GOA: Software needs its freedom to grow, students and techies agree

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  • Subject: GOA: Software needs its freedom to grow, students and techies agree
  • From: "Frederick Noronha (FN)" <fred at bytesforall dot org>
  • Date: Sun, 29 Aug 2004 17:35:06 +0530 (IST)
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      SHIRODA, Aug 29: It's cost advantage was mentioned. So were its significant
      technical advantages. Likewise, the versatility of Free Software was demoed.
      But, on the weekend at Shiroda, the focus was on why freedom is such an
      important concept in the world of Free/Libre and Open Source Software
      On Saturday, some 200 students gathered to observe Software Freedom Day in
      Goa too at the Rayeshwar Institute of Technology, a three-years young
      engineering college here.
      They strummed guitars, listened attentively to talks, sat in awe while
      watching GNU/Linux micro-distributions handle multimedia, and even cut a
      cake. But the need to build on the importance of "software freedom" was the
      common thread that ran through the programme.
      "The idea of freedom needs to be strong in this country of Mahatma Gandhi. I
      would never tolerate the clutches of bondage -- whether it is economic or
      educational," said former Goa education minister Subhash Shirodkar, who
      heads the board that runs this State's youngest of three engineering
      colleges, RIT.
      Young Shipra Goel, a student, echoed these words when she introduced the
      topic saying: "Freedom in the software world is important to everyone, not
      just to software developers. If you're not allowed to give a (software)
      programme to a person in need, that makes it non-free".
      Software Freedom Day was organised in over 30 countries across the globe on
      August 28, including in Goa. Countries taking part ranged from Albania and
      Australia to Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
      Software Freedom Day (http://www.softwarefreedomday.org/) focuses on
      publicising and distributing two particularly promising and user-friendly
      Free/Libre and Open Source Software products.
      "Often people say, 'Indians have not contributed to FLOSS.' But in order to
      contribute, you need the infrastructure. Possibilities for sharing came in
      with the internet," said Dr Anil Shet, head of the IT Department of PCC
      College of Engineering, and one of the speakers at the meet.
      "In the world of FLOSS, it is possible to study better on your own, rather
      than in institutions," he added. Dr Seth stressed the need for young
      engineers to be aware of ethical, social and economic issues, apart from
      technological and commercial issues.
      "Like the stars in the sky, you will never run out of possibilities in the
      world of (Free Software and) Open Source. Even if you learn new softwares at
      the rate of one product a day, there are so many that you won't finish in
      your lifetime," said the PCC-IT department head.
      Young businessmen Sandeep Verenkar, who heads the Goa Chambers of Commerce
      and Industry subcommittee on IT, stressed that the possibility of 'software
      re-use' in the world of FLOSS and said this was particularly helpful to
      small software firms.
      "When I told my business colleagues about Free Software, they said they were
      already using 'free software'," he said, half joking, pointing to the
      growing use of 'pirated' software since otherwise software is too costly to
      afford by Indian standards for many, including small businesses.
      "In the last three months, some propretorial software distributions like
      Windows XP have been hit by a spate of virus. There is money to be made out
      of writing or deploying FLOSS applications. For business too it's
      beneficial, as they find it affordable to use," he said.
      Verenkar pointed to the huge and often unaffordable costs of mainstream
      software applications, badly needed by the commercial world. He informed his
      company, Anant Infomedia, was working with students from PCC Collge, Verna
      (Goa) to develop a data warehousing project in GNU/Linux.
      He called on Goa's Linux User Group, which has just below 400 members on its
      mailing-list, to work to offer a network of commercial services to FLOSS in
      this small state. ('Free' software refers to freedom, not zero cost. This
      model infact offers immense possibilty for small players specially to earn
      through offering services.)
      Engineer Bijon Shaha, head of the Electronic Test and Development Centre
      (ETDC, Govt of India) at Bambolim, kept the students regaled with his
      fascinating demo of GNU/Linux 'micro distros' which occupy just 5 to 50 MB
      of space and work effectively with multimedia.
