Tuesday, December 11, 2012

FOSS trip in Aasam

Dear readers, I have been waiting to post this great news about GNUKhata, www.gnukhata.org which is my dream project.
I was wondering how soon i would get some time to start writing.
But sitting at the Guwahati airport, the flight delay of 90 minits gave me the much needed chance to start writing this blog post.
Before you all wander what brought me here in the north east, I would like to let you all know that Amtron, the Aasam Electronic Corporation has decided to deploy GNUKhata, the free accounting software in a big way.
This deployment will be the biggest ever for GNUKhata superseeding the one we did in Kerala state.
On my way back there are quite a few things on my head and wonderful memories to carry back.

The mission

The main aim to visit Amtron was to get them started on GNUKhata so that the upcoming deployment for the said organization and a few other government departments goes smoothly.
Basically myself, and the core GNUKhata team, including our domain expert Mr. Arun Kelkar, my wife Sayali, Ujwala and Trupti, all had one goal in mind.
we had to have some cloud infrastructure setup with GNUKhata for Amtron and train people to use it with comfort.
The MD of the said organization, Mr. Yadava is a great personality.  I must say at the outset that he really won my heart with his "no compromise on digital freedom " attitude as a part of his life style.
The day when we arrived in Guwahati, we had a visit to the office and met Mr. Monoj Kumar, deputi MD and found to our pleasant   surprise that he too is a great FOSS follower.
Another surprise we got was that GNUKhata was already deployed on a cloud instance.
One more great news for us was that they were using the Same Allrounder Gnu/Linux distro which myself and Sayali had built last year.
For any programmer it is a true compliment when the clients say they could install the program with no trouble.
This was the same case with us because the technical person told us that he did the setup in one go with no hickups.
This is a proof for all you GNUKhata followers and interested potential users that we have a stable GNUKhata with an equally stable installer.
We then visited a nice place called Kala Kshetra (meaning the region of art).
Ujwala had back pane and Trupti had to stay with her on the guest house, so they both missed that evening.
The next day was actually the first day of our official visit.
We had a discussion with Mr. Monoj Kumar about the entire schedule and then moved on to the workshop venue.
As already mentioned, we were saved of the trouble of setting the server up because it was already done by the technical team.
Mr. Kelkar started the explanation with Sayali doing the actual demo, following my initial introduction and talk on the workshop.
Sayali too chipped in with some major points and the way they 2 did the opening set the perfect tone for the rest of our workshop.
Following Sayali, Ujwala got into the act by doing the demo of all the reports, with Kelkar continuing his discussion and detailing the reasons behind many of the unique features we have in the software.
Participants included Chartered Accountants, fund many others from different organizations including a few NGOs.
We naturally got a lot of doubts from them as they were used to see tally and found our product very unique.
I had already informed all that we were and will never be interested in blindly copying what a proprietary accounting software does.
That is to say, just because Tally or some other software does a certain thing in a particular way, we won't do it unless it is a standard accounting practice.
For example our voucher system is much more user friendly and disciplining in nature.  According to Mr. Kelkar only tally 9 has such a feature.
Never the less, there were some customized requirements and most of them were feasible for immediate implementation.
the printing feature with pdf and spreadsheet option is one such feature we promise to implement immediately.
The project statement and project wise ledger were the most attractive features and were the ones to be most scrutinized.
People were even revealed to know that we have a drilldown interface but wished we also have it in both direction.
I remember Sayali had argued in favour of this feature and must confess that she had got the user mindset right in this context.
On the second day the users did a lot of hands on sessions and Mr. Kelkar assisted by all the team gave one to one attention to the problems or feedback given by all participants.
In the afternoon we met the MD Mr. Yadava, who was the mastermind behind this entire GNUKhata deployment mission.
He is really one man who is firm on his thoughts about FOSS and stands by it with 0 compromise attitude.
He is not even afraid to criticize the biggest of organizations on their approach about digital freedom and also thinks strongly that projects like Aakash needs more focus.
Fortunately he is on a deservingly high position and can take decisions within his limits, else such people are discarded by our society as rebellion.
Let me give you one example of his firm support for FOSS and his passion for using it.
I was having a meeting with the technical staff in the early evening (actually an early night in Guwahati so to speak ).
One person asked me when would there be a Windows version of GNUKhata available.  I told him that we will talk with your MD and get a team working on it.
He immediately responded "no, don't even ask him, he will never allow use of resources for this work".
Basically, I was pleased to know that Mr. Yadava has a 0 compromise approach regarding FOSS.
Well, on the 3rd day, Mr. Monoj Kumar told us that the team was very satisfied with GNUKhata and they just need some customizations for which they are ready to pay.
By jan end we will be replicating the same deployment which we used on the cloud for the 3 days training.
This upcoming deployment will be on a larger scale and will be used for serious work including managing project finance.

Over all experience

As a side note, another good outcome of the visit was that we got to visit a government blind school and introduced Orca, the Free and Open Source screen reading Software.
Amtron has a scheme of distributing free laptops to college students with Linux installed on it by default.
This year they will distribute 30000 laptops.
In this context I was aware that even blind people must be getting those machines.
When I visited the blind school, my doubts were confirmed.
They were just not aware of the Orca screen reader and now we will be holding a workshop for blind faculties very soon.
Apart from this, we had a wonderful time Visiting the Pobitra forest area famous for rhinos on 8th December and the picturesque city of Shilong on 9th.'
The trip to Shilong was in particular a beautiful experience.
I was amazed to witness the temperature drop, with mercury falling 1 degree every 2 or 3 minits when we started ascending the 5000 ft Khasi mountain to visit the said city.
The beautiful landscape, the shimmering valleys and the elephan water fall all gave a heavenly feel and as Trupti, one of our colleagues mentioned it was a "Kashmiri winter".
We also took our photos waring the traditional Meghalaya dress and the food was delicious too.
The only bad thing to end it all was that our flight has got delayed and I don't know how long will it take.
At least I got my much needed time to write this blog post and update my readers about one of the best FOSS trips I had.

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