September 8, 2003

Open Asia: Open source in East Timor and India

- by Frederick Noronha -
We continue our country-by-country survey of the availability of open source software across Asian countries with a look at developments in East Timor and India.

East Timor

Even the tiny country of East Timor, which gained its independence in May of last year,
has a FLOSS link. A posting on the Global Knowledge for Development Digest (Dec 20, 2002, Vol.
1, Number 625) from Don Cameron mentions that the not-for-profit
organisation called ComputerBank Australia is undertaking work of donating
computers preloaded with the Debian distribution of GNU/Linux to East Timor.

India

India is a country that prides itself on being a software superpower, but still
has difficulties making software available to most of its
own citizens. FLOSS may provide some interesting solutions.

Efforts in the late '90s, partly spearheaded by expatriate Indians based in
the US, led to the formation of the Linux-India network.
This site lists nearly five dozen Linux
User Groups scattered across India. Indian language support for computing is one area which is being eagerly
looked forward to. See G. Karunakar's bookmarks on Indian language computing.

What do you do if you're poor in resources and rich in talent? You share
software. Software For All, the initiative of 21-year-old student
Ajay Cuncoliencar of Goa, India, is a site that gives the phone numbers and email addresses of people willing to share their copies of software -- a great help in places where even blank CDs may be hard or costly to come by.

Cuncoliencar is not the only young Indian making an impact. Students excelling in FLOSS and Indian
expats contributing to global initiatives (for example, Bharat Mediratta's Gallery) are also visible in India, and Indian tools of global relevance are slowing emerging:

  • Chennai-based Prabhu Ramachandran is developing MayaVi, a free, easy-to-use scientific data visualizer. Mayavi is Sanskrit for "magician."
  • ELX, developed by
    Hyderabad-based Everyone's Linux, is India's
    first commercial GNU/Linux-based Operating System, which claims to match
    Windows in every feature and provides the additional advantages of
    GNU/Linux's robustness and security.
  • Kaii is a mostly ignored GNU/Linux-based PDA that was announced last year.

We're also watching the struggle to complete and market the Simputer, a
low-cost portable PC alternative based on GNU/Linux. The product is being marketed today in small
numbers. Economic challenges and high taxes are proving to be a more difficult challenge for the
Simputer than the technological difficulties.

Meanwhile, international solutions are helping India. Yudit is a free unicode text editor for all Unices. It was first released in 1997, when Gaspar Sinai wanted to write in Japanese and Hungarian in one
document. He realized that it did not take much effort to extend this
goal and support any script. Today it works with Indic scripts including Tamil,
Devanagari, Bengali, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Oriya, Malayalam, Kannada, and
Telugu.

Indian software firms making a living out of Free Software include Linuxense Information Systems
and SANIsoft, while DeepRoot Linux builds server appliances and
provides GNU/Linux support and services) and Exocore provides consulting.

In various parts of India, small firms -- often comprising small-teams made
up of college students -- have set up their own outlets to sell GNU/Linux distros. These include LinCDs.com (run by Yashwanth and Swaroop, two collegians from Bangalore) and lincdz.2ya.com/
(run by seventeen-year-old Sukrit from the former French colony of Pondicherry), among others. Other firms like G.T.Enterprises, run by former navy officer Taranath, attract huge crowds at IT events such as IT.Com, held annually in Bangalore, the city some consider the Silicon Valley of India.

Speaking of events: In September 2002, the TeX Users Group conference, one of the world's leading TeX user/developer meetings, was held at the Technopark, Thiruvananthapur, in South
India -- the first time that TUG conference was held outside
Europe and US.

linuxinindia.pitas.com contains links to
FLOSS initiatives around India. An archive of the GNU/LinuxInIndia mailing list also contains reports on this subject. Another good resource is the Indian Linux portal.

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