|| ||KG Kumar <email@example.com>|
|| ||Story: Free Software behind Indian telephone directory|
|| ||17 Mar 2003 16:57:51 +0530|
FREE SOFTWARE HELPS PRINT INDIAN TELEPHONE DIRECTORY
Thiruvananthapuram,India. March 17, 2003:
India's largest telephone company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL),
has turned to Free Software to help it print this year's directoy for
its subscribers in the southern State of Kerala, the country's most
literate State and the place where the Free Software Foundation of
India was launched by Richard M. Stallman two years ago.
The latest edition of BSNL's telephone directory for
Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, was processed and typeset
with a range of free software tools that gave substantial savings on
costs and time, and allowed BSNL to produce a neatly laid out and
elegant publication ahead of schedule. It was released,
coincidentally, a couple of days before RMS' 50th birthday.
The two-volume directory, to be distributed to all subscribers of the
Thiruvananthapuram Secondary Switching Area (SSA) from March 25, has
1,200 pages and 320,000 entries.
At present, 400,000 copies of the directory are being printed by the
city-based St. Joseph's Press (SJP), using typesetting software and
programs provided by River Valley Technologies (RVT)
(www.river-valley.com), a Thiruvananthapuram-based software house that
has vast expertise in offering typesetting and publishing solutions
using free and open-source software.
For BSNL, this is the first complete directory to be published since
1999. According to K. Sreekantan Nair, Principal General Manager of
the Thiruvananthapuram telecom district, BSNL has spent Rs 35 million
(approrimately US$ 700,000) on printing the directory.
For SJP, this was a particularly prestigious order since it is the
single largest printing job to be ever undertaken in Kerala, long a
leading centre for the publishing and media business in India. Says
Fr. Mathew Thekkel, the then Manager of SJP, who supervised the
project, "This was a bold drive aimed at the future and meant to prove
the capability of St. Joseph's Press."
In the normal course, an order of this magnitude -- a print run of
400,000 copies, each of 1,200 pages on 48 GSM white paper in three
columns of Helvetica Narrow 7 point typeface, with 94 lines per column
-- would have taken six months and involved around 50 employees wholly
dedicated to the work.
However, in this case, SJP was able to beat the March 15 deadline set
by BSNL and, according to Fr. Thekkel, will be able to finish the
entire printing in four months, using a small team. At present, SJP's
printing presses are operating 21 hours per day at their maximum
capacity of 20,000 copies per hour to finish the directory printing.
The secret to the swift processing of the job was in the typesetting
work done by RVT, says Fr. Thekkel. "But for the technology skills
they have, we would not have quoted for the job," he adds. "Had we
used the normal programs like PageMaker or QuarkXPress, we would have
needed three months time," says Fr. Thekkel.
RVT, on the other hand, used a combination of free software programs
to extract BSNL's data, process it and typeset it into camera-ready
According to C. V. Radhakrishnan, Managing Director of RVT, the BSNL
data of telephone numbers, subscribers names and addresses was
supplied as files in dBase, an outdated database software that goes
back to the days of the DOS operating system.
Using a set of free software libraries downloaded from the Internet
and locally customised, this data was extracted into the postgreSQL
relational database, also free software, and then entirely
recreated. RVT then wrote a Java program to pipe this newly generated
database into TeX, a powerful typesetting engine and programming
language, written by Donald Knuth of Stanford University and released
in the public domain. From TeX, RVT produced the final output as
Portable Document Format (PDF) files, using pdfTeX, also free software.
"So powerful is TeX that it was able to process nearly 1,200 pages in
just four minutes," says Radhakrishnan, who is also the founding
member of the Indian TeX users Group (www.tug.org.in). "Not only that,
since it is also a programming language, it is able to do several
things automatically, like the generation of header markers, for
example," he adds.
To incorporate corrections and editorial changes to the proof sheets,
RVT designed a graphical spreadsheet interface for SJP. This also
helped to save time in updating around 10,000 entries which had
changed since the last directory was printed four years ago.
Fr. Thekkel forsees a great potential in the directory business, so
much so that SJP is thinking of setting up a separate division for
such work. The Department of Telecommunications has recently told its
SSAs to print directories on their own, rather than rely on outside
publishers, who often fail to deliver on time and in the required
quantities. Three other SSAs in Kerala are also due to publish their
Both Free Software enthusiasts and TeXnicians hope that this will
translate into more work for them. In this case, it's work as in paid
labour, not work as in labour of love.
END OF STORY
Indian TeX Users Group
kg at tug dot org dot in
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