Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What ails free software adoption in India

Hi all,
I was thinking of the reasons why most of the GNU/Linux distributions have such a limited reach in India particularly. Some of the reasons are as clear as the sky while others perhaps not. I'm just listing some of the reasons I feel have been the reasons behind it.

1. Awareness :- While most of the IT magazines do talk about most of the GNU/Linux distributions now but its not in say business magazines or trendy youth magazines which would help. It also doesn't help when people think or perceive GNU/Linux software as being difficult.

2. Policy :- Education is a state budget & wherever the state has been in the affirmative there has been a great shift towards using, developing & enriching communities using free software. From what I've heard Kerala & most of the southern states have been supportive of this. Whether it is due to communist governments in power is not known.

3. Bandwidth :- This I suspect is one of the big big reasons. Many of the applications in a typical GNU/Linux distro. are in constant flux. New releases either as a feature release or as a bug-fix release are all too common. But they need lots of bandwidth which in a bandwidth-starved country (artificially or otherwise) which makes it a pain or annoyance for lot of people.

4. Glamour :- Most of the times free software is associated with nerds looking at the command-line/terminal hunched over stuff & being busy. There are no celebrity endorsements to the product.

5. Not a desktop :- Due to the history of free software it has always been thought of as an OS which is good for enterprise, server technologies, networking technologies all of which is true but it also is excelling pretty well on the desktop as well.

6. Games :- This has been one of the major grouses for most of people. This one has slightly more complex dimensions. Its not as if games are unavailable on free software. The causes of not enough free software are :-
  • Lack of Open Powerful Graphics Hardware :- Apart from Intel who does open graphics drivers development I have seen very apathy from the rest chipset vendors AMD, Nvidia & ATi . While there are projects like Open Graphics project as well as Project VGA they lack the length of breath of the other 3 vendors . Don't get me wrong I would love to see both coming out with a card that you & I could play with but both seem to be in a distance.
    There is also project Nouvaeu which is quite an interesting community effort. I hope 3d acceleration in free software becomes a reality.
  • Bandwidth :- Again the same point. There are some pretty good games which have been produced by the community but the size (200 MiB+) makes it daunting for most of the GNU/Linux distros averse to include them due to hosting & bandwidth expenses. Most of the distros. survive/make money on the services model .
  • Testing :- Due to the reasons above most of the games do not get enough testing and love to make it something grand.
  • Maintainance :- Just like every other software package games would require maintainence. That is the biggest challenge as it would be dependant on many other packages & with the constant updates & fixes of other packages keeping things current is the real challenge.
Even with all of the above, the outlook peronally is upbeat, its the only system which tells me verbosely what am I doing wrong (if I'm doing something wrong) & is most under my control. Till next time we meet ;)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Why mobiles?

Hi all,
A follow-up to yesterday's post as to why mobiles of all things. In a perfect world, it should encompass all, music systems, stand-alone CD/DVD players, laptops, desktops. Having free software should make all of these products much much cheaper to buy & produce.
In fact a cousin of mine works in a Bangalore software company which work with Open standards & make codecs for clients so they can play a wide variety of video & most of the time they use free software.
But mobiles take the cake as they're used more often, more ruthlessly & people expect the mobile to just do its job. If we could harness the power of free software then there would be so much stuff that could be done.
For e.g. look at the freemap service. From what I make of it, it hopes to add free content as in landmarks & stuff of Mumbai & then with a GPRS handset one should be able to find interesting stuff around the city. Questions like where I can find pizza around here or something like that should be answerable. The content hopefully would be gratis as well as free (as in freedom). These kind of services would work the best with appliances that support GNU/Linux . Of course they would try to make sure its also possible to use the services on other platforms but would be best with free software. This is just one example, there are hundreds of these applications & content which would get a good boost as we have free software on mobile & later the chip itself.
The whole idea behind free software is to do away with patenting stuff which blocks innovation (as in putting something on top of somebody else's work) and also doesn't do anything about sharing. If there were not patents then the mobiles would still go cheaper. One look at reports like this one makes it easy to understand as to why the mobiles are still so costly. I'm sure the license fees make for a significant amount of cost.
There are many many more use-cases why we need open hardware but that would do for now.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

open hardware

Hi all,
While everybody hoots for free software, unfortunately I don't see much noise about 'open hardware' & I ask myself why?

Where it would impact most, mobile phones, simply for the reason they are the most used gadget & most desirable gadget invented. With features like location mapping, GPRS & what have you its a killer thing. If its open, one just adds the firmware & things can become much much better. Something similar to what happened on the 'Spirit' & 'Opportunity' landrovers when they arrived in Mars. It happened again & again with better stuff for the two rovers. Point here to see what I mean..
There are examples like Android (here & here) & others but most of them are expensive (Rs. 10,000 + =) play-toys, nothing which is here & now, which is inexpensive & can be really used to do above. Anybody knows otherwise would be happy to know.