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Source: The Hindu (http://www.hinduonnet.com/edu/2005/01/11/stories/2005011100200400.htm)
Education Plus


A whiz-kid's tryst with Linux 

What do people do when they hear that doing a particular thing is very difficult? Most of them try to avoid it. But some people meet the challenge headlong. Sarath Lakshman a Standard X student of the Jawaharlal Nehru Government Higher Secondary School, Mahe, belongs to the second category.
A challenge
Until 2003, Sarath had never used Linux, computer operating system (OS). He had heard about it, though. When he repeatedly heard from various people that Linux was not an everyman's OS and that operating Linux requires more than a casual knowledge of computers, Sarath saw a challenge staring him in the face. 
His answer to that challenge was `SLYNUX' - or in other words `Sarath Lakshman's Linux'.
The story of Sarath's achievements using the computer begins some time back. Even as a child, Sarath was interested in science and technology; the young scientist demonstrated this by prying open household electronic gadgets and tinkering with them. 
When he reached Standard VIII and started learning about computers as per the syllabus designed by the IT@School programme, he got hooked to computers.
E-periodic table
One day, in Standard IX, when the Chemistry teacher was taking a class on the periodic table, it struck Sarath that computers could be used to teach the periodic table in a much more interesting way. This resulted in the development of the `e-periodic table' - software that helps the student to learn the positions of elements, their atomic numbers and so on. This software turned out to be a hit with the students of his school.
When officials of the IT@school got wind of this, they got in touch with Sarath and asked him whether he would give the copyright of his software to them. Sarath was only too willing and a few days later had the satisfaction of seeing his `e-periodic table' in the resource CD for the Standard X IT@School sent to all schools in the State.
New software
As far as Sarath was concerned, this was only the beginning. "I then thought of developing a software that would help students learn the basics of electronics - my childhood passion. I began working on this and eventually came up with `Electronic Studio MX', which uses animation to explain basic concepts in electronics," he told The Hindu-Education Plus.
With two successful projects under his belt, Sarath turned his attention to Linux - something he had always been told was very, very difficult to operate. 
Initially, Sarath installed a popular version of Linux, on his computer. Soon, he saw that what he had been told about Linux was not too much of an exaggeration. " I found that this OS was very good in matters of security and smoothness of operation. But I found that the average user would be confused by the names given to programmes in Linux. The fact that Linux uses inter-dependent system files excited me and convinced me that I could make this OS simpler and easy to comprehend," he explained.
Sarath said he was also particular that his version of Linux should be operational from a live CD - that is, it could run even without being installed in a computer. Next, he went about devising the SLYNUX desktop to closely resemble the normal Window's desktop. 
This way, he ensured that anybody who is familiar with Windows could easily switch to using SLYNUX. 
Sarath says that anybody who uses his OS would have the advantage of getting a lot of pre-installed programmes. "Normally, there are very few programmes in Windows OS. You would have to pay for getting more programmes installed or else pirate the same. For instance, SLYNUX has a pre-installed SLYNUX media player and a Linamp player. So, the user can play VCDs and even DVDs using the programme `Xine'," he said.
That is not all. SLYNUX also has a multi-purpose messenger programme that can be used for MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Jabber and IRC messaging services. SLYNUX also has Mozilla Firefox, which can be used to access the Net. 
"Another major feature about my OS is that it supports internal modems; something that other Linux versions normally don't. It can also access most of the file types used in the Windows OS. In addition to this, SLYNUX also supports Malayalam fonts. I have even included an on-screen Malayalam keyboard," Sarath said.
By providing a flash player plug-in, a CD-burner software and a `paint' programme, Sarath has also made sure that his OS is pretty strong on the multi-media front. He recommends at least 256 MB of RAM to get the best out of his SLYNUX CD.
Sarath says he hopes to market SLYNUX, which he took only seven months to develop. 
"I will retain this as an open software. I would like to see more students using this free software. If we can have something free, why spend lakhs of rupees purchasing proprietary software," he asked.
The answer would have to come from policy makers who handle IT education in the State. As this `young achiever' points out there is no institutionalised support in the State to people like him who set out to make things easier for others; for, there may be others - as yet unseen flowers - who are capable of similar feats, if not more. 
Sarath can be contacted at `sarathlakshman@yahoo.com
Photo: S. Gopakumar 

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