"Open Source Software is maturing rapidly"

CIOL Bureau
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MUMBAI, INDIA: “Open Source Software is maturing rapidly and different stakeholders in India are looking at it as a serious option for adoption. Government enterprises, developers community, academia and users in verticals have in their recent years have made specific moves for adoption," said S. Ramakrishnan, director general, C-DAC on the two-day National Conference on Open Source Software (NCOSS - 09).


Centre for Development Advanced Computing (C-DAC), with support from Computer Society of India (CSI) and IEEE Computer Society have conceived the event to bring together the various groups working on developing Open Source Applications.

Inauguarating the event, Prof D B Phatak of IIT, Mumbai stressed the need for India to strive to be a net-giver from its current role of a 'net-taker' with respect to the world wide open source community.

Prof C R Muthukrishnan of IIT (Chennai) delivered the keynote address, focussing on the possible changes in the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) environment as industry adoption of FOSS is picking up momentum.


“Institutions such as C-DAC and the vendor community are taking these opportunities well. The coming years will help overcome the barriers and take advantage of the opportunities in Open Source Software adoption in multiple verticals. NCOSS is another step with a specific focus on application layers and has received excellent response in case studies, reports on tools, etc” added Ramakrishnan.

Prof Prabhu Ramachandran of IIT (Mumbai), a well known FOSS contributor, spoke about the use of Python resources for rapid development of scientific applications.

C-DAC has recently been awarded the second phase of the National Resource Centre project for FOSS, which is now a multi-institute activity spread across the country involving multiple C-DAC centres, IITs of Chennai and Mumbai, IIIT Bangalore, etc.


The second phase looks at a number of fresh challenges including accessibility, building of knowledge repositories, enhancement of the well-known Gnu-C compiler, service oriented architecture, and so on. The conference marks an apt start to this activity as well. Around 100 participants from academia, industry and government are attending the event.


NCOSS – The Journey so far


A conference with this kind of focus and approach is not yet common. NCOSS is conceived of as an academic style conference, on a practically significant topic, with a specific focus on application layer of open source. Much of open source is about 'letting your code talk'; getting the developers and supporters to write down their experience, as a paper is not easy.

However, given the considerations above, it is important to make a beginning to get these people to share their experiences in a way that others can refer to and relate to. So, the conference emphasised on written papers, and subjected them to international standard refereeing process to select good quality material for presentation.

Over a hundred papers were recieved. Based on the refereeing, about 25 papers were accepted which will be presented in the conference by the respective authors. They span a good range of areas, from e-governance to e-learning and application development, showing the effectiveness in using FOSS solutions in these areas.


There are stories of developing fresh systems to meet niche requirements, of adopting/adapting solutions to individual needs, of building individualised applications on top of FOSS solutions, and so on. These papers are available as printed proceedings published by Allied Publishers, Delhi.

Open Source Beyond Gnu/Linux

Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) has, today, moved beyond being a mystery word. There is significant degree of awareness among the industry, academia and even Governments. While there is still much to be done in this area, in order to expand the reach of FOSS to larger fractions of the country and harvest the many advantages that FOSS brings, the issues are largely well understood, and resources are available. The challenges have moved on to other dimensions.


One of the wide-spread misconceptions about open source is the confusion with Linux. For many, open source software means the Linux system, or at best, the Gnu/Linux-based desktop system with associated programmes such as a office suite and web browser. Some believe that anything that runs on Linux is open source, and conversely, anything that runs on Windows or such proprietary operating systems is not open source.

Desktop or operating system is just a small part of the space covered by open source.  Excellent software systems are available in a variety of application domains. Moodle, Drupal, Eclipse, Weka, etc are some examples. Many of these have good and active development community, good user/developer documentation, large user base, and so on thus making a good case for adoption where such solutions are needed.

Thus, today, if you are looking for application software for any domain, it is worthwhile to look at the open source repositories; chances are high that you will find something that approximately meets your requirements. Adapting such solutions by filling in the gap in requirements is, often, a preferable alternative to developing them from scratch.


Since you are focussing on the gap-filling, the investment of additional development time can reduce drastically. As you are using fairly well established software for much of the work, you have relatively little worries about testing and debugging these parts, enabling you to focus your energy on your extensions. The existing developer/user community for the software that you intend to adopt, may be a useful resource in guiding the project.

Open source development thrives on constructive competition, and hence usually provides a much higher degree of interoperability than proprietary solutions. This could be through use of open standards for data storage and protocols, through support of commonly used connectors, and through open APIs.

Despite all these advantages, the adoption of FOSS above desktop level is still low. One reason is lack of awareness about the existence of these applications. Much of the awareness and evangelistic efforts by various communities focus on Linux, or the desktop suite of software. Second is the lack of documented case studies and experience sharing as to the use of these softwares. Locating reliable, high quality and well-supported packages from the lakhs of packages in repositories like can be a nightmare. The seeds of NCOSS conference lie here.