‘IT has entered Indian consciousness as a commodity'
BANGALORE: The Free Software movement may be perceived as a rather nascent movement in India. However, the thronging audience at the National Free Software conference held here on Saturday makes a compelling case to the contrary.
Sharing knowledge, in true Free Software spirit, and deliberating on implementation of open standards and practices in public software, the two-day conference is packed with sessions ranging from case studies of public Free Software to hands-on technical or “coding” sessions on GNU/Linux-based platforms. Over 1,700 Free Software enthusiasts, academics and students from across the country are attending the event.
With an aim to broaden the “common pool of ideas and knowledge”, as chairman of the conference K. Gopinath puts it, the conference endeavours to set the impetus for Free Software in the right direction.
Inaugurated by writer Baraguru Ramachandrappa, who argued that software (like art) was a creative concept, slammed the use of the term “knowledge industry”. “Knowledge is not a commodity. Unfortunately, IT had entered Indian consciousness as a commodity rather than knowledge, and had been controlled by a few. How many companies in this “IT Capital” had contributed to localisation (of computer applications) in Kannada?” Unlike in Japan, China, Germany and many non-English speaking countries, English had been deeply entrenched in technology, he said. Only Free Software groups had been actively engaged in developing Kannada language software and distribution systems, he added.
C. Umashankar, former Managing Director of Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu, regaled the audience with short presentations of various Free and Open Source projects in e-governance. “A 2007 Gartner report decreed that by 2017 proprietary systems would be obsolete. It is the developing countries with large demand and cost constraints, which would move faster,” Mr. Umashankar said. Another compelling success story of Free Software adoption by governments was presented by Ashok Thapar, Vice-Chancellor of the West Bengal State University. Using video-clippings to bring to life an example of a small government school in rural West Bengal, he narrated the story of how the sheer affordability of a GNU/Linux-based system had touched the lives of children and helped to keep them in school. A little girl, in the video, brings clarity to this argument when she says that now she not only uses computers, she understands it.
Prof. Thakur believes that adopting GNU/Linux systems not only reduces costs, but also facilitates increased digital penetration.