In the last few years FOSS.in has
established itself as one of the largest open source conferences in
Asia. This year the organizers re-orientated the conference to address
what they see as the Indian open source community's biggest challenge. LWN
dropped by the conference to see the changes and get an impression of
FOSS.in was started in 2001 under the name "Linux Bangalore" in the centre
of India's software industry. At that time it was difficult to get
information about free software in India -- internet access was still not
widespread, the software industry was focused on proprietary tools and
the publishing industry had not picked up on FOSS yet. Linux Bangalore
addressed an untapped market for FOSS education and was an unqualified
success from the start.
LB, as it was known, was focused on encouraging the use of free software
in India. The content was a mix of tutorials, howtos and advocacy. The
conference retained a user orientation for many years -- the only
significant developer activity was from the Indian localization
By 2005 FOSS had hit the mainstream. The Linux Bangalore organizers began
to feel that it needed a greater raison-d'etre than advocacy
and popularization. Despite changing its name to FOSS.in to reflect a
larger scope, the danger remained that the conference would soon be lost
among a host of other sources of open source information.
It was then that the FOSS.in team, led by Atul Chitnis, turned its
attention to another problem. The Indian free and open source community
had long worried that its level of participation in the open source
process was very low in relation to its size. There were very few
visible Indian hackers -- India was beginning to develop a reputation of
being a nation of FOSS consumers that did not contribute back.
This was especially alarming because many sections of the local
software industry had wholly moved to free software. The embedded
software industry, for example, had discarded proprietary alternatives
in favor of Linux. So there was a large base of qualified developers
who did not seem to be getting involved.
After a favorable response to the developer oriented tracks in
FOSS.in/2005 and 2006, the FOSS.in team decided to refocus the event on
encouraging FOSS contributions. The key, they decided, was exposure and
communication. They felt that if Indian developers had an opportunity to
meet and interact with active contributors they'd be inspired to do more
To this end, they made a number of changes to the format. They added
-- day long tracks on a specific FOSS project. They reduced the usually hectic
pace of the conference by reducing the number of talks. This gave the
audience more time to talk to speakers between talks. The more leisurely
pace encouraged lots of interesting conversations in the corridors.
Other facilities -- a "hack centre" containing machines, tents outside
the venue and a lounge area -- provided space for corridor conversations
and post-talk discussions to develop further.
The results were mixed. Attendance took a major hit. Previous editions
averaged about 3000 attendees, this year attendance dropped by over half
to about 1200. It was, however, a far more clued-in crowd which did not plague
speakers with off-topic questions. There were some complaints that
some talks were pitched at a far more basic level than were needed.
The Project Days seemed to have more participation
than was originally expected. There were tracks on Debian,
Mozilla, Gnome, OpenSolaris, Fedora, KDE, OpenOffice and the IndLinux project. In contrast, energy
levels at the main conference seemed muted. This was partly due to the
However, in the opinion of this correspondent, this was partly due
to scheduling and content. The tone of a conference is set early
on. The conference would have been better served by an initial
keynote that was flamboyant and inspiring rather the low-key
technical talk by the decidedly non-flamboyant Naba Kumar (the Anjuta lead).
The insistence on purely technical talks provided context and guidance
to potential contributors but may have failed communicate the
motivation: fun and high ideals. I think it's fair to say that the most
effective recruitment tool was when the always entertaining Rusty
Russell made a hapless member of the audience create a kernel patch
onstage and mail it to LKML.
The success of FOSS.in/2007 may not be measurable. It may be years
before the Indian FOSS community is proportional in size to the Indian software
industry. There are probably many other factors that will affect this
outcome. But the transition of FOSS.in to a true hacker conference can only
help this to happen.
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