Message 03889 [Homepage] [Navigation]
Thread: oxenT03889 Message: 1/6 L0 [In index]
[First in Thread] [Last in Thread] [Date Next] [Date Prev]
[Next in Thread] [Prev in Thread] [Next Thread] [Prev Thread]

[ox-en] The Story of Free Software in Kerala, India

Friday, August 31, 2007
 The Story of Free Software in Kerala, India

 This is the story of Free Software in the state of Kerala in India. I
 wrote this for a book entitled Knowledge Society and Development --
 Kerala Experience edited by Antony Palackal of Loyola College,
 Thiruvananthapuram, and Wesley Shrum of Louisiana State University.
 The article is published under a free licence, as mentioned at the end
 of the article. I am putting a slightly modified version here so that
 any interested person can make use of it.

 Free Software in Kerala

 V. Sasi Kumar

 A friend, who had worked in Brazil for a couple of years, once told
 me, "Kerala is known in Latin America for Free Software." This
 indicates the extent to which Kerala has dominated the Free Software
 scenario in India. It is not by chance that the headquarters of the
 Free Software Foundation of India happened to be situated at
 Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The state is now poised to become the
 first in the country to introduce exclusively Free Software for IT
 education in high schools. We shall examine here how all this came
 about. But before that, we shall look at what the term Free Software1
 means. Free Software is software that gives users freedom-four
 freedoms, to be precise. As the website of the Free Software
 Foundation ( says:

 "Free software" is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the
 concept, you should think of "free" as in "free speech", not as in
 "free ice cream". Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to
 run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More
 precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the

 • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

 • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your
 needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for

• The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2).

 • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to
 the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to
 the source code is a precondition for this.

 Free Software began to be developed when Richard M. Stallman, a
 programmer with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the
 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, resigned and started the GNU
 (recursive acronym for GNU is Not Unix) project in 1984. Later, he
 also started the Free Software Foundation (FSF). Today, there is a
 large volume of Free Software, and the most popular Free operating
 system is GNU/Linux (sometimes called simply Linux).

 We capitalise the F and S in Free Software to distinguish it from
 proprietary software that is distributed free of cost, sometimes
 called freeware. We shall also use the shortened form, FS.

 So, with that, we shall now take a look at the story of FS in Kerala.
 The story is bound to be biased by my experiences and limited by my
 knowledge. Individuals or organisations who have contributed to the
 Free Software movement in the state may have been left out from the
 narration, even though this is written after speaking to several
 people who were involved right from the beginning of the movement. I
 apologise for any such omissions and assure the readers that they are
 inadvertent and not deliberate.

 The Beginning

 The story apparently began with the introduction of TeX, the
 typesetting program that was designed in the 1970s by Donald Knuth,
 the author of The Art of Computer Programming, a four volume classic.
 TeX was introduced into Kerala by Prof. K.S.S. Namburipad of the
 Department of Mathematics in the University of Kerala. TeX could
 typeset mathematical equations very neatly, which no other software
 could do, especially in the 1980s when Prof. Namburipad brought TeX in
 fourteen floppy disks from the United States. He could bring the
 program and use it on a number of computers without any legal problem
 because it had no licences-it was in the public domain. It was, in a
 sense, the Grandmother of Free Software, as some people call it.

 Prof. Namburipad encouraged his students to learn and use TeX,
 especially for preparing their theses. One of his students was E.
 Krishnan, now with the Mathematics Department of the University
 College, Thiruvananthapuram, a leading exponent of TeX and one of the
 auA thors of the very popular LaTeX primer2 published as an electronic
 book by the Indian TeX User Group. Dr. Krishnan also played an
 important role in establishing the Free Software Foundation of India.
 Another person inspired by Prof. Namburipad was one C.V. Radhakrishnan
 who used to run a small centre that prepared theses for the research
 students of the Kariavattom campus of the University of Kerala.

 C.V. Radhakrishnan took serious interest in TeX. He found that there
 was business opportunity here and with virtually no competition.
 Eventually, he established a company in 1995, called River Valley
 Technologies, for doing typesetting of scientific papers and theses. He
 had his two brothers with him when he started the company. They used
 the DOS operating system running on Intel AT machines, along with
 Novell Netware for networking. Since Unix was rather expensive those
 days, they did not attempt to use it, though they were familiar with
 it. Around 1996, a computer vendor who supplied part of their systems
 suggested that they use Linux, which was very similar to Unix and was
 free. He also gave them a CD containing the Slackware distribution. It
 was around this period (March 1996) that the magazine PCQuest brought
 out CDs containing the Slackware distribution of GNU/Linux, the first
 commercial distribution of the Free operating system. It was probably
 a copy of this CD that Radhakrishnan got from the vendor. Though the
 operating system was primitive in some ways, and installing it on a
 computer was a tough job, it came in handy for the new company. As
 Radhakrishnan says, "It was very difficult to install Linux those days.
 It took us about one week to install it on one system. We could link
 it to Novell Netware since there was a tool for that. Later, we
 installed it on all machines and discarded Novell Netware." River
 Valley Technologies thus took off as possibly the first Free Software
 based company in the state and almost certainly as the first TeX based
 company in the country. Since then, the company has been using
 GNU/Linux almost exclusively, except for one computer that still runs
 MS Windows mainly for opening MS Word files and for some editing of
 vector graphics for which Free alternatives are not sufficiently
 powerful now. Much of their work is automated so that human
 intervention is required only minimally.

