4 min read

foss.in day 3

Today, the keynote address was by Andrew Cowie on Inside|Outside, and it was a brilliant talk. Cowie is a very animated and fun person. The talk was about how people are on the inside or outside of the community and what it takes to cross over. He gave various examples, including himself on how he had to step in to take care of java-gnome because the original author vanished from the scene. He also explained we need to be pragmatic and show a united front. For example, he was particularly appreciative of Hari Krishnan’s posters and why it shouldn’t matter whether he used a proprietary software such as Corel Draw. Actually, Hari needed some vector drawing ability which was not available in any of the open source tools. The people who bitched about using a non-open source software would better have spent their time fixing the actual problem. Similarly, he slammed the “GNU/” thingy issue raised everytime in a conference and people actually cheered him! I liked the way he stressed “No one can tell you no” … Cowie has put up the talk slides online.


Then, I attended Till Adam’s talk on Kolab and got to know how a German ministry funded Kolab 1 and subsequently how Kolab 2 has become a real viable alternative to the Exchange/Outlook combination. The technical bits were interesting, like how Kolab just reuses Cyrus-imapd for everything and treats all the information as just imap mails, including memos and calendars, etc. Since Cyrus-imapd is very scalable and kolabd is a lightweight daemon, Till said that many deployments of Kolab had scaled really well.


Then, I caught the last few minutes of Dr. George Easaw talking about Moodle. He was very enthusiastic about Moodle and is using this course management system in their college.


The FOSS in Agriculture : OSCAR talk was very interesting. OSCAR stands for Open Source Simple Computer for Agriculture in Rural Areas and has been sponsored by the French Institute of Pondicherry. OSCAR has a database of plants and images of the different parts of the plant. Once a farmer selects how the plant looks like, the list of species that match it are shown, and the correct species can be selected. In the species page, many details are present such as the names in local languages, whether it is a weed or a plant, whether it is good or bad, etc. They have developed this software in conjunction with teams in the field coordinating with farmers. Apparently, they want the software to reach a certain stage of completion and then open source it, which would likely be around March of next year.


Then, Sai Sreekanth spoke about FOSS in primary education. He presented his experience with schools in Kuppam and how freely available software made a difference to the learning of the children. Interestingly, he said that training and English were not the barriers – just having a computer running with all the software loaded were enough and the kids really learn to explore on their own. He demonstrated a few software that were very useful and the audience were quite fascinated by the breadth and depth of the software such as Tux Math Scrabble, Celestia, Anagramarama, edu.kde and many more. There is a whole lot of software out there available for school education that need to be taken advantage of, especially in hinterland areas where good teachers are rare and there are budget constraints. For example, if a school can’t afford a real chemistry laboratory, then ChemConnection is an amazing piece of software where you can mix and match chemicals and see the result of the reactions. Sai pointed to many more resources such as iosn.net, ofset.org, pratham.org and Edubuntu.


Next, I attended Kalyan’s talk on Web Application Security. He made revelations on how insecure sites can be and how easy it could be to circumvent the “128-bit SSL encryption high-security” stuff and do nasty things. All you need is 10 min to look around the HTML code. In fact, he demonstrated how we can easily get DVD players from Rediff Shopping or Indiatimes Shopping by changing the price from say 2999 to just 2 rupees in the HTML code and then clicking submit… Don’t try this at home, kids. His stress was that cryptography gave a false sense of security, it was easy to bypass the security. What is most needed is common sense and strict input validation is one of the best ways to be secure.


Then, I attended the Foss in Education : A Panel Discussion. Yes, it’s a recurring theme in the discussions I attended today. Many points were discussed but Atul came in and set the discussion straight explaining the difference of FOSS in education and FOSS as education and why we need to differentiate between the two. The former is using FOSS as tools for education whereas the latter means FOSS becomes syllabus. Obviously, I think the former is a better idea. There were professors and students participating in the discussion actively. Gopi Garge was chaperoning the discussion and summarizing the points regularly.


Unfortunately, attending these sessions meant missing Kaustubh’s podcasting talk and Mrinal’s FOSS Studio talk as well.

Finally, I last attended the KDE Development Workshop by Taj and Till.


Outside, people had gathered in groups and were all discussing away. You could just feel the ideas and discussions and opinions whooshing by.


Update : Philip has put up his notes on why foss in education makes sense.