LINUX Asia 2004: Showcasing the Power of FLOSS in New Delhi

by Frederick Noronha

Linux for You, India's year-old free/libre and open-source software (FLOSS) magazine, has taken on an ambitious job: organising a major event in New Delhi in February that is targeted at all of Asia, not only India. This will be the most ambitious event of its kind to be organised in North India. From February 11-13, the LINUX Asia 2004 event hopes to demonstrate "the power and benefits of [GNU]Linux and FLOSS to decision makers".

I recently spoke with Rahul Chopra, the techie-scion of the EFY-LFY Publishing company, about what is involved in planning this event and what the event will offer.

Linux Journal: What is the plan for the 2004 GNU/Linux meeting in Delhi?

Rahul Chopra: LINUX Asia 2004 has with the sole aim of demonstrating to the decision makers the power of open source and GNU/Linux. Hence, in addition to an expo and five simultaneous tracks of conferences (including two workshops), LINUX Asia will have 100-plus Linux PCs on site to demonstrate different applications.

So, if a managing director or an SME wants to know how he can save licensing costs without sacrificing the productivity of his team, LINUX Asia is the place to be. If an IT secretary (top-level bureaucrat) of a state or regional government wants to know how his e-governance initiatives can do more for less, LINUX Asia will be a great place to check that out. If a CIO wants to see how Linux is the perfect choice for clustering, this event will provide the demo for him.

LJ: What prompted your new, only a year old, GNU/Linux magazine to go for it with this meeting?

RC: We realised that no matter how much we stress the benefits of open source and Linux through the media, it remains merely talk. To make others "walk the talk" we had to demonstrate the walk and its benefits ourselves.

This event was conceptualised with the primary goal of providing first-hand demonstrations of the powers of Linux and open source. Our target audience for the how to save money theme includes general industry, the government and social sector initiatives, such as educational institutes and NGOs.

Another goal is to demonstrate to existing IT entrepreneurs how they can make money in the open-source paradigm. We all know that it's very different from the proprietary model, and many are confused about how to get on to this new bus called the open source business-model, which seems to be gaining speed. No one wants to be left out. But a fate worse than being left out would be to get off the proprietary business-model bus and not be able to catch the open source business-model bus either. So, we are calling on eminent speakers from across the globe, many from Asia, to explain how they succeeded and to discuss their own mantras of success. Thus, our second goal can be summarized as how to make money from open source.

LJ: How has the response been so far?

RC: It's been very encouraging. Our goal to have our partners signed on before December 15, 2003, was accomplished. We now are working with the US-based Technetra Corp, which is managing the content of the event.

SERCON, India's number one show management firm, is handling LINUX Asia's show too. Delhi-based Tetra, a firm that has been into Linux implementations for the past seven years, has agreed to manage the hub. Then we got a major boost when MAIT (a major IT hardware trade body in India) joined us as a co-organiser, promising major support in promoting the event to the industry. As of now, the support couldn't be better.

LJ: How will this show be different from other attempts, say Linux-Bangalore, which is held in December each year?

RC: Linux-Bangalore is a premium event that focuses more on technology aspects, current and future. LINUX Asia will focus more on selling--demonstrating, rather--this technology to the decision makers. In a nutshell, LINUX Asia 2004 is summarized by its two goals, how to make money and how to save money.

LJ: Why do you feel the Delhi show has a good chance of succeeding?

RC: Although Bangalore and Hyderabad are the names that first come to mind when one talks of India's IT industry, if you group New Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida together [all cities around the national capital], you have a bigger IT industry than the Bangalore and Hyderabad combined.

Delhi also offers access to the decision makers in the central government and seven state governments, including Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Efforts are on to get government representations from other Indian states, too.

Finally, in terms of the enterprise sector, Delhi definitely is ahead of them all, except India's commercial capital of Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Thus, Delhi offers a very attractive opportunity to reach out to the IT industry, governments and the industry.

LJ: Can you tell us how the year-old, first-ever Indian GNU/Linux magazine LINUX For You is doing?

RC: LINUX For You is doing better than we initially planned, and it's all thanks to the incredible support we have received from our readers. The challenge we face every month is managing the huge amount of content within the budgeted 100 pages.

And, we have tons of content to squeeze in. To make sure that we are packing in nothing but the best, we recently initiated a feedback scheme to learn what our readers want. Hopefully, with the summarization of these feedbacks coming soon, we will have an even better LINUX For You for our readers.

LJ: For years, major magazines felt there was no market for a GNU/Linux magazine. Why did you venture into it?

RC: I think it goes back to our roots. EFY as a group came into being with the magazine Electronics For You, which launched in 1968 when Indians were still to see the miracle called television. Our journey from an initial print order of 2,000 copies to the current status of being one of South Asia's most popular electronics magazine has been an exciting one. We felt that Linux and open source promised the similar challenges and opportunities, hence we decided to go ahead with India's first magazine dedicated to open source.

Frankly, with techies ruling the roost of EFY, technology was a bigger factor than long-term business prospects in finalizing the launch of LINUX For You. As far as making money is concerned, we are convinced that businesses that help others save or make money can make money themselves.

LJ: Some criticism to LFY centers on the quality of its CDs, both content and media quality. Any plans to revamp this? What are the options? Would the model of providing the latest applications instead of distributions work better?

RC: The quality check procedure for the LFY CD has been tightened; we expect improvements on that front. As far as the content is concerned, we face a battle of our goal versus the needs of the community.

We have set LINUX For You goal as "Shifting Linux (open source) from Labs to Offices." Thus, we have been placing more importance on providing one distribution that is easy to use and has virtually no installation hassles.

Knoppix, which was slightly customized by us, seemed to be a perfect choice. To cater to the needs of the techies, we bundled software on top of Knoppix based on themes, such as the Developer's Special that came with our July 2003 issue.

However, the community craves different distributions. Acceding to their demands, we have been bundling different distributions (which share a similar ease of use) in the last two issues. Soon, we plan to launch dual CDs, one catering to the newbies and the other catering to the experts.

LJ: What do you see as the potential for GNU/Linux in India?

RC: It's tremendous. Just like other developing nations, India also needs productivity solutions that provide the best RoI [return-on-investment], and open source definitely offers that.

Plus, with our huge IT talent pool, the Indian IT industry does not need to pay a heavy premium for recruiting or retraining the necessary man-power. And, once we go into various off-shoots, such as thin clients, the proposal becomes very attractive even for social initiatives in education, rural connectivity and e-governance segments.

LJ: What is needed to make free/libre and open-source software grow in the country?

RC: Two-pronged efforts: first, creating and nurturing the talent pool for developing open source software, which is being addressed by initiatives such as the Bangalore-Linux meet [an ambitious, community-organised event attracting nearly 2000 participants each December, held for the past three years], various LUGs, the Free Software Foundation-India and partially by LINUX For You, too. This then has to be followed up by demonstrating (selling) the benefits of open source to the decision makers, so that we have a healthy internal consumption as well.

We face the biggest threat from China over our status of IT superpower, not because of proprietary software development but because China is pushing both development efforts on the open-source platform followed by initiatives to boost its own internal consumption of the same. We could end up being the largest exporter of a technology platform but shrink to the second spot in terms of global consumption.

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