Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Here May 2005 Cover Story on Indian FLOSS community.



Despite India having one of the largest numbers of Linux User
Groups in the world, we are yet to see a space for open source
software in the national IT policy.

To communicate in just a few pages the contributions of the
Indian open source community to the FLOSS movement is
quite a daunting task. After all, how do you do justice or
document the enormous efforts that are scattered across the
country? Almost every nook and corner of India today has an
Indian Linux User Group (ILUG), Swatantra Software Community,
the Free Software Forum (FSF), or a GNU/Linux User Group--just
to name a few. These groups have done some major work on the
the open source community in two major ways: disseminating
developer education through freely accessible handbooks covering
Indian language computing, and by writing open source software
tools for real-world Indian language computing needs.

>From the east comes the Indo-Bangladesh localisation project,
AnkurBangla, an initiative to put Bengali on the Linux map,
done in collaboration with the Indic Computing Consortium.
Another eastern endeavour is the Assam-based Luit Project,
put in place on May 21,2004 by Jyotirmoy Saikia and Bhaskar Dutta, with
support from G Karunakar and Meyarivan T of the Sarai Programme.
Luit, the other name for the Brahmaputra, aims to localise
free and open source software in Assamese, with initial
targets to integrate Assamese support into KDE and GNOME
desktop environments,and finally provide a complete Assamese
desktop in the Linux platform. In the West, the Free Software
Foundation (FSF) of Mumbai has teamed up with Indictrans (the
localisation effort of C-DAC along with Technology Development
for Indian Languages) to create `Gargi'--an open type font in Devanagri
and `Padmaa' in Gujarati.

Down south, Swatantra Malayalam Computing has come up with some major
releases like Malayalam GNOME, Pano-Malayalam-Patch-Source, SMCConvert -
0.1.0,SMC-Mgl - 0.0.2 version, among others--all downloadable
from their website [].
Joining the tide, the group is toiling hard
to develop a Tamilian version of GUI for xwindow-based
desktops, GNOME and KDE.

Other projects include PunLinux, initiated by the open
source enthusiasts of Punjab; Rebati--the Oriya
localisation project initiated by enthusiasts like Subhransu
Behera, Staya Mohapatra, Gora Mohanty and Utkarsh;
and localisation in Gujarati initiated by Nirav Mehta. There
are also other projects in Kannada and Telegu localisation.
Pune-based BLUG (BCS-MCS GNU/Linux User Group),
which has joined the drive on January 26, 2005, is busy localising KDE.

On a lighter side, these open source enthusiasts are
also bringing in a touch of Indian romanticism into Linux.
Consider this: Nagpur-based paediatrician-turned-
software guru, Dr Tarique Sani, hosts a website [aaina-e-] that offers a trilingual dictionary of commonly
used words in `ghazals'. The Urdu text is written in
Devanagri, the widely-used script of Hindi and other North
Indian languages. The meanings of the words used in the
`ghazals' are given in English, Hindi and the regional
language Marathi.

Creating Indian open source manpower

Almost all the successful missions across the world have
invariably banked upon one pillar--the strength of young
minds. The OSS community of India is no exception to
localisation of Linux and Open Source Software (OSS),
popularising the OSS concept among students through
troubleshooting and information exchange, etc. Each
group has worked in its own way to take the OSS
movement ahead.

The L10n passion

The passion for Indianising or localising (L10n) Linux and
OSS is visible everywhere, without any exception, from
Gujarat to Orissa. The most talked about endeavour here
is the IndLinux project taken ahead by the LUGs from
across the country. Developed with the aim of creating a
Linux distribution that supports Indian languages at all
levels, the IndLinux project seeks to include the majority
of India that does not speak English. Some of the major
activities of the project are to create expertise in the
domains of I/O modules, the development of fonts, kernel
enablement, word translations, etc. With its user interface
based on GNOME and KDE, the IndLinux uses the Lesser
General Public License. As of now, it has launched four
distributions of IndLinux in Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi and
Telegu. The average activity percentile mentioned in is more than 80 per cent a week.
Another pan-Indian localisation initiative is the Indic
Computing project, launched to create open source
infrastructure code, and provide technical documentation
on Indian language computing issues. It claims to serve
this rule. It is, in fact, putting in a lot of hard work to
impart education and training to young college students,
and develop a talented pool of youngsters who are also
passionate about open source. Most of this training takes
place in an innovative and informal manner. Take, for
example, Mumbai-based Nagarjuna G, an active Free
Software Foundation member and a professor at the Tata
Institute of Fundamental Research, who is undertaking
some interesting projects like Fostering Free/Open Source
Technologies (FOST) to educate engineering students on
OSS. He also runs a mailing list called GNU/Linux for
Education (GNU/LIFE). Nagarjuna has also initiated a
community-based portal [] to
freely distribute knowledge. As part of this endeavour, an
application, GNOWSYS--part of the GNU project, is being
developed that would enable all the willing members of
the community to share a common repository of

