[Fsf-india] India's contribution to GNU/Linux...

Frederick Noronha fred@bytesforall.org
Sun, 10 Mar 2002 13:08:18 +0530 (IST)

[Apologies for the cross-posting]
Kindly give me more leads on this subject. Thanks, FN


A slightly edited version of this was published at

By Frederick Noronha

THE GENERAL STILL perception is that India is benefitting more from Linux
than it's putting back into the kitty of this global volunteer-driven
powerful operating system. But the trends are clear: that's going to change.

Young Indians from Nagpur to the North East, and those based in places as
distant as Mumbai and Melbourne are adding generously and selflessly to the
powers of Linux. Or, more accurately, to GNU/Linux, the package of computer
applications and an operating system which has been cooperatively developed
by thousands of people all over the world.

Linux has grown to now function as an alternative to Microsoft Windows (or
Windows NT on your server) and Apple's MacOS. As this happens, LUGs are
springing up across India, as a search just one yahoogroups.com would show.
(Linux User Groups, the voluntary groups that take to evangelising for what
has become one of the most powerful computer operating systems in the

Access to the Internet -- opened to the average Indian only since August
1997 -- has unveiled new possibilities of code-collaborations across the
globe. Could the months ahead see an unleashing of the GNUIndia power

Let's look at pointers from what's already available.

On the one hand, there are examples like the Simputer -- inching its way
towards completion -- that is based on Linux and has earned a lot of
headlines. But, more interesting are the scores of initiatives by
little-noticed individuals across the country. 

Dr Mahesh Jayachandra's Peacock Solutions in Bangalore calls itself the
first Indian company to commercialize super-computing technology.  It also
promises to "integrate cutting edge science with the latest Linux
technology". The doctor has a PhD in neurophysiology, and was one of those
US-based experts enthused to 'come back' to India in the 'nineties. He is
convinced that Linux is the way to go. 

Projects of his include Linux parallel supercomputers (Beowulf clusters) for
high speed rendering, molecular modeling and weather modeling;
bioinformatics solutions; GIS servers; and even local Indian language
'killer applications' (word processing, e-mail using GPLed tools -- the
iobox! See peacocksys.com

Bangalore-based DeepRoot Linux offers its deepOfix range of office servers.
Their claim: it takes just 12 minutes to have a server set up, to handle all
office and network tasks "effortlessly" in an office.... Cast a
"half-glance" at its display panel, and know exactly what's happening to
your critical network resources.

This young firm -- made up of young people also offers EasyPush, a solution
-- that frees the application and interface developer from knowing "anything
about the system". Check out http://www.deeproot.co.in/

Mumbai-based S. Krishnan only recently came out with RPCAP, or the Remote
Packet CAPture System for Linux. It allows you to run a remote packet
capture session.  Let's assume that you have a remote network, say in Delhi,
and while sitting in Hyderabad you need to monitor traffic on it, for
whatever reason. <http://rpcap.sourceforge.net>

To Arun Sharma (and a small initial team) goes the credit of being behind 
Linux-India. "What started as a small mailing list on my school machine, 
has grown to more than 1000 subscribers now." 

Sharma has undertaken many free software projects and contributions. Genie
(web based genealogy application), Citybus (web-based, to make it easier to
find your way around bus-routes in Indian cities), Hindi Locale for FreeBSD,
KWireless, Ziplib, libwi, Knight (a KDE frontend for chess playing engines),
KLookup (a LDAP capable addressbook for KDE), KXMLViewer (a KDE based XML
viewer written in Python) KLogViewer (a KDE based viewer for viewing syslog
messages) KHM (a KDE based hardware monitor)...and more including some in

Named after the Sanskrit term for a magician, Prabhu Ramachandran's MayaVi
<http://mayavi.sourceforge.net/> is a scientific data visualizer. Philip S
Tellis' httptype reads a list of http hosts and optionally the port number
for each of these. It then queries each of the hosts and displays the HTTP
server software of the host. Tellis is with the NCST in Mumbai and his
software is both at Sourceforge and the ncst.ernet.in pages.

Ashish Gulhati's Perl modules on the netropolis.org help one to do "various
things". Chirag Kantharia's work includes Bugster (a P2P application for
sharing MP3z and OGGz). He also worked on Yamit, Sentry Linux, Waba Virtual
Machine, Kollektive Linux (a distro aimed to be a graphics rich,
desktop-enhanced GNU/Linux distribution for newbies), and ANet (anonymous
peer to peer networking protocol).

Bugster, says Chirag, is no longer being developed. "Basically, I wrote it
cos we didn't have a machine back at the IIT-Bombay with disk large enough
to store all our mp3s. So the distributed storage and Bugster came to life,"
he told this correspondent. As of now Sentry Linux is not being developed,
and Kantharia wishes there was someone to take over. See

IMV (Information Meta View) system by Vinod G Kulkarni attempts to create a
web standard for information storage in a decentralized database.
Information is stored as a graph like structure spanning several service
providers. http://sourceforge.net/projects/imv/

On the other hand, Mget is a command line download manager, by Debajyoti
Bera. See freshmeat.net/projects/mget. TransConnect
<transconnect.sourceforge.net> by Ajay Kumar Dwivedi and Binand Raj S.
allows you "almost complete" access to the Internet, through a HTTP proxy
like squid. It lets one to connect to remote machines on any port, using
http tunneling.

