Akademy is an annual conference organized by the KDE Community. It’s the place where contributors of all kinds from past and present meet, showcase their work and discuss things that shape the future of the KDE Software. This year's Akademy was held in the TU Wien, in the beautiful and historic city of Vienna, Austria.
First of all, I'd like to apologize for being late on this post as just after reaching home, I had a minor motorcycle accident, and which was followed shortly by prolonged illness.
I've been a KDE guy since the beginning of my technology career as an open source evangelist, entrepreneur, and developer. This year, I got the opportunity to showcase my work in front of the great people I've always admired.
My talk went well apart from the only problem that my time ran out faster than I thought, and I had to stop the presentation in middle. So I thought of writing down a summary of the talk here, please note since this is not a presentation but an article the flow has changed while the context remains the same.
The initial part of my talk revolved around the motivation on why we do free and open source software, the philosophical aspects such as the social impact of FOSS, its impact on education and understanding of internals due to its open nature and development of better software due to community engagement and collaboration. The fact that open source furnishes competition and which in turns creates an even playing ground and finally open source brings freedom from vendor lock-in, which is one of the major reasons, we do open source in India.
History of ICT in India
One cannot learn about any geography at its present until we learn about its history. India has a country has always been at the forefront of software technology, even in the days when its economy was small. From HEC2M India's first ever computer in 1956 to PARAM 8000, India's first supercomputer, India and Indians have always shown a keen interest in Information and Communications Technology. As of 2017, IT and ICT related activities contribute 7.7% to India's GDP and the Indian IT industry is roughly 200 billion USD of worth.
Not to forget that India's Pratyush Supercomputer ranks 39th in the Top 500.
Current State of FOSS in India
The current state of India in regards to Free and Open Source Software is somewhat optimistic, with more and more states of India bringing in IT policies which gives priority to free and open source solutions. However, things are happening slowly, mainly due to the fact that India is a continent in the disguise of a country. With its federal nature of governance and many self-governing states the Indian Union has got many IT policies, almost one for each state, the policies of the Union (a.k.a Federal or Central) Government on these subject, loosely related to trade and commerce, are more or less are advisories to the states, and not may be mandatory for the states to follow. There are areas where its mandatory to follow the Union law or policy (a.k.a national security), however in case of open source and open standards adoption by a state, it's not the case as of today, and we must go much deeper into the domain of law to understand the who's who, which is a subject of another day. India is a vast and dynamic country, which brings the need of local governments but also brings loop-holes as with any form of Governance.
The Government of India (Union Government) have brought forward the "Policy on adoption of open source software in Government of India" and also launched a comprehensive framework on open source software in e-Governance systems. Named "Framework on Open Source Software Adoption in e-Governance Systems", the documents details all aspects of free and open source software, its various licenses, pros and cons of each license and also the business models practiced by various open source vendors. The document is a mandatory policy for all of Union Government agencies and offices unless there is no alternatively available for non-free software for a particular purpose. This is a very positive step by the Government of India, however, the policy is limited to Government of India organizations and agencies only and states may choose to opt-in if they desire so.
Many states in India has shown a keen interest in open-source software adoption even before the above mentioned national-level policy, states like Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, have emerged as being the leaders in terms of implementations of OSS in the country since much earlier.
As I belong from Assam, I can tell that if Assam did not have a positive attitude towards open source from a very early time of my life, I'd have never been where I am today. Similar effects can be seen in the lives of people from the rest of the states mentioned, people, at least the ones in charge of administration, business and academia are not only aware of open source but considers it a valuable asset towards the development of their society.
Below is the map of India, where you can see open source adoption patterns in different states.
As you can see in the above map, states colored in yellow, a positive trend is seen, with organic growth in the adoption and awareness of open source software. However, there is no policy by the government to promote or use open source, and people are using mostly as part of education or individually. The states colored in green are the ones with a pro-FOSS IT policy, published and enforced. The small blue dots here and there are the Union Territories (federal administrations), are also pro-FOSS due to the national policy. You might think that the green areas are very less, but remember each of these states is big landmass with a large population, even covering one of these states is an extremely tough job.
Areas with success - Web and Databases
Free and Open Source software is the basis of India's web services, with all newer services, being developed using FOSS technologies. I'd clear here that still services which came prior to the open source adoption policies are still running on non-free technologies, even some being legacy and unmaintained by the parent companies. The popularity of open source technologies such as PHP, Python, Node.js, OpenJDK has surged in the past couple of years. Frameworks like Django are becoming more and more common with more and more developers understanding and accepting these technologies as their daily driver for work and play.
India's databases, are open, with MariaDB and alike taking majority share, and can be considered as a great contributor to India being efficient in government-to-citizen service delivery.
Areas of concern - desktop computing and cross-platform application development
This is something still an area of concern in India, as, despite all the push from various institutions, the desktop scene in India is still dominated by non-free operating systems and applications. The adoption of OSS by individuals can be seen as almost none, except few smart guys as seen elsewhere. Application development on the desktop can also be seen as limited to technologies such as .NET and Adobe Air (which is not supported on Linux anymore). Java is the only exception in some cases, that too limited to enterprise software.
We at Libresoft as part of the SuperX project has pushed open source in the desktop, and have done few agreements ensuring at least the delivery of high-quality open source desktop solutions to the people.
We have been to the length and breadth of India, promoting open source, with our Linux distro - SuperX and KDE software. SuperX can be seen being used Universities to small mud-houses of rural India.
We have done some meaningful partnerships as well such as with AMTRON, the nodal agency for IT in Assam. We have shipped approximately 30,000 laptops in 2013, and we together are working on next slot of 20000 laptops. All these laptops will go to students, of age 16 to 17 years, as a present from the Government, for excellence in school leaving examination, as a motivation towards higher education, especially in Computer Science, as the laptops run SuperX GNU/Linux with KDE Plasma and tons of programming tools and educational materials. These kinds of initiatives by the Government gives early and easy access to free and open source software to the children and makes them more motivated.
We must always take these numbers with a pinch of salt, because many may format these machines with pirated copies of Windows, however, as seen in the past, many students retained their laptops with the original OS, and that is a positive development for the open source software community. We hope that India will give the world more and more open source contributors by these initiatives.
Well, I wanted to talk a little bit more, and maybe the most important piece, on how KDE Software be mainstreamed in India. Some of the KDE Applications, are capable enough with some changes to replace dominant non-free software in the Indian market. However, as mentioned above, time was not there to continue the talk, so I had to stop in the middle. I will write another blog post regarding the missing part, as this post has grown long enough already.
The experience I had there, which was literally awesome, be it from a personal perspective or professional. I learned a lot of things from the great minds accumulated there and exchanged a lot of ideas. I also had the opportunity to talk to some of my heroes in person, which is a kinda dream come true for a person like me who has admired their work all his life. I'd thank the KDE Community for selecting my talk for its grandest stage, and also the KDE e.V for sponsoring my travel and stay at Vienna. Thank you, KDE :)