[Fsf-friends] GNU/Linux Awareness Workshop

Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay gajo@softhome.net
Mon Feb 2 06:05:30 IST 2004

GNU/Linux Awareness Workshop

The Computer Science and Engineering Department of Jadavpur University
(www.jadavpur.edu) organised a 2 day workshop on GNU/Linux Awareness
on the 5th and 6th of January, 2004 at the Amitava Dey Memorial Hall.
The workshop was aimed at creating a base level awareness about
GNU/Linux, Free Software and the tools based on the Linux kernel.
Integrating with hands-on sessions, the workshop had as its primary
objective an appreciation of the GNU suite among various members of

This was a first-of-its-kind event organised in the university. Given
the fact that it was organised at a very short notice with a large
section of the faculty remaining busy with examination schedules,
there was some apprehension about the level of participation. The
first day saw over 20 participants turning up for the session(s).

Day 1

The progam began at 1030 hours with an address by Prof. Manoj Mitra,
Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Technology.

Dr P K Das [1] chaired the meeting

Session 1

In his keynote address on "Free Software Concepts and GNU/Linux ", Dr
A R Thakur [2] talked about the various domains which would see a
change when a proper choice of Free Software was made. Elaborating on
the business side implementations of GNU/Linux, Dr Thakur tempered his
talk with real-life experiences from the field of Bio-informatics that
faculty members could immediately relate to. Drawing liberally from
Eric Raymond's 'Cathedral and the Bazaar', he elaborated on the
macro-economic aspects of Free Software deployment in India. His
address clearly drove home the point just how far GNU/Linux has
matured over the years. Going beyond its original niche of
universities and global hacker communities, GNU/Linux has been
embraced with enthusiasm, supported and contributed to by a major
section of the global IT majors e.g. IBM, Sun, Oracle, HP/Compaq,
Dell, Sybase, SAP AG and Novell just to name a few.

The Free Software Foundation of India [3]was represented by Sankarshan
Mukhopadhyay [4]. Talking about the concepts and connotations of
'Free' in the 'Free Software Foundation', he used analogous components
of 'muft' and 'mukt' to elaborate on the 4 freedoms. This lead on to a
discussion of the GNU-GPL. Using actual case studies to outline the
future and possibilities using Free Software in different social
sectors like education, mass literacy, health, e-governance and
overall technological empowerment of people, he mentioned of some the
on-going projects across India employing FLOSS technologies to develop
and implement solutions that deliver their fullest potential.

Indranil Das Gupta [5]representing the Kolkata GNU/Linux User Group
[6]presented a case study on Low Cost Computing using FLOSS. He talked
about the successful implementation of a Linux Terminal Server Project
(LTSP)[7] done at the Sociology Dept of Jadavpur University. His talk
went into detail regarding some of the checks and measures essential
for choosing the hardware and while evaluating tenders for LTSP
systems from vendor/system integrators. Moving to the exact
cost-matrix of the total implementation, he pointed out how using
off-the-shelf commodity components, each such fully multi-media and
Internet ready nodes can be setup at the maximum cost of ~ Rs. 12,500
only. An enticing mention was made of the fact that a LTSP network
could be used for much more than providing a better
computer-to-student ratio. That when used in tandem with OpenMosix, it
can become an effective parallel processing cluster, utilizing the
idle cpu-cycles and redundant memory as a step towards grid computing.
He ended his talking by drawing the audience's attention to the fact
that the system has not had a single failure or downtime since its
commissioning 3 months back.

Since there was still an hour to the lunch break, the organisers
decided to move on to the next session immediately. And so, Dr. Pradip
K Das [1] started on his presentation on the Fundamentals of
GNU/Linux. His lecture moved through the principles of modern
operating systems and UI standards. Using very simple terms and
weaving in and out of a central theme, Prof Das, created a detailed
software matrix which compared the Free Software Technology stack
against proprietary ones. Moving beyond an excellent
application-for-application matching, Prof Das explained that the
domains where GNU/Linux currently caters to range from the Desktop to
scaling all the way to Enterprise systems, that virtually every
industry today is using the Operating System across all levels. A
pithy presentation its was well-received by the audience, who came
forward with quite a few questions of their own.