 Today, Radhakrishnan is one of the top TeX programmers in the world.
 His company has seventy employees and their clients include the
 Institute of Physics, UK, Macmillan (Nature) and Elsevier. The company
 uses Free Software and also sponsors India's first portal to host Free
 Software projects3.

 Meanwhile, Satish Babu, CEO of the South Indian Federation of
 Fishermen's Societies (SIFFS), was using the new technology of the
 Internet to enhance the efficiency of his organisation. He learnt about
 the Internet when he went to the Hull International Fisheries
 Institute, UK, in 1993 for training in fisheries management, and he
 became highly interested in the technology. Though basically a
 management expert trained at the prestigious Institute of Rural
 Management, Anand, his interest in the technology prompted him to
 study computers and programming in depth and virtually made him a
 programmer. Today he is involved in running a software company4 in the
 Technopark at Thiruvananthapuram and is actively involved with bodies
 like the Computer Society of India and the Indian chapter of the
 Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is the
 Executive Secretary of the Society for Promotion of Alternative
 Computing and Employment (SPACE), an NGO promoting Free Software, and
 is an active member of FSF India.

 After his return from the UK, he started using computers to improve
 the efficiency of the organisation he was working for. He learnt that
 email was being implemented through the Ernet network which used VSAT
 technology at that time. Leo Fernandez of the Indian Social Institute,
 Bangalore, with which Satish already had links, helped him to link to
 the Ernet node in Bangalore through a telephone dial-up connection.
 This was in 1994. Satish configured his computer to dial-up in the
 early morning hours when telephone call rates were lowest, and send
 and receive mails. Though this was slow by today's standards, since an
 exchange of mails would take at least two days, it was enormously
 faster than using the postal service. Part of the software he used for
 this was actually Free Software, though he was not aware of it at that
 time. It was again Leo Fernandez who introduced him to Linux in 1995.
 Though not very confident about the new system, Satish and his friends
 soon grew to like it, especially since there were a lot of things one
 could do at the system level. As Satish says, "Once you learn to
 tinker around with the system, you really start enjoying it and it
 becomes a habit that is difficult to get over." And GNU/Linux offered
 plenty of opportunities for such people. But Satish and friends were
 still not very much aware of the ideology of Free Software and its

 His first distribution of GNU/Linux, known as Slackware, was given to
 Satish by Leo Fernandez. Soon, SIFFS organised a training programme in
 GNU/Linux by Leo. In 1998, Radhakrishnan, Krishnan, Namburipad, Satish
 and others decided to set up a Linux User Group (LUG) in
 Thiruvananthapuram. Others associated with this included journalist
 K.G. Kumar, computer science student M. Arun, and P.M. Sasi, who was
 with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC),

 M. Arun was a student of Computer Science at the College of
 Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, when his father bought a computer
 from Keltron (in fact, the first computer Keltron sold). This had an
 operating system developed by IBM known as OS2. As Arun says, "This
 was much better than Windows 95, which was popular at that time." One
 of his friends had got a Packard-Bell computer with MS Windows from
 the US and wanted to install Linux in it. Arun had a copy of the PC
 Quest Slackware CD and undertook the job of installing it in the
 machine. It installed neatly without any problem. So he decided to try
 it on his computer. But the result was disappointing. He could not get
 the graphical interface running. One of his friends suggested that he
 try the Red Hat distribution, and Arun wrote to a company, GTL
 Enterprises in Bangalore, for a copy of the Red Hat CD. They replied
 asking him to contact the local Linux User Group, which C.V.
 Radhakrishnan and others had just started. Arun went to
 Radhakrishnan's office with his friend Amit and not only obtained the
 CD but also joined the LUG. They started having weekly meetings.

 Arun found that a few teachers in their college were interested in
 GNU/Linux. They got the college to purchase some manuals from FSF,
 Boston. Arun and a few of his friends had read about the ideology of
 Free Software and were attracted by it. In 1999, Wros Publishers
 organised a conference called Bang! Linux in Bangalore. Arun and a few
 other students went for the conference. Richard M. Stallman (known by
 his initials RMS), the founder of the GNU project and the Free
 Software Foundation, was there. This was his first meeting in India and
 his lecture impressed the students from Kerala. They came back
 thoroughly convinced about the ideology of Free Software. Today, Arun
 is the secretary of the Free Software Foundation of India and is also
 the co-ordinator of SPACE.

