Software Freedom Day at SSN College of Engineering

A one day workshop was conducted under the auspices of the SSN Student Chapter of IEEE by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in association with SSN LUG on September 19, 2009 in commemoration of Software Freedom Day. Students in junior years from B.E, M.E. and MCA were exposed to Free and Open Source Software(FOSS).

Sri Ramadoss Mahalingam, associate at NRCFOSS, AU-KBC introduced the participants to the realm of open source software.  He elucidated on the history of computer software, and why Richard Stallman started the movement in the early 80s.


Mr. Ramadoss talking about the Free Software Movement

The participants eagerly listened to his talk, and raised quite a few doubts. The talk illuminated those present about the need to shun proprietary software, and adopt free software.  The students were all ears as he spoke about how Stallman initiated a revolution in the software industry, that will only grow as SaaS becomes the primary model of business.


Students are all ears as he talks about Stallman’s crusade against restrictive software licences

After breaking for tea, the participants returned to witness a demonstration of a Linux installation procedure.

Srikanth (logic on Twitter), SSN alumnus guided the attendees through the installation of Linux. Salvadesswaran, student coordinator then helped them to get a feel of the system, and the applications they’ll use on their systems. Mr. Ramadoss also demonstrated the use of Indic language tools available in Linux.

Thana Shyam, SSN alumnus and founder of taught them the rudiments of LAMP, and how to create applications using PHP and MySQL.


Mr. Thana Shyam of teaches about basic PHP programming


Students try to create databases using PHPMyAdmin

Our sincere thanks to Mr. V. Balasubramanian and Mr. D. Venkata Vara Prasad, Assistant Professors, Dept. of CSE, SSN CE for organising this event and exposing the juniors to the domain of FOSS. We are also grateful to SSN-LUG and the SSN Student Chapter of IEEE for aiding us in the smooth conduct of the event.

When open is not open, and reviving a hard disk

I was doing some work on when I saw the term Microsoft Office Open XML(OOXML) on a site and was duly shocked at this openness, then it struck me that I had heard someone talk about this format(at a FOSS event in college) and Microsoft’s attempt to get it ratified as an ISO standard. I wondered if they had managed to buy people out, and unsurprisingly they had. I don’t have anything against the corporation, they develop some good looking (don’t get me started on the performance) software and good hardware. What I don’t believe in is the abuse of their position as an established and respected company. If you want your format to become the industry standard so badly, try to make it better than the current benchmark, which still is the Open Document Format. I do not see any advantage of OOXML over ODF, be it file compression, compatibility, uniform implementation etc. The previous document format, .doc was fine, but was not compressed enough.

If Microsoft was so particular on using an Open format, they could have adopted ODF. Why can’t you? Star Office is commercial, and uses ODF, so there’s no stopping Microsoft from using it. The only advantage of OOXML is that it is supported by the office suite with largest user base, Microsoft Office. The argument no longer holds water, since Office 2007 supports ODF from Service Pack 2 onwards. This unethical buying of approval is what makes me dislike MS. I still respect Bill Gates as a messiah of the personal computing revolution, but I am no longer reliant on MS software. I have the freedom of choice courtesy Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds, Larry Wall, Guido van Roosum and numerous other people who have made the world of open source heaven.

A rather interesting thing happened this week. A friend’s external hard disk had gone berserk and wouldn’t open in XP or Ubuntu. Saravanan(A genius, an RHCE and a linux freak/geek all rolled into one person! ) and myself helped him out, but it didn’t work out. So I got his hard disk home yesterday and set down to work. I booted up my favoured OS, Fedora 11 and it detected the disk but did not display the contents. So I got into a virtual terminal and force mounted it and voila, everything was normal. I copied all data to my hard disk, formatted the external drive and then copied back all the data. It worked fine on Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, XP, Vista and Seven. This is another advantage of using open source software such as Fedora. It helps you solve others’ PC troubles and yours too!

I went to a research conference Dhi Yantra 2009(means Intellectual Machine in Sanskrit) which focuses on High Performance Computing and Human Brain Modeling(I’m more interested in the former). Today was the first of the three days. It was an illuminating experience listening to people like Dr. Murali Murugavel from from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and several other WARFT alumni and research trainees. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions which are to concentrate on supercomputing. Dr. Rupak Biswas, who is Acting Chief, Supercomputing Division, NASA Ames Research Center; Dr. Rajesh Kasturirangan, Associate Professor, National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) Bangalore and Research Scientist, MIT, Boston and a few others will deliver their keynote lectures over the weekend.

The Ashes test seems to be going Australia’s way after a long partnership between Katich and Ponting. I wonder why Harmy is not playing, he could have changed the course of this game. If Aussie selectors were fools in dropping the crazy diamond Symonds, their English counterparts are fools on a higher plane. Here’s hoping England get back into this game, and have a nice weekend ahead!

Linux outgrows itself!

A few moments before I began typing this, I checked out the Ubuntu Free CD request page to see if I could order Jaunty Jackalope (that’s the code name for Ubuntu 9.04) which was released yesterday. Lately my torrent client has stopped working since I bought a new router, and I did not want to increase the load on HTTP/FTP servers. So I went to the Ubuntu Free CD Request Page, to see if I could order a CD online. Surprise, surprise! The site was offline and this was what I beheld:

Ubuntu's Free Media Page Offline!
Ubuntu's Free Media Page Offline!

Now this is the first time I’ve seen this page taken offline. So it’s clear that Linux, specifically Ubuntu is making a dent in the mainstream desktop OS market, which has till date been monopolised by, you know what that thing is, yeah, Windows. A major story that has been making news this week is the dip in sales for the Redmond based Microsoft, the big daddy of software manufacturers. This can be due to fall in PC sales, but another factor that may go neglected is that Linux based operating systems such as Ubuntu have been replacing Windows slowly. They may never overtake Windows in the desktop space, but they present an alternative, free to tweak as far as you take it, to Windows.

I’ve been using Linux on my PC for the past three years now. The first distribution I tried was openSUSE 10.1 in September 2006. I was amazed at the eye candy and the speed. Yeah, it was cooler than Vista or Aero, and ran on a quarter gigabyte of system memory! I’ve since used many other distributions, but the images of my PC performing faster than I could ever dream of, and those marvellous visual effects, will remain etched in my memory for long. I can’t say Linux is perfect, though. Out of the box (as soon as you install it and run it the first time) many essential features may be unavailable. These are mostly audio-video support, driver support (that’s no more an issue now, Vista is worse than Linux in device support) and some small quirks (such as where the hell is office!). But these do  not bother me at all. I’m patient enough to download and compile/install all these packages. Many are not, so I suggest you take a look at Sabayon 4.0(I’m using it right now, and its a breeze to install. Only quirk for the new user: compiling from source, although many packages are available as binary installers these days.) This is an awesome distribution, breezy and easy to  use. I wish there was more awareness about this alternative to Windows, so that people who cannot afford the money to buy shareware could benefit from this new wave. Yeah, for the cost of a Windows licence(5000+ rupees) one can feed a child for two months. So I think this is the time for a new revolution to make knowledge accessible to all.