Session 2

After the lunch break, Prof Chandan Majumdar [8] spoke on "Networking
and Security using Linux". Highlighting the networking and kernel
specifics of GNU/Linux, Prof Majumdar took the audience through the
actual architecture of the OS. Shorn of any rhetorics, he pulled up
real-life examples of use and experience with the OS in the department
during execution of various projects. He explained how open-source of
GNU/Linux helped them to create custom kernels with near-realtime
properties and capable of running off flash RAM devices. Highlighting
the security aspects of the OS, he explained how the user permission
model allowed for a highly fine-tuned access control over computing
resources like files etc, particularly in networked environments. On
the topic of computer viruses - the bane of the existence of users of
a certain very popular OS, he elaborated that while it is technically
possible to author viruses on GNU/Linux, the extent of damage possible
by such is seriously limited due to the inherent multi-user,
multi-level permission level available on GNU/Linux. Using the
whiteboard to highlight key points, Prof Majumdar took the audience
through an unbiased appraisal of the pros and cons of GNU/Linux. While
he pointed out that stability and performance as key reasons for the
global surge in mainstream use of the OS, he put it down to lack of
extensive driver support for commodity hardware (as compared to a
certain well-known OS) and absence of good quality documentation as
challenges facing the Free Operating System.

After a round of tea and snacks, Prof Majumder's talk was followed by
Prof S Neogy who chose to elaborate on GNU/Linux commands. Through a
session titled GNU/Linux commands and OpenOffice, she explained with
examples the most common and indispencible commands, with particular
attention to bash shell. Introducing the bash shell and scripting
basics to an audience for some of whom this was the first brush with
the bash, she providided lucid explanation of the different commands.
The participants were seen busy noting down her slides.

After moving the basic commands Prof Neogy moved on to the Opensource
Office package -- OpenOffice [9]. The participants were provided with
explanations of the structure and functioning of the constituent
packages like - Writer, Calc, Draw, Impress etc. The initial
discussion on the suite completed, a complete hands-on tutorial was
reserved for Day 2

This was followed by a mini open-house discussion where the audience
raised questions and these were answered by the speakers present.
However, mention must be made of Prof P K Das and Prof Nandini
Mukherjee [10]who livened up the talks and discussions with their
valued comments and interjections.

Day 2

Session 1

This was designed to be a full fledged hands-on demonstration session
on topics discussed on the Day 1. Using pre-designed course material
and examples from text books, Prof Mukherjee and Prof Neogy interacted
with the participants to provide functional knowledge of the bash
shell along with introduction to the OpenOffice suite. A steady stream
of questions, joy at writing out the first shell script meant that it
was a highly enjoyable session for both the faculty members and the

Session 2

The Bangla Localisation Project of GNU/Linux is stylised as The Ankur
Bangla Project [11]. This session was a demonstration of the recently
released AnkurBangla LiveDesktop v1.0. Based on the concept of a
LiveCD, the AnkurBangla LiveDesktop (Technology Preview) showcases the
maturity of the project and also traces the roadmap for the project.
On behalf of Ankur [11], Indranil Das Gupta [5] and Sankarshan
Mukhopadhyay [4] talked about the Challenges and Possibilities of
Bangla L10n. A lively Q&A session also evolved on the various
technological aspects of the project as well as developer teams and

The workshop also had an Open House Session where participants
directly interacted with the various speakers to clarify doubts, put
forward questions and offer insights into the programme.

Prof N Mukherjee conducted the Vote of Thanks and expressed a wish to
conduct such workshop on a larger scale. She thanked all the
participants and the speakers for attending the workshop at such short
notice and talked about the need hold more such meetings, formal and
informal to ensure that GNU/Linux awareness can be emphatically
carried out.

Notes and Links:

[1] Dr Pradip K Das, Dept of Computer Science and Engineering, pkdass
at ieee dot org

[2] Dr Ashok R Thakur, Pro-VC West Bengal University of Technology,
arthakur at cubmb dot ernet dot in

[3] Free Software Foundation of India: www.fsf.org.in

[4] Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay, sankarshan at bengalinux dot org

[5] Indranil Das Gupta, Co-ordinator ILUG-Kolkata, indradg at ilug-cal
dot org

[6] Indian GNU/Linux Users Group-Kolkata: www.ilug-cal.org

[7] Linux Terminal Server Project: www.ltsp.org

[8] Prof Chandan Majumder, Dept of Computer Science and Engineering,
chandanm at vsnl dot com

[9] www.openoffice.org

[10] Prof Nandini Mukherjee, Dept of Computer Science and Engineering,
nmukherjee at vsnl dot com

[11] Ankur Bangla Project - www.bengalinux.org

A place for talking about GNOME
Let's extend the footprint !!

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