Further, in an effort to take open source knowledge to
the mainstream, M.N. Karthik has launched a website,
[], which besides being a good
repository of information on Linux as an OS, also attends to a novice's
queries. The site also has a tutorial and a how-to on accessing
Windows partitions.

A small town around Kolkata,named Madhyamgram, has
launched another innovative way of disseminating FLOSS
knowledge. Initiated by Dipankar Das, a professor at one of the
colleges in Kolkata, the project has been called GNU-Linux-Thek (GLT)-
Madhyamgram or GLT-Mad. Its members describe GLT-Mad as a
`physical helpdesk on matters regarding GNU/Linux'. Modelled to
facilitate interaction on a personal level, the project is run by Mr
Das. He collects the tutorial materials and educates students or
anyone who is interested in knowing about GNU/Linux.
A free-of-cost tutorial model, GLT-Mad has compiled CDs
which can be used by other such projects across the
country. A GLT-book, `GNU/Linux Iskool', is also being
worked out. GLT-Mad is affiliated to the Indian GNU/
Linux Users Group, Kolkata and the Free Software
Foundation of India, West Bengal. Added to this, the
members of ILUG-Calcutta are a part of localised, low-
cost computing initiatives in progress at the West Bengal
Madrassa Board.

Still at its initial stages, members from the Pune BLUG
visit colleges to train faculty. "We train people in their
GNU/Linux set up and labs. Many a time, because we
don't have enough space or the necessary permission in
colleges, we arrange this activity in friends' houses," says
Amit Karpe of BLUG, Pune. The group has also arranged a
number of workshops in colleges in Pune for BCS and
MCS students
. "Initially, we conducted some intensive
seminars on GNU/Linux installation in colleges and in
the homes of our volunteers. We started with the basic
use of GNU/Linux, with practical demonstrations,
whenever possible." All this free of cost! For the summers,
the group is pursuing talks with members of the Pune
University to arrange summer workshops for the BCS and MCS faculties.

>From Goa comes another interesting project--
Glibms--a library management software developed using
PHP and PostgreSQL, to automate the different activities
carried out in the library. It was put together by young
engineering college students Sharmad Naik, Gaurav
Priyolkar and Hiren Lodhiya [http://sourceforge
.net/projects/glibs]. There is a discussion group in
Yahoo, namely, Linux at Schools in India [http://], to
help schools set up and use GNU/Linux.

Adding desi spice to Linux

The Indian open source community is not only booming
with activity, but also inspires others to move in the
direction of FLOSS. Unfortunately,
most of us in India are unaware of
the high levels of activity in this

One of the unheard tales is about
a small time village boy from Kerala,
Sarath Lakshman, who has recently
developed the SLYNUX desktop--
that looks close to a Window's
desktop. Lakshman, taking his X
standard examination, first
encountered Linux as a result of the
IT at School project, initiated at his school. He soon realised
that although the OS is very smooth and secure, the
average user would be confused by the names given to
programs in Linux. Hence, he came up with a simpler
version of the Linux desktop--SLYNUX. SLYNUX has a
pre-installed SLYNUX media player and a Linamp player.
So, the user can play VCDs and even DVDs using Xine. It
also comes with a multi-purpose messenger program that
can be used for MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Jabber and IRC
messaging services. SLYNUX also comes with Mozilla
Firefox, which can be used to access the Net.
Among the big town silent missionaries is Mumbai-
based Amish Mehta, who has developed a cyberoam
authentication client for various platforms, which has a
24-hour online working capacity [http://sourceforge
.net/projects/cyberoam/]. Prabu Ramachandran has
unveiled a scientific visualiser based on the open source
platform. He's named it MayaVi (magic) [http://]. Vinod G. Kulkarni has come
up with an IMV (Information Meta View) system that
attempts to create a Web standard for information storage
in a decentralised database. Information is stored as a
graph-like structure spanning several service providers

Phew! The list is exhaustive. Another Linux enthusiast,
Amit Kale, introduced a kernel patch that allows you to
use gdb to debug Linux kernels. It's called kgdb
[]. It can detect breakpoints in kernel
code. From the east of India comes an Integrated
Development Environment (IDE) for C and C++ on GNU/
Linux. Developed by Naba Kumar, the IDE has been
named Anjuta []. It also aims to
combine the power of text-based command-line tools
with the GNOME graphical user interface.