      "It's extremely configurable, and the source code is available too," Shaha
      told students, some of whom wore tee-shirts with the slogan 'May the source
      be with you' blazened across in bold letters.
      IITian and National Institute of Oceanography info technology group head Dr
      Albert Gouveia adviced students to use FLOSS as a "tool to benchmark your
      skills". He stressed on the need to make the most of the choice that FLOSS
      tools offered, without getting overawed by the choice.
      Goa Engineering College's mechanical engineering professor Dr George Easaw
      narrated how the region's premier engineering college had taken to FLOSS,
      after being inspired during the visit of the international Free Software
      Foundation chairman Dr Richard M Stallman to their campus in November 2001.
      "Our present generation doesn't know what it meant to fight for Independence
      from the British. But this generation has the responsibility of nation
      building, and FLOSS usage and development is a way of creating wealth for
      the country," he said.
      Easaw narrated how the shifting over of a computer lab to GNU/Linux had
      brought in effiencies for students at his campus, also known as the Engico.
      "You can tinker around with the features and develop more features for the
      world community. We volunteers are available 24 x 7, if help is required,"
      said Easaw, narrating how volunteer-built distros like Debian came, free to
      copy, with over 8000 software packages along with and entire operating
      Young students Shivram Khandeparkar and Amit Shirdokar (who recently
      graduated) narrated their own experiences with FLOSS, and inspired students
      by showing what is possible.
      "(GNU/Linux) is kind of cool. It's fun. More importantly, it has the source
      code with it. For the first time, it was possible to look at the Operating
      System and find out what it was doing. GNU/Linux allowed me to find out how
      my computer actually worked. That's fantastic," said Khandeparkar.
      "Since you have the source, everything is out there in front of you. You can
      look and modify and improve it. You can give some of your work back to the
      community (of coders) and users. Most of all, it's fun," said he.
      Khandeparkar has worked on the splash screen for the GRUB bootloader, which
      allows for very high display of splash images, using Vesa standards. "Now
      I'm working on that for Grub 2.0 and have done some bug fixes too," said
      this youngster from India's smallest state now contributing to the global
      FLOSS coders' community.
      "That's how (free software and) open source creates value. It's about
      support and services. I can tell you that I've made money out of FLOSS. Free
      software doesn't mean to say that you can't charge," he added.
      Amit Shirodkar, who graduated into being a freelance developer and
      consultant, said FLOSS enable him to learn "a lot of things". Says he: "One
      can always study the source and find your way through. In the end, you end
      up studying more, day by day."
      Speakers also pointed to the danger to FLOSS from concepts like 'software
      pateents'. On this subject, the Free Software Foundation founder Richard M
      Stallman has argued: "In the software field, copyrights restrict the
      distribution of software, while patents restrict (both) the development and
      use of software."
      There are also challenges to FLOSS on the horizon -- including what are
      feared to be lock-in technologies like WinFS and Palladium, which could
      block FLOSS's interoperability with the proprietorial software world, and
      thus seriously hamper's its growth potential.
      For instance, in Goa itself, there are some e-governance and other projects
      which have resulted in records and maps being maintained in proprietorial
      formats, which are not easily accessible by others. In effect, tax-payers'
      rupees go into creating assets not easily accessibly by the citizen.
      Later in the afternoon, the plans for a RIT-Linux Users Group was also
      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
      Some links for Free/Libre and Open Source Software in Goa:
      http://iluggoalist.notlong.com 		MAILING LIST
      http://ilug-goa-announce.notlong.com 	ANNOUNCE LIST
      http://tyl.notlong.com 			TeachYourselfLinux
      http://iluggoa.iosn.net 		WIKI at IOSN
      http://ilug-goa.swiki.net 		WEBSITE
      http://www.ilug-margao.org 		MARGAO
      http://ilug-goa.notlong.com 		Site at IOSN
      Meetings: Science Centre (Miramar, usually on 4th Saturdays) * Verna DLink,
      GEC Farmaguddi (check list).