Let's face it. India may not exactly be at the forefront of technology development or innovation — be it companies that are more focussed on services for that's where the business lies, or the larger technology community. Even contributions from the Free and Open Source community are largely scattered, and code that has made it big and been able to stick on, have been few and far between.
It is this that inspired Kiran Jonnalagadda, Bangalore-based technologist and hacker, to start an outfit, a company if you may, that attempts to build a platform to foster this ecosystem. That is, to not only encourage more people to contribute code for a variety of projects and platforms, but also lend support to sustain these projects and build participation around it.
Retaining the lead
Around mid-2010, Jonnalagadda started HasGeek, a firm that works for the open source community, and helps support it. He explains: “We have a lot of good software developers in India. They may contribute to open source. But very few Indian projects are able to make it big and retain the lead.”
A success story he cites is that of Mayavi, a free scientific data visualiser that is written in Python using Visualisation Toolkit for the graphics. This project, written by Prabhu Ramachandran, currently faculty at IIT-Bombay, is among the few open source libraries that have come from India, and has been able to build a global user and contributor base.
Basically, events organised by HasGeek take the ‘unconference' style of BarCamps, where hackers come in and share technology experiences and perhaps collaborate, to the next level. It makes it professional and more organised. So as a company, HasGeek mobilises resources — compared to BarCamps where community members have to run around to organise the logistics — for the community and organises technology events that brings together hackers on a common platform. To start with, HasGeek is attempting to build awareness on open source contribution and various platforms at a deeper level. “It's all about the depth, and about providing it some structure and agenda. Our approach to any project, or any field of technology, is depth-oriented. So, if there is an interesting tech space, one that needs community participation and development, we host events where people can share, get to know more on that field from expert lectures and perhaps hack together,” Jonnalagadda explains.
So far, Jonnalagadda has conducted events in Bangalore and Chennai.
On the anvil are events in Hyderabad (January 23) and Ahmedabad (February 5). The current series of events focuses on HTML5, an open standard for web pages or for presenting content on the World Wide Web.
Because this standard offers the possibility of cross-platform application, it can make applications work better with the browser, thus freeing it from the clutches or limitations of operating systems.
“The broad answer is that we believe in open standards because of the long term advantages it offers. Over the years, we have been seeing a genuine move towards web-based applications. Take for instance, Google Docs. It frees you from the desktop and whatever operating system you are on.” Browsers, he points out, in recent years have become very advanced. Native applications that are tied to devices are problematic. So there is a strong reason to encourage use of web-based application. “In DocType HTML 5 events our first aim is to create awareness among the developer community on the abilities of the web browser.”
Internet technology being where it is, we should focus our energies on HTML5. The next series of events, beginning in March, will involve hack sessions that will encourage people to write open source code, he adds.