 With the new millennium came the group known as Free Developers. This
 was started by one Tony Stanco, an advocate from the US, who proposed
 that they start a company that would do business using Free Software
 and eventually make it the leading software globally. He had
 corresponded with RMS about his ideas. Though RMS was sceptical about
 the feasibility of the project, Tony went ahead with it and managed to
 obtain support from a number of people, including C.V. Radhakrishnan,
 Arun and others in Kerala. This initiative helped in developing the
 dotGNU project, which was a free substitute for Microsoft's .NET,
 since several people from India joined the project.

 The discussions in the Thiruvananthapuram LUG soon led to the ideology
 of Free Software, which the members found attractive. They discussed
 the idea of establishing a Free Software Foundation of India, and a
 unit of Free Developers. FSF India, they hoped, would act to supervise
 the ethical aspects of Free Developers. Radhakrishnan got in touch
 with Richard Stallman and got his approval for starting FSF India, and
 got him to agree to inaugurate FSF India. Satish Babu, who was then
 the Regional Vice-President of the Computer Society of India, took the
 initiative to organise the inaugural function. It was decided to
 inaugurate the Indian branch of Free Developers also at the same

 Freedom First

 The conference organised at Thiruvananthapuram in connection with the
 inauguration of Free Software Foundation of India was aptly called
 Freedom First. The name was suggested by the journalist K.G. Kumar and
 it must have immediately struck a chord with the others. Richard
 Stallman was the chief guest for the conference, and he was received
 as an honoured state guest by government officials to discuss the
 philosophy behind the movement.

 The Organising Committee formed to conduct the conference included
 Radhakrishnan, Satish Babu, Arun, Krishnan, Rajkumar (who runs a Free
 Software business), P.M. Sasi, K.G. Kumar, Dr. K.R. Srivathsan
 (Director, IIITMK5), and others. The function in the morning, in which
 FSF India was inaugurated by Stallman, was chaired by the Secretary to
 the Government, Information Technology Department. About 300 people
 from all over the state and even outside were present, filling the
 auditorium beyond its capacity. "Computer users in India, as
 elsewhere, deserve the freedom to share and change software, the way
 cooks share and change recipes. So I am pleased to inaugurate the Free
 Software Foundation of India, which will promote the use and the
 development of free software in this country", Stallman told the
 gathering. Later, he met the Minister for Information Technology and
 held discussions on promoting Free Software in the state. The
 afternoon session was devoted to the inauguration of Free Developers
 India and some technical presentations.

 There were a couple of interesting moments during Stallman's visit. At
 the airport, a number of people were curious to see a figure with long
 hair and long beard and wanted to know who he was. When he understood
 what they were asking, he introduced himself, "I am Saint IGNUcious of
 the church of Emacs."6 Possibly, some people took that seriously!
 There was a poignant moment when Stallman was going to a hotel for
 lunch along with a few other people. One of them told Stallman that
 Nelson Mandela had signed a Freedom Declaration that had been put up
 at the Free Developers website. "RMS just couldn't believe that and he
 almost cried. He said Mandela had always been his hero." wrote
 Ramakrishnan (one of the others in the vehicle) later. When someone
 tried to compare Stallman with Mandela, RMS retorted that whatever he
 has done could never be compared with the 25 years in prison that
 Mandela had suffered.

 It was an achievement of FS enthusiasts in the state that the
 government agreed to support the event and treat RMS as a state guest.
 As a report in Linux Today7 said:

 Government officials and other Free Software supporters in the state of
 Kerala believe that Free Software meshes particularly well with
 Kerala's long tradition of democracy, equity and public action. Just
 as Kerala is often held up as a model of equitable social and human
 development in the region, Free Software supporters there believe they
 can leverage the inherent freedoms of Free Software to evolve an
 equitable Knowledge Society based on software independence and self-

 The conference was a great success in many ways. It attracted a lot of
 media attention and made 'Free Software' and Richard Stallman' popular
 among the public.


 There have been a few instances where the Free Software community was
 able to influence decision makers to choose Free Software over
 proprietary. In some cases, the decisive breakthrough was achieved by
 individual effort, while in some cases, it was a community effort. We
 shall look into two cases here, that of the implementation of a
 network by the Public Works Department and that of the introduction of
 IT education in schools.

 PWD Network

 One of the first successful campaigns for Free Software was in the
 Public Works Department of the state. InApp Technologies, the company
 started by Satish Babu, Amarnath Raja and others, was asked to make a
 proposal for a PWD project by one of the Secretaries of the PWD. InApp
 made it clear that while they do work with all technologies, they
 would quote only for a Free platform, as they considered it as most
 appropriate for any e-governance project.