Information exchange

Discussion groups, mailing lists and daily updates are
common features in every open source community
website, particularly those of ILUGs. Such exercises not
only keep the community updated with the surroundings
but also encourage online interactions. Added to these
are the periodical meetings that occur. Even the newly
founded groups give a lot of importance to meetings.
Says Amit Karpe from Pune, "We arrange weekly
workshops and seminars." Adds Gora of ILUG
Bhubanshwar (ILUG-Bbsr), "Currently, it's just the
monthly meetings that the ILUG-Bbsr holds with other
Yahoo groups. We soon hope to have weekly workshops
and share the developments on Linux."
These groups are also a good means of exchanging
news on job openings for people armed with Linux skills.
While groups like the Bangalore LUG have a dedicated
section listing jobs on their website, most of it also
happens on a personal contact basis. As Sankarshan
Mukhopadhyay, member of ILUG-Cal and currently
working with Red Hat India puts it, "This is more of a case
of referrals rather than any structured initiative. The
founder members or peers have industry contacts and, in
many cases, the industry members get in touch for the
same reason."

A significant step towards information exchange
among the ILUGs is FLOSS Today, a network set up in
2003, and currently hosted by The main idea is
to ensure that open source news in India percolates into
every region of the country. In the introductory note of
FLOSS Today, the Goa-based freelance journalist, Fredrick
Noronha, says, "The list was initiated with the aim of
having a cross-pollination of ideas and events, making
announcements, etc across India and elsewhere in South
Asia." The list aims to be an `event-centric' announcement
list. Reports of meetings to be held or already held,
announcements of FLOSS events, gatherings, tech
sessions, etc, would be its primary focus [http://].

Working on Linux made smooth

Troubleshooting is again a core activity area of the Indian
open source community. Apart from conducting
workshops and seminars, ILUGs also visit schools and
colleges that are using open source software, to render
their services to whatever extent is possible. On a virtual

More from India.......... [] is India's first portal
to host projects under Free/Open Source licences. It is
located in Trivandrum and hosted at the Asianet data centre.

Planet FLOSS India: Planet Floss India
[] is a window into the world, work
and lives of developers and contributors from India who are working on
Free/Open Source Software.

Dhvani: Dhvani [] (which means `sound' in
Sanskrit) is a text-to-speech system for Indian languages
by the Simputer Trust. It takes phonetic input. Currently, there is
support that accepts UTF-8 text in the Hindi and Kannada
languages, and turns them into phonetics; therefore, text-to-speech is
working for these languages.

Free Software User Group--Kochi: []
Formerly known as the Indian GNU/Linux User Group -
Kochi, the Free Software User Group--Kochi, claims to have changed its
name so as to better serve the purpose of its existence. This is to
advocate and
promote the use of free software by providing technical assistance
related to free software, bringing together free software businesses and
free software users, and
propagating the message of software freedom in and around the city of
Kochi in Kerala.

Linux India General--general, non-technical discussions about Linux in
[] The
Linux India
General (LIG) mailing list is a general, non-technical general
discussion group on Linux.

