real case studies and also some technical articles for those who want to be a part of this wonderful free world of technology.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What does digital freedom mean

Technology in todays world is not just a comodity of comfort or some secondary thing which comes after food clothing and shelter.

The way technology impacts the daily life of humans, we now can compare it to a "third brain ".

Human civilisations have always been knowledge civilisations and there is nothing new about the ability of humans to acquire, express and share knowledge.
Infact the birth of civil societies lies in the fact that humans have a very special ability of communicating information or sharing knowledge.

What has changed though is the way we share knowledge.

Today reading and writing information is done mostly by means of Information Communication Technology (ICT).

Computers in all their forms have given a new dymention to our ability to learn and teach, to do work in a much efficient manner and at unimaginabally high speed.

thus ICT raises the human creativity to infinity.

This technological change has not just brought new possibilities of doing daily work fast and more efficient as well as accurate, but if used properly ICT can solve many problems which we could not imagine to solve without it.

However with the great advantages ICT has brought, it has also created another possibility, a possibility of some power seekers to misuse it and under the name of "doing business " impose the power to restrict the technology users.

Technology in the hands of such individuals and organisations is a powerful tool to deny freedom and control the users to make them do any thing desired for what ever cause.
Such people develop what is called as the proprietory software.

Proprietory softwares are used by many people today, but they are unaware that while a few functional aspects are in their control, they don't have any real freedom to use it the way they want or make changes they want.

Not stopping on these set of restrictions, the proprietory softwares complemented by similar digital standards also curtail the way we store and display information.
This means that our third brain, the brain made of ICT is ruled by some one whom we don't know or may not like to trust.

It goes without saying that almost every thing we do including the major tasks of our daily life happen through digital technology.
It is this major aspect which the developers of proprietory software exployte and keep the users helpless (because they can only do what is allowed) and devided (because they can't share the software or its code ).

Given that this is how proprietory technologies work and given that software is the most important component for instructing the computers exactly what to do, this proprietory softwares are a dangerous crysis to the digital society and the freedom of humans.

To solve this problems Free Software Foundation was established in 1984.

The gnu operating system was developed and later on linux kernal started to be used with the OS and now gnu/linux is the most popular, high-quality, stable, secured and very user friendly free software in the world.

On the fundamentals of free software initiated by FSF, many new softwares are developed every day and due to its vary nature of free as in freedom, we also get rapid bug fixes and updates for such free softwares.

Unlike proprietory softwares which totally restrict users to a few functional tasks, free software not just provides better functionality in most cases, but also provides the freedom to use the software for any purpose on any number of computers, the freedom to study and modify the software and freedom to re-distribute and share the original or modified versions of a certain free software.

On this blog we will discuss need for free software and how this need gave rise to a successful revolution which now influences not just technology users but also the politics and research, study and entertainment and any thing that involves technology.

I will list many developments and experiments which i have encountered and would share my personal experiences including those in workshops I take or developer meets I attend.

So watchout for more on this blog.