 The consultant to the Kerala Transportation Project, under which the
 application was being planned, felt that he did not know sufficiently
 about Free Software, and obtained quotes from Microsoft and Oracle.
 However, the Secretary concerned knew about InApp and suggested to the
 Principal Secretary that InApp's proposal should be considered
 seriously. A debate was therefore organised to (a) explain what Free
 Software was, and (b) what its advantages were over proprietary
 platforms. This debate was conducted by the then PWD Principal
 Secretary and was attended by two other Secretaries, the consultant to
 the Transportation Project, some Chief Engineers and senior people
 from the PWD.

 Two people from Microsoft, one from Oracle, Amarnath Raja and Satish
 formed the participants. Satish was armed with a survey conducted
 among Technopark companies about their perceptions on Free Software in
 December 2002 (, which was
 conducted by Satish who was the GTech Treasurer. The study had clearly
 shown the features of Free Software that made it attractive especially
 for e-governance projects. Microsoft came prepared with their
 "sponsored research" findings. Since Satish and Amarnath were prepared
 for it, they were easily able to refute their findings. Microsoft
 possibly did not expect this, and perhaps had thought that this would
 be a walkover. The person from Oracle was unaware of the local
 politics and looked surprised by the ferocity of the debate. He
 started off pro-Microsoft, but shifted to the Free Software camp
 half-way through. The Secretaries were convinced about the need to go
 Free, and InApp got the order. The application was delivered and is
 running well.

 IT School Project

 Another successful campaign, which was driven by a large number of FS
 enthusiasts and received much more publicity, was that for the
 inclusion of Free Software in IT education in schools. The Department
 of Education, Government of Kerala, started a project called IT School
 for bringing IT enabled education to the high schools in the state.
 The project constituted a committee headed by Prof. U.R. Rao, former
 Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, to make
 recommendations on the direction the project should take. After
 studying the status of education in the state and elaborate
 discussions, the Committee recommended that the project should aim to
 bring IT to high schools in the state to empower teachers and to use
 the technology for improving curriculum transaction in the classes.
 However, the project found that most of the teachers and the students
 possessed little IT skills. They, therefore, decided to start IT
 education at the high school level initially. IT was thus introduced
 in the eighth standard in the year 2002 after conducting training in
 IT for a large number of teachers. The teacher training was organised
 using help from the Intel Teach to the Future programme, and their
 course material, which was wholly based on Microsoft software, was
 used for the training.

 Struggle for Free Software

 The textbook for IT prepared by the State Council for Educational
 Research and Training (SCERT) was based purely on Microsoft Windows
 and other Microsoft applications like MS Office. The Free Software
 community in the state found this very offensive, since it ignored the
 existence of Free Software and promoted the products of one company
 ignoring even other proprietary software. The community responded by
 talking to people, sending letters, writing in the media and so on.
 The Free Software User Group in Kochi prepared a memorandum and sent
 it to several people involved in the matter, including the Directors
 of the IT School project and SCERT, the Director of Public
 Instruction, the Principal Secretary, Education Department, and the
 Secretary, IT Department. They pointed out that:

 • IT School was promoting the software of one company at the cost of
 software produced by everyone else;

 • the government would have to pay an enormous amount for licencing
 the software for the schools;

 • even if the company gives the software for the schools free of cost,
 it is only a marketing ploy in order to reap benefits of having a pool
 of people who are familiar with their software packages and thus form
 an assured customer base, either as users themselves or as potential
 skilled employees;

 • the Government's approach would result in compelling not only
 schools, but also the general public to purchase software from this
 particular vendor in the future. This would create a monopoly in
 favour of that corporation and expose the public, the State and the
 nation to the mercy of a single company;

 • the corporation, whose brands and products are prescribed in the
 syllabus, does not publish the standards used in their software. This
 practice compels other people who have to interact with users of the
 products of this corporation (like the government and schools, in this
 case) to purchase software from this particular vendor only-a
 situation known as 'vendor lock-in';

 • the government is promoting illegal copying and installation of
 software in the computers in the schools by not providing for software

 • handling licencing issues is not simple and there has been at least
 one instance in which a school in the US had to pay $ 300,000 as
 fine-even screenshots used in textbooks may have to be licenced;

 • several software packages, both applications as well as operating
 systems, which conform to industry-wide standards, adopted and
 maintained by independent vendors, and with less restrictive licences,
 are available.

