20 Dec 2001 taj   » (Master)

I attended India's first non-commercial Linux conf last week. It was held down south in Bangalore, arguably one of the nicest cities in the country. I was one of the only two free software developers there, yet the standard of the talks and good nature and behaviour of the crowd (1700 on the first day, almost 2x what they had planned for) was just amazing. I'm happy to see so many people in bangalore turning to linux - some of the smartest IT researches and geeks in the country were there (including the Simputer guys who made news last year) and what is standard practice in bangalore is bound to trickle down into the rest of the country. What was amazing was the number of government and defence dept people who were there - anyone who has interacted with the Indian bureaucrats will know what I mean - and not just present, but with there with eyes and ears open. A lot of these guys were using linux for their servers and some on their desktops.

I gave two one-hour talks this time, one about the KDE development platform, and one about the KDE project, similar to the one I gave at linux.conf.au in Jan.

Other things of note:

  • KDE is absolutely huge here.
  • Will there be a lot of free software users in India? YES! Indians are pragmatic people (if any stereotypes can be drawn), and to pick up Linux will come naturally. The entire user base here was established purely because Linux is extremely practical, this much was clear from the conference.
  • Will there ever be a huge number of free software developers from India? I guess so, as grows the number of middle-class students with access to the internet and decent hardware. Let's not deny how many free software developers come from this demographic. :) But for some time this number is going to be small. Certainly the culture of giving things away is hard for many to understand in a country as poor as India.
  • The technical level of the attendees spanned extremes. One guy came to my KDE development talk, and afterwards came up to me and asked, "Excuse me, but what is Qt and what is KDE?"
  • Bangalore is unquestionably the IT capital of India. Also, Bangalore has the largest number of pubs in any city in the country. Somehow these two facts have to be related.
  • Linux localization doesn't seem to going so well for Indian languages. Seems to me that teams from each country have to really push for localization themselves for it to get anywhere. There are a handful of serious localization projects going on in India and they are all running up against problems in both GNOME and KDE. Most of the cross-language tools that they have developed are java-based because that seems to be the only linux-hosted platform that can do it right so far.
Anyway, coming back to Delhi was a real downer. This city sux and I can't wait to get out. Coming Next Issue:

Sirtaj empirically determines how much sand it takes to destroy a Compaq Armada laptop. Also, do Goa's much-hyped raves stack up against the competition? Our travel reporter decides!

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