Free software and open source tools are helping a range of Indian entrepreneurs to build software solutions that enhance the potential of computing for millions.
With names like Hindawi, Zmanda and Dhvani or KDE Hindi, these products are helping an entire new generation of software developers.
Hindawi (hindawi.in) is a suite of open source programming languages. It allows people to write computer programs in languages other than English.
The Zmanda Recovery Manager (zmanda.com) is a perl-based utility used to automate backup and recovery of MySQL databases.
Dhvani (dhvani.sourceforge.net) is a text-to-speech Indian-language initiative. It allows a Simputer to read what the user types. It was built to ensure that literacy and English skills were not essential to use the Simputer.
Using images in conjunction with voice output in local languages makes a computing device accessible to a larger section of the Indian population. Other winners are Fedora Spins, and KDE Hindi of indlinux.org.
MayaVi (mayavi.sourceforge.net) is an open source tool that allows easy and interactive three-dimensional visualization of data.
“Popular tools available for the purpose at that time were proprietary and prohibitively expensive,” noted the Linux For You magazine, published from Delhi, which has announced its FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) India Awards for those involved in a “saga of innovation”.
Satyam worked on JTrac (jtrac.info), a FOSS “issue-tracking web application”. That is a computer software package which manages and maintains lists of issues, as needed by an organisation. It is used to create, update and resolve reported customer issues.
DeepRoot Linux team here has developed deepOfix (deeproot.in/deepofix), which “gives many proprietary mail servers a run for their money”, commented Linux For You.
Another of the Indian winners was TuxType – into which five students of the Government Engineering College at Thrissur built Unicode Malayalam support.
This made TuxType (tuxtype.sourceforge.net) the first FOSS typing tutor to bundle Unicode support for Indian languages, at a time when Indian language solutions in computing is eagerly awaited, so that the potential across the country can be better tapped.
WANem (wanem.sourceforge.net) is a wide area network (WAN) emulator, coming from the Tata Consultancy Services. It was built to provide team-members WAN access. Other WAN emulators were hardware-based, expensive and available to only a select few in test labs.
Microsoft to finally give software for low-cost laptops:
After a long dispute, Microsoft has agreed to offer Windows for the computers of ‘One Laptop Per Child’ (OLPC) educational project for children in developing nations. The alliance between Microsoft and OLPC, a non-profit association, was announced.
The software giant had resisted joining the project because the low-cost XO laptops in question used the Linux operating system, an open source alternative to Windows.
The small, sturdy XO laptops have been hailed for their innovative design. But they are sold mainly to governments and education ministries, and initial sales were slow, partly because officials were reluctant to buy machines that did not run Windows, the dominant operating system in the world.
The people who buy the machines are not the children who use them, but government officials in most cases said Nicholas Negroponte, founder of OLPC group and MIT professor, was quoted as saying by the Times. “And those people are much more comfortable with Windows.”
The XO laptop weighs 3.2 pounds and comes with a video camera, microphone, game-pad controller and a screen that rotates into a tablet configuration. The laptop now costs about $200 each and the project’s goal is to eventually bring the price down to about $100.
About 600,000 have been ordered since late last year, with Peru, Uruguay and Mexico making the largest commitments.
Two years ago, the Indian ministry of education dismissed the project’s laptop as “pedagogically suspect”, arguing that classrooms and teachers are a priority in the country. But some XO laptops are unofficially finding their way into Indian homes and schools.
The pact with Microsoft – which will add a $3 cost per machine – is not binding on OLPC. The Linux version will still be available, and the group will encourage outside software developers to create a version of the project’s educational software, called Sugar, that will run on Windows.
Taking a cue from OLPC, others are also trying to design inexpensive laptops for children in poorer nations, notably Intel with its Classmate PC, which runs Windows and is $400 or less.