 The Kerala School Teachers Association decided to throw its weight
 behind the demand from Free Software enthusiasts. The government and
 the IT School project were still not willing to change. However, due
 to pressure from several directions, SCERT decided to incorporate Free
 Software also in the textbook and rewrote the textbook for the eighth
 standard for the academic year 2003-04. Sri N.K. Satyapalan, who was
 the person in charge of IT education at the State Council for
 Educational Research and Training (SCERT) played an important role in
 pushing Free Software into the textbook. Some schools, especially in
 northern Kerala, where there were teachers who knew how to install and
 use GNU/Linux, installed it and started IT classes using it. In order
 to ensure that all schools did buy sufficient computers and taught IT,
 it was also decided to include IT as an additional subject and conduct
 examinations, though with less marks than other subjects.

 Computerised Examination

 An important phase started when the IT School project decided to
 conduct part of the IT examination using a software. They developed a
 software called Softexam for conducting the examination. This was
 designed primarily for the MS Windows platform and some of the schools
 using GNU/Linux had to install MS Windows to enable the software.
 There was immediate protest from the Teachers Association and the
 Project was forced to develop Softexam for GNU/Linux also. However,
 this is now being virtually discontinued, with the software being
 confined to presenting previously prepared questions randomly and
 saving the responses for later evaluation by teachers.

 One problem with using GNU/Linux was that there were several
 distributions of the OS, each slightly different from the others, and
 schools had installed different distributions. Even preparing the
 textbook became difficult, since the screenshots, and sometimes even
 the procedures for using the software, could be different for
 different distributions. To solve this problem, the Free Software
 Foundation of India suggested developing a custom distribution for
 IT School, and eventually created the distribution with funding from
 the Kerala State IT Mission.

 Another problem that the IT School project faced was that of providing
 support to the schools where GNU/Linux was being used. They called for
 private agencies who were willing to provide support to register with
 them. A number of agencies, including Free Software User Groups,
 responded and about twenty of them were short listed. A final solution
 to the problem came when SPACE (mentioned earlier) decided to offer
 support to IT School, both in terms of updating the distribution used
 in schools and in providing support to the teacher community. The
 website of SPACE now has provided for teachers to post questions
 there, to which experts will respond, and also a page listing the
 Frequently Asked Questions and the answers to them. The IT School
 project arranged for teachers to be trained in GNU/Linux and a
 majority of teachers have already been trained. A Resource Centre has
 been established in Kochi for conducting teacher training with
 technical assistance from SPACE.

 In 2005, the government announced that the schools in Kerala will
 completely switch to Free Software in stages. Supplements to the
 textbooks were created to enable students to study using GNU/Linux,
 which also introduced some software that a child new to computers
 could use to learn the skills needed to use a mouse and a keyboard.
 Tuxpaint, a simple painting software, which a child could use even if
 (s)he was unfamiliar with the intricacies of saving or retrieving a
 file, and Gcompris, a set of games that helped the child to learn how
 to use the mouse and keyboard, became very popular with children. The
 textbooks for all the three classes in high school are now being
 revised to contain Free Software exclusively. Kerala is poised to
 become the first state in the country to use exclusively Free Software
 in its schools. It is also poised to become possible the first state to
 introduce IT enabled education in high schools in a big way.

 Visits by Stallman

 Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project and FSF, has visited
 India several times and given lectures in several states. But the
 state he has visited most often is Kerala, probably because of the
 large support in this state for his ideology.

 The first time Stallman visited Kerala was for the Freedom First
 conference in 2001. His next visit was in connection with the EMS
 Memorial Lecture constituted by Kerala University. Stallman spoke
 about the danger of software patents at the University Senate Hall on
 January 24, 2004. The same day he spoke about copyright law and
 freedom in science at Centre for Earth Science Studies. Both lectures
 were well attended and there were a number of questions from the
 audience at both venues. On Independence Day, he interacted with the
 students of the Indian Institute of Information Technology and
 Management Kerala (IIITMK). During this visit, Stallman also met the
 then leader of the Opposition (present Chief Minister) V.S.
 Achuthanandan, who has been a strong supporter of the Free Software
 movement, and held discussions on how the government can support and
 benefit from Free Software.

 Richard Stallman's latest visit to Kerala has been in August this year
 (2006). SPACE in association with Kerala State IT Mission conducted a
 seminar on Free Software for Kerala Development on the 23rd of August.
 Stallman gave the keynote address in this seminar. The seminar was
 inaugurated by the Chief Minister, who had a long discussion with
 Stallman. A report on Free Software Projects in Public Enterprises in
 Kerala, prepared by SPACE, was released at the function. Stallman was
 in India to participate in the GPL v3 conference at Bangalore on
 August 25 and 26.


