Free Software Makes Telephone Users' Lives Easier in India

Large prep and printing job made manageable and affordable with free tools.

Thanks to free software, one-third of a million telephone users living in Southern India will no longer find locating phone numbers such a complex process. Telephone directories often take a notoriously long time to be published in India, meaning phone subscribers are lost when trying to locate numbers they need.

Linux increasingly is attracting attention in Corporate India, not only for its usually lower costs but also because of its high quality products. Last weekend, the latest edition of the Thiruvananthapuram telephone directory--from the regional capital of the south-western province of Kerala--was processed and typeset using a range of free software tools. These tools provided substantial savings in cost and time, while producing a neatly laid-out and elegant publication ahead of schedule.

The two-volume directory, to be distributed to all subscribers of the Thiruvananthapuram secondary switching area as of March 25, contains 1,200 pages and 320,000 entries. Some 400,000 copies of the directory currently are being printed by the locally based St. Joseph's Press, using typesetting software and programs provided by River Valley Technologies (RVT), also based in the Kerala capital. RVT specialises in typesetting and publishing solutions using free and open-source software.

For the phone directory publishers domestic telecom giant Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), this is the first complete directory to be published since 1999. K. Sreekantan Nair, Principal General Manager of the Thiruvananthapuram telecom district, said BSNL has spent Rs 35 million on printing the directory.

Normally, an order of this magnitude--a print run of 400,000 copies, each with 1,200 pages printed on 48 GSM white paper in three columns of Helvetica Narrow 7 point typeface, with 94 lines per column--would have taken six months and involved around 50 employees wholly dedicated to the work.

In this case, however, the press was able to finish the entire printing process in four months, using a smaller team. At present, SJP's printing presses are operating 21 hours per day at their maximum capacity of 20,000 copies per hour to finish the printing.

Using software like PageMaker or QuarkXPress could have taken a longer time, said RVT. Instead, they used a combination of free software programs to extract BSNL's data, process it and typeset it into camera-ready copy.

RVT managing director C. V. Radhakrishnan said the BSNL data of telephone numbers, subscribers names and addresses was supplied as files in dBase, an outdated database software that goes back to the days of the DOS operating system. Using a set of free software libraries downloaded from the Internet and locally customised, this data was extracted into the PostgreSQL relational database, also free software, and was then entirely recreated.

RVT wrote a Java program to pipe this newly generated database into TeX. From TeX, RVT produced the final output as Portable Document Format (PDF) files, using pdfTeX, also free software.

"So powerful is TeX that it was able to process nearly 1,200 pages in just four minutes", says Radhakrishnan. "Not only that, since it is also a programming language, it is able to do several things automatically, like the generation of header markers, for example", he adds.

To incorporate corrections and editorial changes to the proof sheets, RVT designed a graphical spreadsheet interface for SJP. This also helped to save time in updating the almost 10,000 entries that had changed since the last directory was printed four years ago.

Recent reports in India's enterprise-based Network Magazine also noted the small but growing number of other industrial ventures starting to try out GNU/Linux in their "mission critical space".

Asian Paints, India's largest paint company, has implemented SAP modules on GNU/Linux. IDBI Bank, with over 91 branches, runs its core banking applications on it. Rolta India runs its database containing thousands of users, while ICICI Infotech runs its knowledge management applications, and C-DAC runs e-governance solutions on GNU/Linux.

Frederick Noronha is a freelance journalist living in Goa, India.



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Re: Free Software Makes Telephone Users..I need contacts develop

Anonymous's picture

This a good report to read, the problems with freeware not withstanding.

Production of similar directory in Botswana is also very tasking for staff of the organisation involved.

I need to contact the people who used such software. Can you give me thier e-mail, phone, etc ?

O.R. Adeniran


Re: Free Software Makes Telephone Users..I need contacts develop

Anonymous's picture

Re: Free Software Makes Telephone Users' Lives Easier in India

Anonymous's picture

Nice article. Now what can I use for page layout? Scribus fails due to dependency problems, so I don't even know if that is good or not.

What can I use for wysiwyg web page authoring? Amaya fails due to dependency problems, so I don't know if that is useable or not. Another program, I forget the name, which is also a wysiwyg app, also fails due to dependency problems.

What cheap flatbed multi-function machine can I use for gnu/linux? As far as I can tell, someone is developing hp drivers for linux, but hp machines aren't cheap, and the drivers aren't done yet. I can't find any info on other multi-function fax machines.

The dependency problem needs to be solved. Until then, linux will go nowhere on the desktop.

Page layout, wysiwyg html, and dependency problems are holding linux back. Among other deficiencies.

Re: Free Software Makes Telephone Users' Lives Easier in India

Anonymous's picture

TeX/LaTeX has nice packages for page layout (layout.sty etc.) - not WYSIWYG though, but a lot of good work is possible. EMACS/Vim (on GNU/Linux) are so good for TeX work that often no need is felt for WYSIWYG (or rather WYSIWYG can be slower and less reliable).

I've used latex2html for webpage conversion. I dont know if things like netscape suite satisfy your web page authoring needs.

It is not clear what dependency problems you are talking about.

Amitabh Trehan


Re: Free Software Makes Telephone Users' Lives Easier in India

Anonymous's picture

Headline: Linux saves Earth from the Borg

Troll: Yeah but I can't get it to fetch the newspaper and my slippers, so it's still useless.

Re: Free Software Makes Telephone Users' Lives Easier in India

Anonymous's picture

(Score:-1, Troll)