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Free Software : The current fashion in Kerala

December 12th, 2008 15 comments

Kerala is abuzz with free software mantra after the present  Government of Kerala formally endorsed free software as one of its natural allies. Lot of common people are showing interest in free software and its bi-products such as copy left books , wikipedia etc. As a long time user of free software, I am pretty amused at the
current hype.

If you look closely you can see different genre of self styled  free software pundits. I will try to list out some of the common types that you can see on Kerala streets.

a) The Total Newbie

These are the most common variety. They have heard of RMS and Linus and they think that free software is free beer, Most of their views on free software is formulated by hyped news paper articles. They are afraid of trying out Free Software and most
probably stick to their current computing platform. Engineering students, Government employees, University teachers, Cyber police, Journalists and petty politicians of both left and right wing are generally of this type. They are mostly innocuous.

Newbies and Total Newbies wondering about the free beer

b)Newbie

This category is seen among school teachers , some school students and very few members of general public. They have read about the virtues of free software and attempted installing it at least once. Most of them have lost valuable data in the process. I am sure their interest in free software will die out when they find out that they can not play an MP3 on Ubuntu/Fedora after installation.

c) Free Software Volunteers

These are the most dangerous type you may encounter. I think there are a quite few of them around. They speak about RMS, GPL and freedom. They can deliver fiery speeches and will laugh at you in public if you boot up the other OS. I had a pretty good encounter with one of them recently. I was teaching some  college lecturers about the use of computers in recording and processing music. Unfortunately most of the commercial music software is available on another platform and I had to prepare my classes on it.

The so called free software volunteer who  looked at my teaching schedule  asked me , ” Hey , I know you are a free software chap. Why don’t you teach them all these software on Free platform. Let their souls also be saved. “ . I politely pointed out that there is not much free stuff available on FOSS platforms. He then asked me to try all proprietary stuff on Wine. I said “OK , can you tell me how do  I install ‘foobar’ with wine”.  He tried for some  five minutes and  said, “  I am busy working on a speech for the upcoming free software  conference. I will call you once the article is written”. I haven’t heard from him since.

A  Typical Volunteer

Free software volunteers can be subdivided further

i) Pure Volunteers

The Pure volunteers have never installed free software by themselves and they don’t know how to operate it .They have memorized the Jargon file and quote from it even in deep sleep. They are driven by their ego and make a living by oratory skills and other gimmicks . Pure volunteers will respond to all of your queries for help with wrong answers. Their target  audience is mainly newbies and total newbies.

If a  newbie says ,“XYZ make video card is not recognized in Fubuntu” .  A Pure Volunteer  will reply , “ Dude, you are using the wrong distro. Use UDORA with kernel 2.X.X” . The Kerala  LUG/FSUG  mailing lists are infested with them.

All the free  software meets will be managed by Pure Volunteers. If you are  planning to have a one day FOSS meet, just find out the nearest volunteer and buy him a Biriyani. If you closely look at the presentations and documents  they make , you can read a PPT renamed as ODP PDFs made from MS office etc. They secretly use MS office to write all their correspondence, but never admit it. Some of them will object to the term FOSS. ( Only GPL V3  is acceptable) .  Keep a safe distance from them. They roam around with catchy T shirts depicting  GNU and Penguin.

ii) Organizers of free software groups.

The more enterprising among Pure Volunteers will eventually become Organizers.  You can find these type of people as founders of free software startups , NGOs, LUGs and FSUGs. They come form different walks of life .They also preach a lot but they have a ulterior motive of making money. Their thinking is like this “Let the government adopt free software , we are the only authorized/official group. So naturally all money should come to us”. They are adept in keeping away closed source stuff they use from public view and generally very arrogant. Deal with them carefully. They will steal your skills and market it.

d) Power Users.

Power users of free software are sometimes found. They know what they do and may not preach about what they do. You can find a few lurking in some of the Linux user groups around. They are generally  timid  and gentle. Most of them have a dual boot setup and wont mind admitting that they use windows.

e) Geeks

They are sighted very rarely. They tinker and work on command line. Typical geek definitions apply. They are averse to company and generally  found with    command prompts.

f) Free software contributors.

I have not seen many of them in recent past. Of course, there are several Keralites contributing to many free software projects. Most of them live outside Kerala. ( Pretty difficult to survive in Gods own hell) .  There are some minor free software projects started by resident Keralites. These projects die off quickly once the number of developers cross the magical figure of one. I am not naming any but try to meet some of the so called contributors on mailing  list and ask him about finer details of the projects directions.

The average Keralaite is confused about computers , software and freedom. For him free software is another government scheme like free noon meals for school students. :)Let us see how long the hype will last. Finally, let me ask how many kernel developers are there in Kerala , or Show me 10 Debian developers who are resident in Kerala.
Update: If you want all the above types, have a look at the photo blog of Arky.