 A certain amount of Free Software development was done in the state
 even in the initial days. This includes localisation of the GNOME8
 Desktop (that is, making the desktop available in the local language,
 Malayalam), a project monitoring application for the government and a
 portal for enhancing transparency in everyday activities of the

 The localisation work was started by Arun and his friends Gopal,
 Sreekrishna and others soon after the establishment of FSF India. The
 Managing Director of Keltron, an undertaking of the Government of
 Kerala, offered to help them in their effort. The idea was that the
 government and other users could be provided a platform in Malayalam
 for their uses. They managed to get support from Asia-Pacific
 Development Information Programme (APDIP), an initiative developed and
 funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), for the
 work. "Specifically, the project aims to create Free Font for
 Malayalam, create toolkit (toolkits are basic building blocks in
 creating Graphical User Interface based applications) with Malayalam
 support, and create a localised desktop and office productivity
 applications and documentation in Malayalam.", says the project
 abstract9 . The work was undertaken by the Kerala Bureau for
 Industrial Promotion (KBIP) in association with FSF India. All menu
 and other text, like messages, were translated into Malayalam so that
 a person who knows only Malayalam could comfortably use a computer
 with the customised GNOME desktop. Unfortunately, the work was never
 released to the public because of official apathy.

 Another Free Software based development was in connection with the
 Modernising Government Programme (MGP). MGP was drawn up as part of
 the strategy of the Government to overhaul and improve its services to
 the people of the State. One of the components of MGP was monitoring
 projects funded by the government. The Program Performance monitoring
 system (PPMS) was developed by Keltron (Kerala State Electronics
 Development Corporation) for tracking the performance of various
 departments as part of MGP. PPMS contain 4 major projects. The first
 project, PPMS1, is a performance monitoring system for 17 government
 departments. It covers a total of 93 initiatives of these departments,
 50 of them in the first phase. The system uses result base management
 methods to measure performance based on impacts, outputs, outcomes &
 activities. PPMS2 is a set of service delivery projects. It addresses
 performance monitoring of 2584 institutions statewide like schools and
 community health centres and mainly deals with fund flow management,
 administrative payment orders etc. The Third project is a human
 resource module named e-bandham. It monitors attendance, leave, travel
 allowances etc of the program support executives. The fourth project
 is Sevanamudra, Quality Improvement Program & Performance Certification
 Mechanism for government institutions.

 Another project done using Free Software is Sutharya Keralam, or
 Transparent Kerala. This is a Right to Information initiative of the
 Government of Kerala to ensure transparency and efficiency in everyday
 functions of the government. "The major objectives of the project are
 the automation of Chief Minister's Grievance Redressal Cell and
 convergence of all the available forms of Communication so as to
 guarantee People's Right to Information.", says its website10. The
 project was developed completely on Free Software technologies by the
 Centre for Development of Imaging Technologies (CDIT), an institute
 under the Government of Kerala.

 Other Free Software projects in the state include computerisation of
 the offices of milk producers unions in the state that come under the
 Kerala State Milk Marketing Federation (Milma), a Management
 Information System for the Integrated Child Development Services
 (ICDS) developed by CDAC, a District Collectorate Suite developed by
 the National Informatics Centre and a computerisation project of
 Calicut University done inhouse. A study on Free Software projects in
 public enterprises in Kerala has been done by SPACE and is available


 The Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment, or
 SPACE, is a society promoted by Kerala State IT Mission with the
 objective of promoting alternative computing, that is, Free, Libre and
 Open Source Software (FLOSS). It has a government nominee in its Board
 of Directors and has support from professional societies (such as IEEE
 and the Computer Society of India) and the academia. It had as its
 first Chairman the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala,
 Dr. B. Ekbal, and members included Satish Babu, Amarnath Raja, P.M.
 Sasi and C.V. Radhakrishnan. Though it came into existence in 2003, it
 could not undertake much activity due to lack of funds. This problem
 was solved when SPACE entered into a tie-up with SOMA for working on
 joint projects. SPACE became active with the setting up of an office
 and recruiting a few people. Activities started in areas like
 promoting Virtual Micro Enterprises (VMEs) based on Free Software,
 advocating FS in colleges and setting up Free Software Cells where
 feasible, helping in training school teachers in FS, and so on.

 Some of the achievements of SPACE did attract considerable media
 attention. One example is the development of a distribution of
 GNU/Linux specifically for electronics laboratories in engineering
 colleges. This was made available on one CD, and was named Free
 Electron. The distribution was created by the FS Cell in an
 engineering college in Thiruvananthapuram with help from SPACE. There
 were a number of requests from colleges inside and outside the state,
 and even one from abroad. Another distribution that SPACE created for
 system recovery purposes was distributed by a local IT magazine. A
 workshop SPACE conducted, in collaboration with another NGO (Mediact)
 involved in media education, at a village library for creating and
 publishing a village newsletter in Malayalam also attracted much
 interest. Another programme that became popularly known was the
 initiative for setting up a radio station for fisherfolk. Started on
 the initiative of a few young people from the fishing community in
 Thiruvananthapuram, Radio Alakal, as it was called, could not start
 regular broadcast due to some licencing issues, but started
 narrowcasting (using loud speakers at specific locations). All the work
 for Radio Alakal was done using Free Software. SPACE also helped the
 IT School project to set up a teacher training centre in Kochi.Free
 SoFree Software in Businessftware in Business

