Minutes of PLUG meet 05-09-2009

Hi all,
This would be a long post talking about the recent Microsoft MOU with Maharashtra Govt. and the discussion for the same at today’s PLUG meet.

The first topic of the day was Mrs. Manjusha Joshi of Bhaskarcharya Prathisthana’s presentation of ‘Beamer‘ . She made a presentation using beamer and also showed the code how it was made. The code was something like this :-



\title{Example Presentation Created with the Beamer Package}
\author{Till Tantau}




\subsection{Overview of the Beamer Class}
\frametitle{Features of the Beamer Class}

\item Normal LaTeX class.
\item Easy overlays.
\item No external programs needed.

The code is lifted or used from the beamer page. I’m no programmer but at first glance it looks something close to HTML or XML markup kinda stuff.

She showed us various features of beamers as well as answered queries about how one can go about using it. At the end she gave few links for learning and discovering beamer, putting those as well.

and few more.

The next order of the business was what to do for Software Freedom Day. This time a social organization lokayat . While the name’s meaning hasn’t been given on the web-site it probably means this. They also have a google group and are doing their activities here.

We are yet to work out all the logistics but some of the ideas that were generated at the meet were :-

a. Screening some documentaries
b. Giving a talk about the history of software freedom Day
c. A GNU/Linux Demo
d. Skit/play (extempo or with small script) to talk about myths of GNU/Linux as well as words which people have been forced to live up with (for e.g. Pirated) and things like that.

All the logistics and plans would be happening on the PLUG mailing list.

The next thing which happened was a Pandora’s box . Lokayat came up with the MOU that has been proposed to be signed up between Microsoft and Govt. of Maharashtra (the state government) .

While I would not go for the whole background, one can read what the MOU entails here.

There have been various non-profits and progressive minded institutions who had given replies, for e.g. itforchange and lokayat

So Mr. Sudhanwa Joglekar, the co-organizer of PLUG was asked what was PLUG’s stand on the whole issue. He simply replied that PLUG has no interest in getting into controversy.

On further probing some interesting things came to light :-

a. The idea :- Let’s change from ‘Microsoft’ to any other vendor say ‘Red Hat’ or ‘Novell’ the thing would essentially be same as any vendor would want to teach his or her own products. – Sudhanwa Joglekar.

b. PLUG has done various trainings within the government, right from posts of Computer Operator to Officer level as the requirements were given, the experiences have not left a good mark for PLUG or something to the vent – Sudhanwa Joglekar.

[My thoughts]
c. I had been thinking if an actual migration takes place, how are we going to support it ? I see many issues.

1. If one looks at the support options within the existing framework, Microsoft has given 5+5 for Windows XP , Redhat and Novell give 5-7 years of support. Ubuntu also has a 5 year model so as far as support options go we can clearly see who has the edge.

Caveat :- I am looking at only the enterprise versions of the three major distributions with Ubuntu being the youngest.

There are community-based distributions which the companies also have such as ‘Fedora‘ (Redhat) , ‘Opensuse‘ (Novell) and Ubuntu but they have significantly lower support options and can use only use public resources such as forums, bug-tracker and IRC. There would be no incident-tracking and priortization of bugs.

2. The upgrade cycle still manages to spring a suprise every now and then either as bugs which were put up but they haven’t been looked at as nobody knew it would affect so many systems or be severe.

3. When changing an LTS (Long-Term Solution) release cycle, another re-training program would have to be done.

4. The scale at which teachers would need to be recruited and understood. Even in my 5+ years I still am surprised every now and then to know of a new option/command etc.

5. At the end of the day, even if it is replaced by GNU/Linux, a computer operator would become a computer operator – Dexter (they may be exceptions but not the rule. )

[/My thoughts]

6. The change if it has to be is not just the subject but also the methodology of teaching. – Dexter

I would like to narrate a small incident which happened with me sometime ago. I was coming from ‘Ooty’ by bus. As we were travelling, I started conversing with the lady to my right. She turned out to be a school principal of some progressive school somewhere in/near to Bangalore. She has had the opportunity to go overseas and learn various alternative techniques of teaching children . After settling down in Bangalore, she alongwith few friends started started or became part of a school. Now, to be recognized with the University they had to comply with some norms and they had to shift from ‘activity-based learning’ which is/was a new thing when they had started using it back to a mixture of ‘activity and rote-based learning’ .

