Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sipna College of Engineering adopts FOSS in labs

Another Short Term Trainning program goes successful

free software is spreading rappidly in Maharashtra and the latest workshop Myself and Anusha did at Sipna College in Amrawati is a proof if this.
I wrote about my experiences on FOSS orientation workshop at SSPM Kankavali in the last post.
I hardly got a breather after that, because the very next day, I along with Anusha set out to Amrawati for this STTP workshop.
This is a delayed post because following 2 workshops back to back, there was a lot of work to cover on GNUKhata back home.
Today I met Dhananjay dakhne, The faculty who was the mastermind behind this workshop.
I had a lengthy discussion with him over Lunch about the future plans.
One thing is that his wife cooked splendid chickan (vharadhi style with lot of spice ). I love the way they cook food at amrawati.
The other most interesting part is that he told me about the plans he has for his college.
"Our students are really behind the Computer Science department for an extensive workshop on GNU/LInux with Ubuntu distro and we plan to do it with your group in the second week of Feb 2010", Dhananjay told me and Prathamesh who accompanyed me to his house.
So readers might wonder what majic is happening that where ever I go with my team of fossers, we not just get good response, but Free Software is taken very seriously both by students and participants.
Well, there is no real magic here, nor any great marketing stunt (not that we don't propagate the exclusive use of free software and its obvious and not so obvious advantages).
The point which all of us should understand is that most people were unaware about "linux" say about 5 years back, But due to rappid growth of popularity and its very "free to use and free to modify " nature, people today at least know that an alternative free software based Operating System exists. Or most of them at least have a sweet miss conception that on server side there is a much secured and rock solid operating system called linux.
The misconception is not about the fact that GNU/Linux is totally virus free and highly secured and solid at the server side, infact it is its strongest point. The misconception is about the fact that it is only good at the server side and that only experts can use it given the "command line " nature of the OS.
That way now a days I almost always see that there are a few GNU/Linux boxes in every computer lab, specially of engineering colleges.
Most of these machines are used as ftp or mail servers or a few are also used for teaching bash which is (somehow) in the books of cariculum for Computer Science in univercities.
But people hardly believe it when they hear me saying "well, I don't use windows or any other operating system on my desktop. I exclusively use free software".
Time and time again I have seen that it is the mindset which people carry about "user friendly windows on desktop and linux being difficult".
I have already shared a lot of tips and written about my experiences while conducting such large scale GNU/Linux orientation and awareness workshops. Most of the things we did in Sipna College workshop were usual and we did our regular stuff of actually initiating a smooth mentel migration from proprietory software to FOSS. As i always found in other workshops the case at Sipna was no different. It was just about the mindset and Anusha who always accompanies me, did her regular "it's just those same things you have done in the other OS and will not do any thing different here" exercise in an interractive way.
" asking people to bring over their pen drives or digicams and letting them try opening their documents or photos in the way they know has really reduced the feer in the participants minds about linux". Told Prof. Dhakhne, when he was taking me and Anusha to a memorreablly beautiful dinner. I have now realised that the best wey to get people into using free software and GNU/Linux in particular way is very simple. May be it is too obvious for many experienced trainners.

Stepps I suggest to follow in a FOSS workshop

I and Anusha did the same introductary demos, hands-on installation (with a plesent surprise on the feedback) and tought python on the second day. So I am not going to repeate the schedule we followed in this workshop.
You can ready my previous blogs to learn about the topics we cover and our general schedule.
On this post I thought I would share a set of general guidelines I have developed out of my experience.
I have provided 3 step guideline which any trainner/ resource person can follow for good success in migrating people from proprietory software to FOSS.

step 1 Show them the similarities

What I strongly suggest out of my experience is to first show the users what is similar to what they have seen on windows as the first step. Showing them the fact that opening word documents or excel spreadsheets is the same on windows (infact I make it a point to tell them that excel or calc, the application is a spreadsheet). Also let them try attaching their digicams and opening photos.
The other good thing about the Desktop is that the softwares are well categorised in different menus.
"in windows, you have to click start for shutting donw the machine. How funny and confusing!" this icebreaker joke really gets people into a mindset of listening. although this was a simple joke I cracked at the workshop, it created a small impact in that, people started to appreciate the applications, places and system menu on the Gnome desktop.
I also made it a point in Sipna as I do every where to show them the office and internet menu at the absolute start of my first practical demonstration.
Firstly in Ubuntu, we have things like "open office word processor" and "open office spreadsheet". This suddenly makes things look very simple and user friendly to the participants. Also make a point to show them VLC, their favorite media player. Just like firefox, even VLC appeals to them because most people use these two software on their proprietory OS without knowing that they are Free or what is called as Open source softwares.
One thing which really catches the attention of every one (even the most stubbern and rigid windows user ) is the 3D desktop with things like the cube effect. Most people still use windows xp and this is some thing very attractive for them and they can't resist using it.
Once people just start getting interested to actually know more, I suggest the second step.
Note that now a days in a crowd of around 50 participants, you will find at least 2 or 3 people who have tryed some distro of GNU/Linux and either were ok with it or were extremly amaised and started to use it as the Second Os on their machines.

