Guess Who's Coming to Speak

by Fred Noronha

Computer scientist Tarun Anand, of Microsoft, is a surprise entrant among the dozens of speakers that take the podium for India's most ambitious open source meet. The gathering opens on December 3 in the city of Bangalore.

Anand, who has been on the design and implementation teams of several Microsoft products including Windows NT and 2000, will try to sell Linux geeks on the idea of what the world's largest proprietary software giant calls its "Shared Source" implementation of .NET.

Anand is one of 75 or so talks scheduled for the meet, which is volunteered by techies and free/libre and open-source software supporters. Called LinuxBangalore2002, this is the second year that the meet is being held at the sprawling campus of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), a pioneering centre for this country. The IISc also was birthplace of the concepts that led to the development of the Simputer, a GNU/Linux-based device aimed at taking computing to the common man.

During the late 1990s, Bangalore showcased its GNU/Linux potential at, an annual general computing exhibition. That show continues to be held in the city in early November of each year.

BangLinux, an event promoted by Wrox publishing and others, also was held in Bangalore, but it only lasted a single year. Since the discontinuation of BangLinux and Linux-India participation in, the LinuxBangalore event has become the prime showcase of open source ideas and technology in this software city.

Offerings and talks scheduled for this year's event include corporations such as Hewlett Packard and IBM explaining why GNU/Linux is "open for business" and "ready for the enterprise", GNU/Linux's role in e-governance and education, GTK programming, robotics, network security in embedded devices, geographical information system (GIS) GRASS, IPv6, shell scripting, the open-source corporate desktop and content-management systems.

Indic Solutions

Special focus at the event will be given to Indianisation efforts for GNU/Linux, a field lacking the progress made by other non-English, non-Latin script languages. Progress in this field could take affordable computing to possibly hundreds of millions of people in this talent-rich, resource-poor nation.

Hanish KVC announced plans for a special interest group (SIG) meeting on the topic of embedding Linux. He promised it would help those wanting to know "how to trim the penguins to fit your needs and pocket... (and whether) penguins can really fly".

Another SIG meeting will focus on open source in education. This is a growing concern in India, a country facing a resource crunch. GNU/Linux initiatives for schools are underway, with varying levels of success, in Delhi, the tiny state of Goa, Kerala on the southwestern coast, Chennai on the east coast and even in the hill-station of Dehra Dun in North India.

This education SIG will look at current efforts to popularize FLOSS in education, what can be done to propel existing efforts, whether there is a need for additional initiatives, and if a permanent mechanism could help coordinate what has so far been a sporadic initiative in India.

In the days prior to the event, some 1600 people had registered for the conference. The vast majority (84%) reside in Bangalore, which is considered the capital of India's export-oriented, fast-growing software sector.

Some 81% are interested in development, while interest in system administrators' tasks measured 65%. Nearly 61% of those promising to come were interested in users' issues, while business and corporate concerns were on the minds of some 34%. Emerging technologies had the attention of 74%, while government and education issues were a priority for 31%. Community topics interested another 30%, according to the statistics generated.

Shared Source Too

What seems to be an interesting development, though, is Microsoft's participation in a technology space where the proprietary company previously has shown disdain and/or unease.

Microsoft's Anand promises to help techies understand the internals of Rotor, the Shared Source implementation of CLR and C#. "With over 9,000 files and including some 1,300 public classes to pore through, the Shared Source CLI can teach you quite a bit about the internal workings of the CLR. Learn how to install and setup Rotor on FreeBSD/Linux" promises Anand.

Microsoft has argued that its Shared Source Initiative is "a balanced approach to broadly licensing source code while preserving the intellectual property (IP) rights needed to sustain a strong software business". Interestingly, Microsoft's source code is "made available" only in some countries, depending, the company says, on "national laws, practices, enforcement policies and attitudes towards IP protection".

The Windows CE, Windows CE Academic Curriculum and C#/JScript/CLI Implementations Shared Source Licensing Programs are available worldwide. But enterprise, systems integrator, government and OEM source licensing programs are not available in India, according to Microsoft's official web site. Neither is the Microsoft Research Source Licensing Program.

"I tried digging the m$ site on Shared Source" said Mahesh T. Pai. "I [dug and dug and dug and dug] and clicked on a link and clicked on another link which said 'more info' and clicked on a link which said 'more info' and clicked on link which said 'more info' and ... there was more and more and more and more and more and more and more on "benefits" of Shared Source; they told that you will get the access to the source code if you "agree", but the license was not available to read. Shared source is another way of saying 'my code is my code; your code is our code'," Pai argued.

Government Support Too This Year

Hewlett-Packard is the Platinum sponsor for this year's event, with IBM the second-biggest funder. Details and schedules are available at

The Indian government lent a hand too, unlike past years. Acknowledging the growing visibility of free/libre and open-source software on India's general computing horizons, the country's federal ministry of communications and information technology offered its sponsorship to the event. Organisers announced this support three days prior to the conference's start.

"Given recent events (where India eagerly rolled out the red carpet to Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who lavishly promised aid and investment in India), this endorsement was unexpected but warmly welcomed. It warms our hearts to know that we have our government on our side. We sincerely thank the Government for its support", commented Atul Chitnis, a prominent open-source advocate and adviser to the event.

Fred Noronha is a freelance journalist in Goa, India.

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