Indian TEX Users Group (TUGIndia): [] The Indian
TEX Users Group (TUGIndia) was founded in 1997 to provide leadership for
users of TEX,
a revolutionary typesetting system developed by Donald Knuth. It
represents the interests of TEX users in India.
Indian contribution to KDE: KDE has a few Indians involved in its
development. Navindram Umanee and the Melbourne-based Sirtaj Singh Kang
are prominent
developers of Indian origin. Sirtaj has also developed KDOC (API doc
generation tool), korn, karm, kview and kimgio (plugins for various
image formats). More details:
We leave you with another must-visit site: level, their websites provide the best
means for users to reach out to troubleshooters through sections like
FAQs, mailing lists, discussions, etc. The Bangalore LUG's
(BLUG) site has a whole set of white papers on not only
the way Linux works, but also tips on how to start a Linux
User Group. Its resource section answers queries related
to Linux security. BLUG's discussion list includes a sub-
list named `Tech list', which answers questions relating
to issues ranging from Linux installations to operations.
On similar lines, the ILUG-Delhi, under its discussion list,
has sub-lists like Desktop Linux, which answers queries
relating to fonts, Windows Manager, etc. The site also has
a section on hardware support. These groups, on a regular
basis, also post news on the latest software releases from
the industry and review them. G Nagarjuna feels LUGs
are very active in this area. He says, "Most of the LUGs in
Mumbai and Pune are very active. The Mumbai GLUG has most of the
FSF guys, who do one-day GNU Linux awareness workshops in local
colleges and the Pune LUG runs a course on Linux."
There are other private initiatives, like the one by
Bangalore-based Koshy, who volunteers to fix bugs and tweak
documentation. He is currently working on two projects--CIEE
Database (website for distributing information on various government
funded schools in Karnataka), and Indian BSD (adapting FreeBSD and other
BSD-derived OSs to support the languages of the Indian subcontinent)
[]. The Pune-based
LUG will very soon start training corporations,
governments and school students who are below the line
of poverty on the GNU/Linux System, with the help of
Sarwangin Vikas Sanstha. They also plan to go outside
Pune to promote GNU/Linux in other cities like Nashik
and Satara, and fix problems that users are facing, if at all.
Another help site is the Linux India Help (LIH) website
help], which helps people (especially newbies) install and
run Linux. Topics covered in the discussion range from
connecting to Indian ISPs (VSNL, MTNL, Satyam etc),
configuring popular hardware found in India, technical
questions about Linux, etc.

In retrospect

What we have compiled is not even a fraction of the
activities that are currently on in the Indian open source
community, with regard to localisation or education. The
Indian Linux User Groups have an amazing growth story.
Till the late nineties, the country did not even have 50
Linux User Groups and, today, India is said to have one of
the largest number of LUGs in the world. Still more
amazing is the way each group manages its finances.
Almost all the ILUG members across the country make
their own contributions to sustain this whole movement
in their respective regions. Says Fredrick Noronha, "We
hardly need any money to run a LUG. In the past five
years of running it, we must have spent Rs 10,000. And
whenever we do need it, everyone pays for their own
expenses. So there's a lot of people dipping into their own
pockets, and making this movement self-sustainable. It's
an amazing world out there!" Adds Mukhopadhyay, "It all
happens out of personal contribution based on various
events." Even the newer LUGs are following the trend.
Says Gora of ILUG-Bbsr, "Everyone pays their way. Various
institutions have donated the use of their facilities and
others are donating their time for content development."
But this is one side of the coin that shows what the
Indian open source community has done. The other side
has a whole list of issues the community is yet to attend to.
efforts to spread OSS awareness
among the techies of India. It's now
time to take this awareness to the
decision-making level or the
governmental level, if it truly wants
to realise the dream of bridging the
remains the highest body that can
bring about this transition. It's pretty
of the largest number of LUGs in the
world, is yet to see a space for open source software in the
national IT policy. Slow rate of computer penetration
cannot be taken as a valid reason here, when we have a
country like Vietnam, which has not yet recuperated from
the Vietnam War, with a national open source policy in
place. That's thanks to the very active LUG of the country.
It's true that we do need a proactive government here, but
the first step needs to come from us. Placing a blueprint to
the government on the kind of IT policy that the country
needs, or the role OSS can play in the country with some
push from the government, is not an impossible hurdle to
scale. How come, our neighbouring Pakistan LUG could
convince its government to work towards creating a Linux
task force, while we haven't even made an attempt on that
front! Ensuring good media coverage of various
developments in the FLOSS movement can add a lot of
momentum to the cause. Indian techno-journalists need
to play a role here. The lack of documentation of the
various efforts is another issue here. As Noronha says,
"This is a complex issue, not because little is being done,
but because so little has been documented. I think our
media and journalists have failed the Free Software world
on this!"

By: Jhinuk Chowdhury, LFY Bureau.

The Indian open source community is not only booming with activity,
but also inspires others to move in the direction of FLOSS.