Curtains Fall on Linux '03

OSS Expo
This article appeared in the Vijay Times, dated Wednesday, 10-Dec-2003.

The queues outside the venue made it seem like a first day of a movie, or maybe the tickets for a cricket match. They were neither. They were queues for the biggest technological conference run entirely by a community of users. Linux Bangalore 2003 will be remembered for the participation it drew, and participation across all sections of people, from the technical to the non-technical, from the interested to the curious and from the young to the old. In an auditorium designed to hold a maximum of 1250 people, packed were 2700 people. If anyone ever doubted what a community could pull off without a corporate entity being involved in the actual organising of the event, they would have had to be there at Linux Bangalore 2003.

There have been three international Linux Bangalore conferences to date. Each year has seen a rise, both in the number of people who speak and those who participate in the conference.

If you thought a technology conference like this would be a group of geeks discussing the latest in technology, you couldnt be more mistaken. What was witnessed at the event was a wide cross-section of users, starting from experienced users to beginners to even non-users who were exploring the possibility of using Linux or just plain checking out what all the buzz about an alternate operating system was about. Talks ranged from very advanced topics like network security to topics like how Linux works on the desktop, and setting up Linux and its various flavours. Some widely entertaining talks, and some talks which explored the depths of their respective subjects made for a heady mix. There was a Linux exposition on, which had stalls demonstrating Linux as a desktop, as a programming platform and even a stall which was demonstrating the Indianisation of Linux flavours, which is using Indian Languages on the Linux Desktop.

Big names adorned the speaker list and the talk schedules, witnessing some of the best presentations that any conference, national or international could ever see. Miguel De Icaza and Nat Friedman of the Ximian Corp (which developed one of the best desktop interfaces a PC could ever have) which is now acquired by the IT giant Novell, gave a set of tour de force presentations about desktop and program development on the Linux platform.

Equally impactful were the talks by Harald Welte who maintains a subsystem of the Linux Operating System on networking tools and programming on a multi-processor computing environment, and the talks relating to databases and internet tools by Rasmum Lerdorf and Jeremy Zawodny of Yahoo. As the curtain falls on the event, and Bangalore sees the close of one of the biggest technical conferences it has ever seen, its people and people from across India who made it to the event leave from this IT capital more enlightened about, more hopeful of what many people at the conference called "the coming of a technology revolution".

It re-establishes India as one of the leaders in the Information Technology age, and gives fuel to realising President Abdul Kalam's vision where he observed "In India, open source code software will have to come and stay in a big way for the benefit of our billion people."


Interview with Atul Chitnis

ATUL CHITNIS, a major force behind the Linux Bangalore Initiative, spoke to Vineeth S about Linux and the future.

VS : If you had to list the one primary factor for Linux Bangalore to happen every year, what would that be?

AC : Highlighting Open Source technologies, and encouraging (and helping) the open source community to establish itself firmly in the the field of vision of corporates, governments and educational instituitions.

VS : Three years, three events, hugely successful. Were they successful with reference to the community only, or were they successful even if we were to consider the events in the context of the general public?

AC : They were hugely successful from the community perspective, but what was more important was that they were hugely successful in the public eye, thereby drawing attention to Open Source technologies.

VS : The leaps the event has taken, each year presents larger logistics issues, larger people issues, and generally more complications. What drives you, as a person, to keep at it?

AC : One of the biggest misconceptions about events and efforts like this is that there is a single person "running" it. These events are run by a group of people (called the "managers") who serve two purposes - to conceive and execute the event, and to drive each other on. As an individual, it is my firm belief in Open Source as the only route to progress and innovation in software that keeps me going.

VS : Linux in India, and especially down south, is hardly ever mentioned without your name in the context. But what after you? Do you see anyone or a group who have the potential to drive the Linux initiative with the force with which you drive it?

AC : The fact that I am seen as a "main driver" (and the fact that some people actually support this view) is in fact my biggest problem. If I get run over by a truck tomorrow, some people would get the impression that it all ends there.

Reality is that I play a very small role in all this - but that role gets amplified artificially because of my visibility. That is literally my assigned job - I am the one who talks. But I am not the one who does all the work, I just highlight the work done by others. By definition, there is no need to worry about "after me". First of all I have no intention of going away, and secondly, even if I did, the work of others that I have been highlighting does not get affected.

VS : Has Linux started making a difference to schools in India, and especially in Bangalore? Or is there still a long way to go? What, do you think, can make the Open Source initiative, that President Kalam says India should vigorously pursue, make a significant impact in schools?

AC : No. Apart from the successes seen in Goa, where the local Linux User Group has successfully been managing the IT infrastructure of dozens of schools, there are few *visible* "success stories" one can point a finger at. That does does not mean that there isn't any impact - in fact the impact is huge, with Linux and Open Source technologies now firmly entrenched in the academic system.

The educational system is already doing everything needed - it is now up to the corporate sector to do its thing. And this is is a very simple, straightforward thing - adopt Open Source technologies yourself, and you automatically create employment opportunities for the people who graduate from our educational system, and who are already Open Source savvy. Don't force them to go and learn additional, proprietary products just to become "employable" - use their inherent abilities.

VS : Has the domestic corporate software industry in Bangalore been supportive of your efforts? Why does not one see big names like Infosys or Wipro associated with it?

AC : Actually, both Infosys and Wipro have been HUGE supporters of our work! I for one don't know of a single big name - whether it is the Tatas, Reliance, Infosys, Wipro, or any other of the top companies in India - that hasn't been hugely supportive of our work. I for one am very happy with the involvement by India's cream of software companies.

VS : What do you intend for the future in the context of the Linux initiative? How far do you think one can go with evangelism?

AC : Evangelism is for people with too much time on their hands. I used to be called a Linux evangelist, and I hated the term. It is so impractical. I firmly believe in the motto of the Linux community's efforts at Bangalore IT.COM '99 - "Seeing is Believing". No one is going to switch to Open Source technologies just because someone like me says so. I'd be mortally offended if they did.

Instead, people are beginning to adopt Open Source technologies because they work for them. I firmly believe in the tenets of the Free Software Foundation, but in addition I also believe that people should make the decision to use Open Source software on the basis of functionality first, and ideology later.

As for what the future will be - the future is now. Open Source is already firmly in place across the world and is changing the rules of the software world.

This ball is rolling - roll with it or get out of the way.


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