She herself had become convinced that this is the way rather than the one she had experienced in U.S.

7. We don’t think that equating free software with ‘free beer’ is a good thing. Support, trainings all would have to be invested in.

[My thoughts]
8. The TCO or Total Cost of Ownership is a term which has been used and abused by corporates on both sides. The truth lies somewhere in-between.

9. Still run into issue like driver issues. For e.g. in the last release 9.04 Ubuntu had issues with graphics drivers from ‘Intel’ and ‘ATi’ .

[/My thoughts]

Now the picture may or may not be as bleak as I presented but if civil organizations want to take this mantle forward, it would have to make and invest in much infrastructure like :-

a. Documentation
b. Trainings
c. Systems
d. Public mirrors so people can download the latest releases.
e. More investments in new pre-releases
f. People come and go so making sure the project is injected with new people as and when needed.
g. Have and demand branded electronic products to have ‘Linux-compatible’ stickers and drivers.

It would be nice to see people’s responses to the same. Till next time, adios 🙂

Update :- My bad. Redhat does have a 10 yr. support subscription model as given in comment 6 although that’s for Enterprise users. Microsoft has 10 years for the desktop .

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20 thoughts on “Minutes of PLUG meet 05-09-2009

  1. The point of discussion was on the model to be proposed to the Education department.

    While demanding the govt departments or institutions that it shall go for FOSS, many questions will be raised. Some of them may be valid ones, while others will be to shirk off the responsibility. We shall be able to put forward a viable model to convince the user.

    No doubt that there has to be pressure exerted on the bureaucratic system by the civil society for the adoption of FOSS.

    Pressure also has to built up to compel the Govt to adopt FOSS.

    In Kerala, the Govt adopted its policy on the initiative of LDF. The present Chief Minister Com. V S Achuthanandan has been part of the FOSS movement right from 1998-1999, when a question of adoption of FOSS for a project of the Panchayathi Raj Instititions in Ernakulam District was raised. Few engineers of BSNL (erstwhile DOT), Keltron and such other PSUs with their knowledge of UNIX and their social commitment that lead to them to the use of FOSS were the technical support group for the same. That project couldnot be continued as the LDF District Panchayath was taken over by the UDF in 2000 elections.

    But Com. V S continued to extend his patronage to the FOSS movement all through the period he was opposition leader during 2001-2006. Lot of FOSS groups were started at various centres in Kerala during the period.

    Kerala State Teacher’s Association demanded adoption of FOSS for the IT@School project which was initially started with MS platforms and vendor driven curriculum. KSTA had to go on struggle for making the then UDF govt to accept in principle that the curriculum and platforms will be oriented towards FOSS and vendor independent.

    KSEB officers and workers started demanding adoption of FOSS for the billing software which was initially run of MS. On stiff resistence from the managerial side over the migration, the workers unions and association had to campaign on the deficiencies of the then existing billing system. They formed an internal team and developed a billing module which later was adopted for the KSEB as “ORUMA”.

    When LDF came to power in 2006 over a manifesto which supported the use of FOSS, the IT Policy 2007 was declared. Chief Minister had his Technical Advisor Sri. Joseph Mathew, who was himself a FS enthusiast. FSF(India) Secretary himself was appointed in IT Mission in a managerial capacity and was put in charge of FS promotion activities.

    But the support system put in place by them, instead of taking the FOSS movement forward consolidating and unifying the various support groups, degenerated into a self serving group and created controversies which became head ache for the LDF government. They had to be removed from there. These happenings might have been the reports mentioned.

    Yes, this resulted in a set back. Had the FSF(India) Secretary utilised his position in a proper manner, the movement could have advanced much faster. Unfortunately, it didnot happen.

    That doesnot mean that the LDF Govt has gone back on its commitment to Free Software.

    Govt is intitutionalising the FOSS support system. IT Mission, CDIT, SPACE, Keltron etc are having FOSS units. CATFOSS, a finishing school for graduate IT professionals has completed one batch. Kannur University as also many Engineering colleges are running graduate courses on FOSS.

    IT@School, which was limited to High schools is being expanded to upper primiary. But it is still limited to Schools. Plus two and colleges are not covered. Decision has already been declared to cover colleges as well.

