“From be­ing a con­sumer of open source In­dia is now a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to it”

OpenSource For You - - Contents -

Kishore Bhar­gava, CEO, Linkaxis Tech­nolo­gies

As I waited at the cof­fee shop to in­ter­view one of In­dia’s pi­o­neer­ing open source ex­perts in Gu­ru­gram (Gur­gaon), a slim man walked to­wards me and with a pleas­ant smile, asked if I was Syeda Been­ish from OSFY. As we chat­ted about tech­nol­ogy and open source, I could sense that Kishore Bhar­gava, CEO, Linkaxis Tech­nolo­gies, and an early adopter of FOSS, was an ex­cel­lent leader. He had no airs about him, and his deep un­der­stand­ing of tech­nol­ogy left me spell­bound. Over a cup of cof­fee, he re­counted his jour­ney in In­dia’s soft­ware in­dus­try and talked about how open source has evolved in In­dia. The ex­cerpts…

The jour­ney be­gan with ‘What Next?’

The first time I came to know about open source seems like a long, long time ago. Let me take you back in time! Way back in late 1987, we man­aged to get ac­cess to ERNET (Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search Net­work, set up in 1986 by the then Depart­ment of Elec­tron­ics). Apart from ac­cess, we also got so in­volved that we started help­ing the ERNET mem­bers by fix­ing is­sues for them. This was when we came to know that the global mar­ket was get­ting ready with a much more af­ford­able, or rather, a free al­ter­na­tive to UNIX (a costly af­fair then). Linux, as it was called, ex­cited us.

In fact, in 1991, I, along with three friends, who were all Linux en­thu­si­asts, painfully man­aged to down­load the

SLS 0.91, the first Linux dis­tri­bu­tion pack­age onto 41 flop­pies. Af­ter down­load­ing it, the first thing that came to our mind was, “What next?”

This ques­tion cre­ated a dis­tance be­tween me and Linux, as I did not know what to do with it. Years later, I was in the US at­tend­ing a sem­i­nar where free copies of Slack­ware were dis­trib­uted. On com­ing back home I re­alised the enor­mous po­ten­tial and the pos­si­bil­i­ties it was open to. And since then, Linux has been an in­te­gral part of my life.

I fell in love with open source soft­ware only on the se­cond en­counter

Though open source soft­ware ex­cited me, we could not go along with it ini­tially. But af­ter my en­counter with Slack­ware in 1994, there has been no look­ing back. I feel happy to be one of the very few early adopters of FOSS in In­dia. But af­ter tast­ing open source, I wanted oth­ers also to en­joy it and make use of the many ben­e­fits it of­fers. In fact, I feel it’s the ef­forts of many like-minded peo­ple that helped open source evolve from be­ing con­sid­ered a ‘strange thing’ to be­com­ing main­stream.

I am a tech­nol­ogy con­sul­tant with over 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in the ar­eas of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, mes­sag­ing so­lu­tions, ap­pli­ca­tion de­sign and de­ploy­ment, se­cu­rity sys­tems and plan­ning, and strat­egy. My core spe­cial­ity lies in net­work ar­chi­tec­ture, se­cu­rity, uni­fied mes­sag­ing, project man­age­ment, IT plan­ning and strat­egy. I have suc­cess­fully as­sisted sev­eral global cor­po­ra­tions, as well as non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions in defin­ing their tech­nol­ogy roadmaps and in­stalling world-class so­lu­tions for their op­er­a­tions in In­dia and glob­ally. Need­less to say, all of this was done us­ing free and open source soft­ware and tech­nolo­gies.

The need for events and a strong com­mu­nity

In the 1990s, open source was to­tally a new con­cept. The big­gest teething is­sues in­cluded com­pat­i­bil­ity of hard­ware and soft­ware. To give you an ex­am­ple, to run Linux, you needed spe­cific drivers as oth­er­wise the mo­dem would not be com­pat­i­ble. For a per­son like me who is a wildlife photographer, there were no good open source video edit­ing or photo edit­ing soft­ware. All this was ham­per­ing mass adop­tion.

