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 TUNIS 2005

 GENEVA 2003



GNUbalisation. Open Source in India
By Frederick Noronha

Harish Pillay works to promote 'Open Source' in Singapore. Former IIT-Madras alumni V Narayanan <> is a consultant to Singapore's Centre of the International Cooperation for Computerization, and he too was visiting India recently. His goal was scouting around and building links for the CICC, which is involved in open source developments in the ASEAN (

Aschwin, a young Dutchman based in Finland, suggests the idea of organising an annual "Linux day". Could it be taken to India too, he'd like to know. Someone posting on the blore-linux mailing list got inspired by an article from the Middle East which made a case for why you "should care about (GNU)Linux".

Marco from Malaysia was searching for 15 GNU/Linux Indian professionals for a planned Linux Training and Solutions Centre. From Thailand, Prof Thaweesak <> gives you a tip or two of how you can try out a for-testing-only English version of a GNU/Linux-based Thai tool that helps teachers in his country freely share educational content nationwide (

Hilaire Fernandes says the latest version of Dr Geo at has on its 'change log' things like an udpated translation for the Indian language of Marathi, which is spoken by an estimated 62 million, mostly in the western part of the country.

The drift of all this becomes clear. Free/Libre and Open Source Software is helping us in India reach out to a slightly more freer-to-access world. One which helps people collaborate across boundaries, and doesn't discriminate against people based on their ethnic origin, country of residence or other factors.

Says Richard M Stallman, who might not take offense to be called the high-priest of the Free Software Movement: "I think it is interesting to contrast the free software movement, as an example of beneficial globalization, with the form of globalization that we usually criticize. Globalization of business domination is evil and harmful; globalization of voluntary cooperation and sharing of knowledge is good."

Probably we in India should know. The earlier round of 'globalization' that we know of was initiatiated by a club calling itself the East India Company.

The above are not just stray episodic examples. This keeps happening all the time. If Indian techies took their communication skills a bit more seriously, we would all have to gain. So would the world, hopefully.

Richard Stallman gave these words of advice to an Indian youngster recently: "One vital activity is training people to the point where they can begin developing free software that will be of use globally.... Remember, the free software you use exists because we focused on activities that would be useful world-wide. Naturally you may want to work on localization and local popularization, but don't let that make you forget to contribute to the global stock of free software."

Today, the tools for inexpensive global communication, from e-mail to what else, are all in place. But, unless we have the proper motives for communicating globally, where do we go? FLOSS offers one major raison d'etre for that.

To get the most of its potential, however, we all need to work with a focus.

For a computing paradigm which grew out of communication and collaboration, it's surprising how little the different GNU/Linux user groups across India collaborate. The Indian forte seems to lie in solving technical problems; not applying the results. Indians are so much focussed on the work at hand, that they don't share the ideas behind it. Or so it seems.

One has argued elsewhere that FLOSS opens up particularly exciting possibilities for the so-called 'developing world'. Reasons for this are clear to understand:
o It makes software available for local deployment at affordable costs. Inspite of India's considerable software skills, the export-orientation of its traditional software industry has put it beyond the reach of most, price-wise.
o Due to low entry barriers, it brings in a whole lot of students and other youngsters into the software-creation field.
o Sharing of ideas over mailing-lists, working collaboratively across geographical distances, and the openness of this approach makes it possible to achieve much more than what would be possible in a proprietorial, copyright-controlled environment.
o Volunteers, students or others coming into this field often enter in for non-commercial motives. This makes them more than willing to take up projects which are of high social relevance but which often offer low financial returns. Examples of education-initiatives and local language solutions in India stand out in this context.
o Networking of techies through low-cost communication channels such as electronic mailing-lists helps to speeden up the software-creation process, apart from building people-networks across a vast geographical area like that of India.

But, one could say, FLOSS is not just about getting software at a cheaper price. It is about sharing, helping others, and benefitting in the process. It is about a different way of collaborating to solve problems. This could have implications for other spheres of life. For a talent-rich, resource-poor country like India, isn't this just what the doctor prescribed?

Frederick Noronha is a Goa (India)-based freelance writer, and has been intensively covering FLOSS in India and parts of Asia.

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