 Free Software in Business

 There are several companies in the state doing business using Free
 Software. We mentioned River Valley Technologies of Radhakrishnan.
 Another enterprise in Kochi, Beta Computers, also does business using

 An organisation worth mentioning is the Open Software Solutions
 Industrial Co-operative Society in Kochi. It is a cooperative effort
 which consists of some young programmers who were involved with the
 Ernakulam Industrial Infrastructure Development Project. The project
 started work for computerising the Panchayats (local self-government
 institution) in the district. They used only Free Software and
 computerised a few Panchayats. However, the state-wide programme
 called Information Kerala Mission for the same purpose, which used
 only proprietary software, superseded their efforts. The youth
 involved in the project started a co-operative society and started
 doing business with Free Software. They developed a software for
 co-operative banks, called Sanghamitra, which has been installed in a
 number of branches. This is also licenced under the GNU General Public
 Licence. They have been developing software for other purposes also,
 and are doing reasonably well.

 Rajkumar (whose name has been mentioned earlier) runs a business
 called Linuxense at Thiruvananthapuram. "We are a GNU/Linux-based
 Enterprise providing software solutions of exceptional quality using
 cutting-edge technologies; creating a GNU/Linux ambiance for our
 distinguished clients in their demanding work environments." says
 their website12 . They provide support for Asianet, a major ISP in the
 state, and their website proudly exhibits an appreciation by an
 Asianet official on the effectiveness of the antivirus support they
 have given. Linuxense ran a server break-in challenge during March
 9-13, and won. No one was able to break into the server they had set
 up for the purpose.

 Swatantra Software Solutions and Services (abbreviated to S2S2) is a
 small business in Kannur that has been involved in selling Free
 Software CDs and systems with GNU/Linux, and providing assistance to
 schools for installing computers and networks using GNU/Linux.
 Sujeevan, who runs the company, actively promotes Free Software and
 has participated in training sessions for teachers organised by the
 Teachers' Association and by FSFI. He has also helped in installing
 the customised GNU/Linux distribution for schools in existing
 networked computer labs in some schools. There are several companies
 that do business using Free Software along with other platforms -InApp
 Technologies, for instance. But I have not been able to identify one
 that does software development/support exclusively using Free

 Free Software Free Society

 Free Software Free Society is the name of a collection of articles
 written by Richard Stallman. It was very appropriate that this name
 was chosen for a conference organised in Thiruvananthapuram by SPACE,
 FSF India, and others, because this conference, as the press release
 by the organisers stated, "explores the possibilities of applying the
 Free Software model in addressing broader questions such as
 Governance, Digital Inclusion, Development and Culture." The
 conference was supported by Hipatia(a European NGO), Kerala State IT
 Mission, Free Software Foundation of India, and the Indian Institute
 of Information Technology and Management, Kerala (IIITM-K),

 The conference had its origins at the World Social Forum held in
 Mumbai during Jan 16-21, 2004. Arun met some people from Hipatia,
 which also worked for promoting Free Software and its philosophy, at
 the venue. They agreed that there was a need for people from countries
 that are geographically far apart, such as India and Latin America, to
 come together and share their ideas about Free Software so that
 something fruitful could evolve. This idea evoked a lot of interest in
 countries as varied as Brazil, Venezuela, Italy and India, and the
 Government of Kerala agreed to extend support for such a conference.

 The website of the conference explained the vision of the conference:

 Located at the intersection of Free Software, Development and Society,
 the FSFS Conference will examine the application of the Free Software
 model for equitable sharing models for intellectual artifacts, and
 ultimately for human development. The conference will also address,
 inter alia, issues such as technology access and the digital divide;
 legal issues; and experiences of using the Free Software model in
 fields such as music and literature.

 The conference was held in the beautiful campus of the Technopark at
 Thiruvananthapuram during May 28-31, 2004. Felipe Perez-Marti, eminent
 economist and ex-Minister of Venezuela delivered the keynote address.
 Another important participant was Senator Fiorello Cortiana from
 Italy. At the end of the conference, it adopted a declaration, now
 known as the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration. It called upon the
 "social and political institutions to eliminate systems that hinder
 the development of the gnowledge society (see"13


 We saw how Free Software has come to stay in Kerala. The natural
 question this raises is, "Why Kerala?" There is no other state in the
 country where Free Software has made an impact that is anywhere near
 that in Kerala. This itself could be the subject for an entire thesis,
 and this is certainly not the place to enter into a serious analysis
 of the question. However, an article like this cannot totally ignore
 the question either. Therefore, an attempt, however feeble, is made
 here to answer that question.