    One of the area of conflict right from the year 1999-2000 was the adoption of proprietary platforms for IT implementation in Panchayathi Raj Institutions (PRIs). Information Kerala Mission (IKM), formed exclusively for the purpose, adopted proprietary platforms for the purpose, despite the arguements put forward for the adoption of FOSS, at the time of its institution itself. The Technical experts at the Govt level as also the Management of CDIT which was in charge of the IKM stood firm on the use of Proprietary platforms in the name of user friendlyness and availability of service support. It also argued for proprietary platforms in the name of total cost of ownership, TCO (?).

    The struggle waged by the FOSS movement for the use of FOSS for PRI has now reached a stage where 390 of 440 employees of IKM who formed an IT workers union (EF@IT, which had its 1st annula conference on 8th of this month) demanded migration to FOSS.

    Govt also is committed to migration of PRI net work onto FOSS platforms and packages, which is very likely in a short period.

  2. @ Joseph,

    [quote] I feel we have deviated much from the points raised by PLUG minutes. [/quote]

    Couple of quick points first.

    I just edited the blog post to make a clear separation of the thoughts or things which were in public domain (were discussed in the PLUG meet) and those which I have been thinking

    This simply has been so that people do not think that the conclusions drawn in any sense are what PLUG’s maybe.

    PLUG ideals are to be vendor-neutral and help the ecosystem by being there as much as possible.


    The possible solution as per our experience is local community empowerment, both academic as well as entrepreneurial.
    In the specific case, Maharashtra Education Department can very well adopt the Kerala IT@School model. They selected a distribution. Trained the master trainers. They trained the teachers. Now they started giving consultancy to other departments as well.
    Hence, what is important is local support, for which community (not voluntary alone) empowerment is required.
    Now, let Maharashtra Education Department adopt its own model. Let PLUG have its own conclusions on these issues.[/quote]

    I do agree, although it comes back to the main point. In order to do this, one has to pressurize the government to go a certain way.

    Also one thing that has not also been raised is that there had been reports of backslashes on Free software in Kerala itself.

    Now I don’t know whether that’s Microsoft’s press going hammer or tongs or that’s the truth. Just something I had heard on the rumor mill.

  3. I feel we have deviated much from the points raised by PLUG minutes.

    The possible solution as per our experience is local community empowerment, both academic as well as entrepreneurial.

    In the specific case, Maharashtra Education Department can very well adopt the Kerala IT@School model. They selected a distribution. Trained the master trainers. They trained the teachers. Now they started giving consultancy to other departments as well.

    Hence, what is important is local support, for which community (not voluntary alone) empowerment is required.

    Now, let Maharashtra Education Department adopt its own model. Let PLUG have its own conclusions on these issues.

  4. [quote]
    Sure they is. There is a score of consultants and local resellers in every place. India, we are busy being cost centres for proprietary companies and there is no local market to serve. Who is willing to pay for software or services in India? [/quote]

    Right. This is part of the reality. But can that reality be changed that is what we are trying to know here.

    To some extent this is possible. For e.g. I would like to see some of my as well as people around me’s tax rupees being used to create and maintain repositories of FOSS distributions (synced and updated daily) . This should make some difference to people who want to use it.

    I don’t think so that there are not people who want services. Few months ago, I bought Digit from stand as it had the latest 9.04 (DVD) and back-issues of Digit. It didn’t work but that’s a different problem.

    I never said anything about Fedora. So the whole explanation about Fedora is just a distraction. [/quote]

    I used Fedora to point out why it wouldn’t work for mass deployment. It wasn’t to create any distraction but for the other comment that could have been made by anybody that why wasn’t Fedora put up as an a mainstream distribution as well.

    [quote]How will you use openSUSE or Ubuntu for mass deployments? 18 months lifecycle is not going to be enough. The funny thing is that pretty much all these distributions share more or less the same upstream software. They are all leading edge distributions.
    All distributions with a longer lifecycle (RHEL/Ubuntu LTS/SLES) won’t work well with the latest desktop hardware. That is again a completely different problem.[/quote]

    True, I agree with your point of 18 months lifecycle as well. This is something for which the companies would have to find ways for supporting longer years if they seek to have real market shares (for the desktop).

    I had the busybox issue while upgrading on Ubuntu 8.04 on an p4 1.8 ghz (machine bought in 2003) so its not for newer machines but for old machines. Don’t know from where you thought the issue was about latest desktop hardware.

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