Amit Kale's kgdb <kgdb.sourceforge.net> is a kernel patch, which allows one
to use gdb to debug linux kernels. Using it, its possible to place
breakpoints in kernel code, step through the code and observer variables.

>From Delhi, Raj Mathur's Kandalaya <kandalaya.org> consults in GNU/Linux,
network application integration and network security. Committed to the Free
Software-Open Source movement and its goals, Kandalaya which means
"abundance" in Sanskrit, contributes back its software packages. Like Hinv
(hardware inventory), Gmemusage (graphical memory usage viewer), PPP Dial-Up
Scripts (makes it easier to dial-out to your ISP) and Simple SMTP (does a
"simplistic checking" of how fast a mail server is).

This is not to say that big things happen only in the big cities. From tiny
Goa comes another interesting project. Glibms is Library management software
developed using PHP and PostgreSQL to automate the different activities
carried out in the library. It was put together by young engineering college
students Sharmad Naik, Gaurav Priyolkar and Hiren Lodhiya. Search
sourceforge.net for glibs

GNUYahoo is Parag Mehta and team's initiative to build a freely available
GNUmessenger for Yahoo! Started by few of GNU hackers in end-2000, it's
purely console-based with a geeky "readline" and "guile" interfaces.

One of the unusual stories is that of Anjuta <anjuta.sourceforge.net> This
software, written by Naba Kumar, a tech-whizz from the North East working in
Delhi, was named after the young coder's girlfriend!  Anjuta is a versatile
Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for C and C++ on GNU/Linux. It also
aims at marrying the flexibility and power of text-based command-line tools
with the ease-of-use of the GNOME graphical user interface.

www.tisya.co.in/indy/ takes one to an alpha release of the Indy Operating
Environment for the Linux kernel.  Indy OE has its beginings in a vision to
provide the world with a combination of, power offered by the Linux kernel
and a minimalist yet, an elegant and easy to use interface, according to its

There are also more ambitious initiatives being taken. 

IndLinux is a project to create a GNU/Linux distro that supports Indian
languages "from a GUI/Application level as well as Kernel level". Wanted:
volunteers. Sign up here! http://www.indlinux.org/

Major Linux initiatives are also drawing from the Indian talent pool.

KDE, one of the most popular of the free software window managers for Linux,
also has some Indians among the "persons behind KDE" listings. KDE, or the K
Desktop Environment is a more than just a windows manager; it's a complete
graphical environment. 

Navindram Umanee and the Melbourne-based Sirtaj Singh Kang are prominent
developers of Indian origin. There are likely to be others too, who might
have not been noticed just yet.

Sirtaj, or 'Taj' to his friends, has many claims to fame. Including: KDOC
(API doc generation tool), korn, karm, kview and kimgio (plugins for various
image formats).  Visit http://i18n.kde.org/ to find out about initiatives of
giving an Indian-language interface for KDE.

You wouldn't notice it easily, but there is a wide range of initiatives
being reported from across the region. 

Mumbai-based Amish Mehta's Cyberoam Authentication Client for various
platforms is meant for 24-hour online Internet on cable service. Check out

Mukund Deshmukh, from Nagpur, has come out with a Perl extension for an
Interactive Voice Response System.  Check www.betacomp.com Ivrs works like
this: someone phones a number, the system picks the call and a pre-recorded
message is played out. 24 x 7.  Your caller gets a voice menu -- to select
the info wanted. Besides, the caller can feed in his input info (access
code, ID number, etc) through the phone dial-pad. Based on his/her choice,
the relevant voice message is played back. It works in any language.

Sanisoft (www.sanisoft.com) also from Nagpur, run by
paedetrician-turned-software guru Dr Tarique Sani, offer their WAPpop (GPL
WAP-based POP3 mail client), of_calendar (calendar element for PHPlib's OOH
Forms Library... and RtoD (a Roman-to-Hindi transliterator). RtoD is
functioning at their interesting ghazal site www.aaina-e-ghazal.com

Sani's aaina-e-ghazal.com offers a trilingual dictionary of commonly used
words in 'ghazals'. To enhance the popularity of this site and help the
'ghazals' get a wider reach, the Urdu text is written in Devnagri, the
widely-used script of Hindi and other North Indian languages. The meanings
of the words used in the Ghazals are given in English, Hindi and the
regional language Marathi. 

By using a WAP (wireless-access protocol) enabled device, like a phone, PDA,
or palmtops, the software Sani wrote -- which is called WAPpop -- can read
mail from an Internet server, reply or forward mail, even delete mail and
send new messages.

