Special Correspondent

Meet wants to spread free software movement among students

“Free and open software inevitable for e-governance initiatives”

CHENNAI: Techies advocating free software on Sunday issued a rallying call to expand the “digital freedom struggle” as they celebrated the anniversary of the GNU/Linux project launched in 1984.

The convention of freedom and software, hosted by the Free Software Foundation of India, Tamil Nadu chapter, took note of a suggestion to chalk out a plan to spread the free software movement among engineering students in southern States, school students and rural masses.

The Linux user group of Chennai, led by M. Ramadoss. also launched “Kattatra Menporul” (Free Software), a Tamil publication that embodies the philosophy of free software spearhead Richard Stallman and provides localised versions of standard Linux desktop environments.

West Bengal IT Minister Debes Das said free and open software was the inevitable choice for governments planning to implement e-governance initiatives that penetrated to the panchayat level.

Compared with proprietary software which was costly to install and entailed further expenses on upgrades, free software was cost-effective, secure and hardy while being open to customisation.

Pointing to the poor record of indigenous software development in India, Mr. Das said the West Bengal government was developing a local language e-governance software.

Prabhir Purkayastha, secretary, Delhi Science Forum, said a regime of software patents could pose a grave threat to indigenous software development in a country like India.

In essence, patenting software was to own a piece of algorithm, he said, and that amounted to patenting the fundamental math.

For the U.S., software patenting had compensated for dwindling revenue from a weakening manufacturing sector, he said.

The patenting regime was dominated by a form of lifelong royalty levy in which software was equated with any other artifact—one could patent just about anything: from a single-click buying business method to drop-boxes on a website. “India should avoid the mistakes of the U.S.”

Kiran Chandra, director, Free Software Foundation, said the essence of the free software movement enshrined the fundamental freedom to use, study, copy, modify and redistribute any computer programme.

Mr. Chandra urged the Linux developer community to spread the movement to the common man because the technology had to touch the lives of the masses.

He called upon the 3 million-strong community in India to scale up their contribution to the free software movement from the current negligible levels.