 When one talks of the state of Kerala, what comes to one's mind is the
 special place that it occupies in the country and the very different
 development path that the state has followed. Kerala is different from
 India as a whole in many ways: literacy rate in Kerala is about 90%,
 while the average for India is about 52%; life expectancy at birth in
 Kerala is 73 years compare to 61 years in India; Kerala's birth rate
 is 14 per 1000 females, while India's rate is 25. Kerala has one of
 the lowest ratios of disabled persons to service units-5,000, compared
 to the highest values of 17,000 in some states. Women outnumber men,
 live longer, are as educated as men and they dominate some occupations
 like school teachers. In spite of the small population of the state,
 it has produced some of the outstanding writers, cinematographers,
 cartoonists and journalists in the country. The Physical Quality of
 Life Index for the state is comparable to that in developed countries.
 At the same time, alcoholism, suicide rate, and drug abuse are close
 to the highest in the country. Wages are much higher than in the
 neighbouring states. Almost every other family has someone working
 abroad or in the IT industry in one of the major metropolises. "It is,
 in other words, weird-like one of those places where the starship
 Enterprise might land that superficially resembles Earth but is
 slightly off." wrote Bill McKibben14.

 Kerala has a history of several social reform movements. One of the
 most prominent is that led by Sri Narayana Guru for the upliftment of
 the Ezhava community. Members of the community were barred from
 entering Hindu temples and even studying Sanskrit and the scriptures.
 He led a successful struggle against these and even established a
 temple himself. Ayyan Kali led a struggle against oppression of lower
 castes by upper caste people and the State. Mannath Padmanabhan led a
 movement by the middle level Nair community and established the Nair
 Service Society. The Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad promoted
 scientific thinking among children and adults and also spearheaded the
 total literacy movement. The Communist Party helped to liberate
 workers from virtual slavery and to bring about universal education.
 The Christian missionaries that have been active in the state for
 several decades also helped to take basic education to even the most
 down-trodden. While this is the background, it is difficult to
 understand why such things happened in Kerala but not in other states.

 The unique history of this land has helped create a unique sense of
 democracy, equity and social justice among the people in the state.
 This is evidenced by the sometimes violent reactions to events that
 are perceived as violation of basic rights. Police action against
 tribals who had occupied government land in protest against the
 government's inaction in providing them land as promised, and suicide
 of a student who could not continue her education due to inability to
 pay the fees, are two examples of events that led to major protests.
 Freedom is a concept close to their hearts and the sense of personal
 dignity is high. People thus find it easy to perceive Free Software as
 a fight against exploitation by large software companies. Moreover, the
 penetration of communication networks (telephone, mobile, Internet) is
 one of the highest in the country, and two of the highest circulated
 newspapers in the country are in the local language. Thus people are
 aware of happenings in other parts of the world.

 It is interesting that, in the 1970s, an eccentric film maker, John
 Abraham, considered by many as possibly the only genius in Malayalam
 cinema, produced a film Amma Ariyaan (which can be literally translated
 as For the knowledge of the mother), by collecting small donations and
 exhibited it everywhere free of charge. Like Knuth's TEX, this could
 be considered as a forerunner of Free Software, considering that the
 ideology of Free Software is being extended to creativity in other
 areas through movements like Creative Commons. Perhaps, it is no
 coincidence that the Free Software movement flourished in Kerala.


 1 Those who would like to know more about Free Software can find plenty
 of material at the FSF website.

 2 A LaTeX is a set of macros for TeX that is now commonly used for
 typesetting, instead of plain TeX.

 3 (

 4 InApp Technologies (

 5 Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala

 6 Emacs is the editor developed by Stallman that is very popular among
 users of Unix-like systems including GNU/Linux.

7 ( story.php3?ltsn=2001-07-19-010-20-PR-CY)

 8 GNOME is one of the various desktops available in GNU/Linux.





 13 The full text of the declaration is available at Page.


 Frederick Noronha Journalist
 In Hyderabad. Ph [PHONE NUMBER REMOVED] SMS: 9822122436
Messages in this topic (1) Reply (via web post) | Start a new topic

GIF image

Change settings via the Web (Yahoo! ID required)
Change settings via email: Switch delivery to Daily Digest | Switch format to Traditional
 Visit Your Group  |  Yahoo! Groups Terms of Use  |  Unsubscribe
Recent Activity
New Members
 Visit Your Group
Yahoo! Finance
It's Now Personal
Guides, news,
advice & more.
Ads on Yahoo!
Learn more now.
Reach customers
searching for you.
Dog Fanatics
on Yahoo! Groups
Find people who are
crazy about dogs.
Contact: projekt

Thread: oxenT03889 Message: 1/6 L0 [In index]
Message 03889 [Homepage] [Navigation]