The paedetrician-turned-software guru says he WAPpop still remains the only
Open Source software of its kind in India. It was also the first Open Source
software doing its job listed on prestigious international website
Freshmeat.net when the first version was released in July 2000. 

Open Source and Free Software does not mean Linux alone. 

There's a Free Software Foundation branch in India, which works out of
Kerala. Last monsoons it was inaugurated amidst a high-profile visit to
India by Richard Stallman, the founder of the global FSF. 

Stallman has once said: "The most fundamental way of helping other people is
to teach people how to do things better, to tell people things that you know
that will enable them to better their lives. For people who use computers,
this means sharing the recipes you use on your computer, in other words the
programs you run."

Hundreds of coders across India are putting this into practise. 

Besides Linux, there are also other Unix variants like FreeBSD, drawing
attention of India. Take the case of Joseph Koshy's FreeBSD Pages.

Bangalore-based Koshy (33) volunteers to fix bugs, tweak documentation, and
"do random jobs here and there in the source base". His projects include:
CIEE Database (website for distributing information on various government
funded schools in the Indian state of Karnataka), and Indian BSD (adapting
FreeBSD and other BSD-derived OSes to support the languages of the Indian
subcontinent). <http://people.freebsd.org/~jkoshy/>

On the Free Software front, coders from India are involved in projects such
as Guile (a library designed to help programmers create flexible
applications), Cool Hurd Translators (like the bzip2, reverse, Tar file
system, and quote translators), the Visual Emacs Calculator, GNU Hurd
Asynchronous Message Debugger, MiG > CORBA, Linux Device Drivers Emulation
in Hurd Space, porting Netfilter to Hurd, documentation for GNU OS Hacking,
and GNU Geek (a highly extensible framework for building console-based data
entry tools powered by GUILE and READLINE).

Other parts of South Asia are also following suit. www2.linuxpakistan.net is
the site of Linux enthusiasts across the border. From Bangladesh, the site
www.muquit.com lists a whole range of free software, quite a few linked to

Most noteworthy are the efforts being made to Indianise Linux.

>From down south, www.chennaikavigal.com are working to develop an office
suite "like MS-Word, Excel and Access" for Linux. It's already some way
there. There are also other products available -- like Pacman in Tamil!

Linux is offering software that might be relevant to India, even though it
is not created in India. Take the case of www.postvan.net/tablabeat
TablaBeat is a simple set of Perl scripts and a C++ program to permit
playback of Tabla rhythms. 

Perhaps even more impressive is an attempt to take computing to the
commanman through Indian-language solutions. 

This page was recently quietly (and without much ado) announced. Leading
someone on a Linux-based mailing-list to comment: "These guys are _already_
offering Indian language support from _the kernel_ up, not as an add-on that
is stuck on top of the OS. Imagine Pine in Tamil! 

This team is at IIT-Madras are really upto something. Don't get taken in by
their unostentatious web page: www.tenet.res.in/Donlab/Indlinux/

Introducing young minds to Linux is also an important task. In the last
column, IndiaComputes focussed on an attempt to take Linux education to
schools in Goa. 

At the TIFR, Mumbai <www.hbcse.tifr.res.in/gn> professor Nagarjuna G. is
undertaking some interesting projects. 'Fostering Free/Open Source
Technologies' (FOST) and running a mailing-list called GNU/Linux for
Education (GNU/LIFE). Some time back, he announced plans to put together a
CD of GNU/Linux tools that would be useful to engineering students.

Secunderabad-based Linux trainers Algologic came out with their CD called
'GNU/Linux in a Teaspoon (Ver. 3)'. It's a fascinating one CDROM collection
of tutorial material on Linux. See http://algolog.tripod.com

The LOST (Linux-One-Stanza-Tips) is a series of small tips for Linux users,
via the home-page of U S M Bish. http://geocities.com/usmbish/

M.N.Karthik's work is also going to make it easier for Linux enthusiasts
based anywhere to understand this OS, which has an initially-steep learning
curve. http://www.metlin.f2s.com/linux/ takes you to Layman's Linux FAQ,
with interesting tips on this unique OS. There's also a shell scripting
tutorial and a how-to on accessing Windows partitions.

http://freeos.com is a site listing all sorts of information relating to a
few dozen free operating systems, not just Linux. 

You could contribute too. Check out for the nearest LUG, or visit
linux-india.org Incidentally, http://www.linux.org/groups/india/ is a
somewhat-aging list of Linux user groups across India.

There are many Linux groups across various cities and states of India,
which can be found via www.yahoogroups.com. Of course, more active groups
like those in Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Kolkata have their own busy
mailing-lists which can be located by searching the Net.

This is only the beginning. As many more enter the field -- and get inspired
by the work of their classmates and colleagues -- more such initiatives
could burst forth on the scene. In time, this could become a self-fulfilling
prophecy, as India's contribution to GNU/Linux gets recognised worldwide. 


Frederick Noronha <fred@bytesforall.org> is a Goa-based freelance journalist
currently working on a sarai.net print-media fellowship to study the South
Asian contribution to GNU/Linux.