got underway on
November 29. The conference got off to a bit of a rough start;
funding problems and travel hassles led to the last-minute cancellation of
a number of talks.
On opening day, glitches in the registration process resulted in hundreds of
attendees standing in line under the strong Bangalore sun while the
(already delayed) sessions began without them. These little problems
notwithstanding, FOSS.IN has the look of a successful conference.
Frequent attendees of technical conferences become used to spending their
days in closed auditoriums and cavernous ballrooms. FOSS.IN, instead,
consists of temporary buildings (essentially large, canvas tents with steel
frames) set up in a dirt field. The Bangalore Palace makes an interesting
backdrop for the event, but it hosts only a few of the sessions. Dogs wander between
the lecture halls, though the cows have, so far, avoided the area in favor
of the traffic-choked roads nearby. Inside, the conference buildings have
all the usual facilities; they are a pleasantly airy space. Just watch out
for the rough floor.
If there is an underlying theme to this event, it is participation.
India's presence in the free software community, and its contributions to
that community, are relatively small relative to its population and its use
of free software. The conference's organizers and speakers would like to
change that. In the opening remarks, organizer Atul Chitnis noted that, if
even ten members of the audience were motivated to start hacking and giving
back to the community, the event could be considered to be a success.
Alan Cox's opening talk on participation focused on nuts and bolts - how
people can participate in the community. There are plenty of reasons for
wanting to be a part of the process, according to Alan. Helping a free
software project can be a way to learn skills, explore ideas and their
implementations, have fun, create employment opportunities, and work for
social good. Writing code is the first and foremost way of participating,
and Alan dispensed a fair amount of advice on how that is best done. But
he also took time to point out the many other ways to help, most of which
do not require programming skills. These range from reporting bugs
through writing documentation, translations and localization, creating
artwork, and helping to maintain the infrastructure needed by free software
projects. Localization was pointed out as an area in constant need of
work. India has a long list of languages to translate into, and the
Indians are the only ones who are well positioned to get that work done.
Danese Cooper continued the participation theme with a talk on "gorilla
tactics." A gorilla, in her terminology, is somebody who stands up for
what is right and helps to push free software forward. Being a gorilla can
hurt sometimes, but it is worth it.
Example: quite a few companies in India are doing free software work, but
they are not contributing their changes back. Many of them, it
seems, are afraid of the possibility that the community might fork their
code. Indian companies fear that possibility so much that they are unable
to relinquish control, and, as a result, keep their code to themselves.
These companies need gorillas, somebody who will make the case for letting
go and giving the code back to the community.
Another problem in need of attention is universities which make claims on
the work done by their students. These universities need to let go and let
their students take their ideas forward. The reputational benefit to the
universities will far exceed the benefits of any revenue which might come
Danese is also concerned about the number of Indian startups which target
the American market. Yes, that market is large, but it is also distant and
highly competitive. Indians would be better advised to work on problems in
The talk also discussed reasons for participating.
By participating in the free software community, countries like India can
reap benefits beyond simply avoiding license payments to distant
companies. Working on free software helps to improve the population's
technical skills. The development of local expertise will lead to local
wealth creation, and the establishment of a reputation for strong software
Zaheda Bhorat talked about how Google participates in the free software
process. The talk covered Google's reasons (most of which will be well
familiar to LWN readers), some of Google's released code (found on code.google.com, and various other
things Google is doing to help. There was also a lengthy discussion of the
"Summer of Code" program and the benefits that have come from it. There
were a few Indian participants in the Summer of Code, but far fewer than
from the US and Europe. Zaheda would like to see that change for any
A final inducement to participation could be seen in the small exposition
area. Many of the participating companies had the obligatory product and
service brochures, but quite a few of them are also using their booths to
recruit developers. It would seem that, for Indian hackers with free
software skills, now is a good time to be looking for a job.
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