Step 2, attractive inovations

By this time most of your participants are saying to themselves, "hey, this is not what we learnt about linux. This is so much unlike we thought how linux is. Now we know there is a GUI with all our favorite softwares!"
And the magic of things like 3D desktop and the sight of their favorite firefox and VLC is already working.
once you have got people to listen to you and convinced that GNU/Linux is a choice as another OS, it is time to now show them the new and attractive things on the desktop which they might have not seen in their proprietory OS.
Additional features of Free Software, such as "export as pdf" in open office is a striking example which people appreciate. Another example is the f-spot photo manager. I have seen people getting zapped at the eas with which one can upload photos to on-line galaries.
I often get one interesting question from Engineering students and faculties, "how to defragment the hard disk " and "what letter is used for pen drives and cds in Linux?"
These are some new but attractive things to demonstrate. I put the pen drive issue in the following way.
"we need not confuse ourselves with c:s d:s and e:s in linux. A pendrive will come as an icon on the desktop and will have the lable which was given to it by its user. Same is with the cd. So, GNU/Linux ames to do away with technical naming conventions and works in a way which looks natural and obvious".
So just show those features which are different but very useful. At this point you might go for some hands-on with participants trying to open their own presentations, or spreadsheets/ documents they made on windows.

Another thing unique about some softwares like pidgin is that you can answer the question on chatting on google talk, msn or Yahoo.
empathy is some thing you might consider to demo for audio video conferencing.
One thing which you must follow as a stratergy is to make people aware that Many of these softwares get installed by default when GNU/Linux is installed.

step 3, Time for advance features

If you have followed a a somewhat similar or an exactsequence given so far, Then you most probably have got people deeply interested and curious to know more. You will see that the overall attitude towards "linux" is changing from "afterall it is some thing difficult and may be good for some server side tasks" to "well, this is an superb replacement for windows and we are curious to try out on our machines".
This step is the most critical one and you will really have to take decisions on your own, depending on the crowd's capability of understanding the concepts.
One thing I was surprised to learn in the Sipna workshop is that people liked to use the text based installer of Debian (or Ubuntu alternate cd).
The problem in the college lab was that all the machines were having 256 mb ram and we did not dare to run the live Ubuntu cd.
"next time you do a workshop, we will have faster machines ", Prof. Deshmukh asured me. This ment that I was in for another orientation workshop to be conducted soon.
In this step you can start with the installation hands-on.
I would suggest that the maximum concentration be given on partitioning the disk. My experience is that the best way to teach concepts such as mount points and file system selection is to go for manual partitioning.
Make sure you explain the role of / partition and /home partition. I would generally use the analogy of a "rolle" being given to a partition.
"how do we recognise c: where windows is installed? we don't want to delete that partition because we want a dual boot machine". This is one question I was well prepared at Sipna workshop.
I gave them the idea of sda1, sda2 or 5 depending on the number of primary partitions on the machine and how to make the installation easy.
My recommended method is to empty the last partition and then install linux into it. The trick is that the last partition obviously has the highest number in the partition table.
One thing I Liked about the participants in Sipna workshop is that they were not detered by those things which did not work for them on the first go. This can certainly be your experience if you make the initial orientation of their minds smooth and painless.
We also showed them how to add new softwares from an apton cd or from the internet. This is some thing you must do only after the hands-on installation session.
The other approach could be to do this session during the desktop overview, but that is only recommended if people are keen to see the big picture first.

Outcomes of the workshop

We had covered the basics of GNU/Linux with Ubuntu distro on the first day. Our aim was to make people feel that it is really not just user friendly but offers more than what they get on the proprietory OS. We also made a point to make them understand that they can directly involve in improving the experience in all different ways ranging from contributing bug fixes or new features to the software they like till writing documentation or helping on mailing lists or IRC.
This is one thing which is not so well developed culturally in proprietory software development.
It might sound strange or impossible to get people think FOSS, but my recent experiences at Konkan and Amrawati show that the "get involved it and it will develop the way you want it " works a lot in favour of popularising free software.
This is exactly what people took very seriously at Sipna college.
The Profs and the HOD told me that people (students in particular) are already asking about projects to which they can contribute.
Today I met Dhananjay, who is one of the most popular faculties in the college. He told me very happily that they have decided to adopt GNU/Linux in their cariculums in a big way.
The first big change will happen in the programming course. VB will be replaced by Python and Glade interface designer.
And the other change planned next year is that They will have rails in the Second year IT course.
And the best part is that we will be doing a workshop in Feb for the students, followed by a python workshop for faculties in April this year.
I think this is a major success for free software and can make a good case study for others who wish to migrate to FOSS but are not confident enough.

You can also at this point talk about concept of a "home folder", taking on the arguement about the way pen drives and cds are accessed.
Most often than not, participants tend to ask "how can I chat on google, MSN, Yahoo and how can I use skype?"