The GNUnified Experience!

GNUnify ’09 at SICSR (Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research) on February 13 and 14 was a ‘dear diary’ moment for open source enthusiasts in and around Pune. As GNUnify entered its seventh year, PLUG (Pune Linux Users Group) and Mozilla joined hands to make it a big success.

The two-day action-packed event had multiple activities running in parallel. The program was carefully designed so that there was a solid takeaway for different sections of audience—from engineering students to desktop users and from administrators to elders trying to switch to open source. Let me get down to sharing my ‘GNUnified experience’.

Day 1: Programming, storage, networking, et al.

Day 1, which was February 13, started with workshops and four parallel tech tracks. Manjusha Joshi led a workshop on the TeX/LaTeX documentation tool, followed by Rajesh Sola’s hands-on tricks and tips on OpenOffice.org. Ebenezer and Samar also held a workshop in another classroom on Tweaking Ubuntu, wherein they showed us how to configure Ubuntu, connect to the repository, apt-get the required packages, create an ISO image, etc. They also demonstrated VirtualBox and how to run Ubuntu on Ubuntu.

The scheduled talks from Day 1 could be broadly classified into three streams:

  • The programmers’ track
  • Storage and networking
  • The PHP marathon

To start with, I attended a talk on open source firewalls by Saifi Khan. It mainly covered how a firewall is not just an application software running on a single computer but has to deal with the complete network infrastructure. He explained the support available in FreeBSD, NetBSD and Linux for writing firewalls, and followed that with a talk on iptables usage with practical demonstrations.

Next, I listened to a short but interesting talk about the Generic Netlink Socket framework by Alok Barsode. He explained this powerful IPC technique in detail and this was followed by a practical demonstration of a driver written using the Generic Netlink framework.

The next talk I attended was equally exciting. Ajay Kumar, winner of the Google Summer of Code 2008, spoke on the humanitarian FOSS project dubbed ‘Sahana’, explaining the technology involved and the challenges it faced.

I then attended a session on an open source library management system called ‘Koha’. Krishnan Mani started with how he himself ended up getting Koha up and running for his community library. He also talked about the deployment of Koha in India and abroad, and various techniques to migrate to Koha from existing ‘spreadsheets’.

Being a kernel enthusiast myself, I next headed over towards the kernel discussion panel organised by GeeP-Geeks Of Pune. Linux kernel gurus like Amit Shah, Amit Kale, Anand Mitra and Kedar Sovani chaired the panel and addressed questions like how different kernel programming is, how to start off with it, what the challenges are in debugging, how and where to get support and documentation from, etc.

On the same day, I also got a chance to peep into an ‘Install Fest’ activity for the Fedora core Linux distribution. I found students as well as elders trying out Fedora installations and coming out with a degree of confidence.

Day 2: Mozilla, Fedora and more programming

Workshops on the second day consisted of a hands-on session led by Abhishek Nagar. Aligned with the PHP marathon, as the name ‘Fast track websites—from local to remote’ suggests, the workshop was based on how to build a website using Drupal. Running parallel, Vinay Pawar (a.k.a Zoid) led another hands-on session on ‘Blender’, making people think in a third dimension.

The scheduled talks from Day 2 could again be classified under:

  • A programmer’s track
  • The Mozilla Camp and networking
  • The PHP marathon (continued) and a Fedora activity day

Being a programmer, I chose a talk by B.C. Sekar on Doing Linux Projects. The talk focused on the power and benefits FOSS offers as a project development platform. He also introduced the audience to the basic licences, such as GPL and LGPL and other things a developer needs to know before contributing to an open source project. He shared his experiences in enabling his customers to achieve an improved time-to-market, using off-the-shelf FOSS tools as against the lengthy process of developing proprietary tools.

Next, I got to look in on the Mozilla Camp. Seth Bindernagel and Arun Ranganathan co-hosted the camp. It started from the history of Mozilla and how it was born from Netscape, and progressed to quite an interesting and interactive discussion focusing on the recent release of Bespin, followed by a demonstration on Bespin.

I then got to listen to Alolita Sharma, who focused on one distinguishing characteristic of open source—of users becoming the contributors and the resulting decentralisation of ownership, synergies between the people of different cultures, the give and take of polite feedback rather than blame games, etc. The talk was also backed up with case studies of three important open source projects—WordPress, Ubuntu and Mozilla Firefox.

The talk titled FREEeconomics: The economics of free/open source by Navin Kabra was also insightful. As the name suggests, it was all about the business model of FOSS-based companies. He highlighted the characteristic economics behind ‘free and open source software products’. He concluded by putting forward an interesting and important idea about the ‘Attention Economy/Reputation Economy’.

The last talk I sat through was on ‘My experience with Linux as a customer’ by Atul Tulshibagwale. The speaker focused on the gaps in the current Linux distributions, which make the Indian audience hesitate to use it as their desktop OS. He emphasised the important applications that still need to be ported, and how the small but smart changes in default configurations of applications like OpenOffice.org would make the transition comfortable for the Indian audience.

Finally, before leaving for the day, I sneaked a peek into the Marathi Localisation activity room. What was in progress was a session on ‘FUEL-Frequently Used Entries for Localisation’, by G Karunakar and Sandeep Shedmake. I noticed a number of Marathi wits translating and verifying the ‘correct and closest’ translations for the different terminology in OpenOffice.org, making it easy to understand for local people. This was a two-day ongoing activity and covered more than 250 terms (as per the last word count that I heard about). I contributed a few and left for the day.

All in all, I’d say the organisers and volunteers worked really hard to make sure the event was yet another success story in the history of GNUNify. By the way, have you visited gnunify.in yet?

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