In 2000, we ini­ti­ated events like FOSS.In and Freed.In to cre­ate aware­ness in Ben­galuru and Delhi, re­spec­tively. Th­ese events earned huge cred­i­bil­ity and con­trib­uted a lot to the adop­tion of open source. FOSS.In emerged as a premier event with 3000 peo­ple at­tend­ing this five-day event.

For the first four years we fo­cused on cre­at­ing aware­ness and in­creas­ing the con­sump­tion of open source. The next six years went into chan­nelis­ing the con­tri­bu­tions.

Open source is all about the com­mu­nity be­cause, from the start, we saw like-minded peo­ple com­ing to­gether to use it; so it acted as a knowl­edge or ex­pe­ri­ence shar­ing plat­form. This is how the idea of hav­ing ILUGs (In­dia Linux User Groups) came to our minds. There were al­ready groups in dif­fer­ent cities work­ing in iso­la­tion, and it took us some time to bring them un­der one ban­ner with state/city spe­cific chap­ters.

For 15 years we nur­tured the com­mu­nity, and then stepped back.

The com­mu­nity changes ev­ery year as new tal­ent keeps join­ing and con­tribut­ing. The graph is only wit­ness­ing an up­ward tra­jec­tory.

The com­mu­nity is still thriv­ing; for in­stance, Python has a very ac­tive com­mu­nity to­day.

What is open source?

Let me clar­ify that Linux hit the In­dian mar­ket when piracy was at its peak. So, the ar­gu­ment of it be­ing free was of not much sig­nif­i­cance ei­ther to in­di­vid­ual users or to en­ter­prises. The only mantra that worked was the free­dom it gave the con­sumers. All our ef­forts went into pro­mot­ing ‘free­dom’ and that’s how we came up with an event named Freed.In.

Also, open source is lot more than free code! It’s your code, your baby! One should un­der­stand that de­vel­op­ers open source their projects be­cause of the trust in the com­mu­nity. They keep on de­vel­op­ing be­cause they know that it is a good prac­tice to de­velop along with peo­ple. This con­cept of the com­mu­nity in the open source world is so unique.

In fact, to­day the in­dus­try recog­nises open source as ‘the need of the hour’ and prefers to hire peo­ple with an open source back­ground rather than those cer­ti­fied on pro­pri­etary tech­nolo­gies.

The mo­ti­va­tion

I am happy that I was among the found­ing mem­bers for ILUG-Ben­galuru, ILUG-Delhi and ILUG-Goa. Dur­ing this jour­ney I also wrote a lot to spread the word about open source. In­ter­ac­tions with the me­dia and TV ap­pear­ances also helped in spread­ing the mes­sage. Though the ef­forts that went into this ex­er­cise did not bring im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits, we all knew that con­tin­u­ous per­sis­tence would pay off, some day. My pro­fes­sional strength lies in con­cep­tu­al­is­ing, in­stalling and main­tain­ing the tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture of large, multi-lo­ca­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions with open source in the back­ground.

What keeps me mo­ti­vated is the act of help­ing oth­ers. I be­lieve knowl­edge should be shared. By shar­ing knowl­edge it does not get di­min­ished; rather, it only ex­pands. And open source soft­ware does ex­actly that – it shares knowl­edge and helps oth­ers.

My hob­bies in­clude wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy and cof­fee brew­ing. Th­ese two things keep adding flavour to my life.

The one book I al­ways rec­om­mend is ‘The Art of Com­mu­nity’ by Jono Ba­con. Open source is more about the peo­ple than it is about the tech­nol­ogy. I also rec­om­mend ‘Revo­lu­tion OS’ and ‘The Code’, two very well-made doc­u­men­taries on the sub­ject.

To­mor­row…

For me, open source will al­ways be what Li­nus Bene­dict Tor­valds, the creator of the Linux ker­nel once said, “Talk is cheap. Show me the code.” It is very in­ter­est­ing to know that in the 90s In­dia started out as a con­sumer of open source soft­ware and be­came one of its largest con­sumers by the 2000s. To­day, In­dia is a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to the world of open source, and

I am glad to have wit­nessed and par­tic­i­pated in this tran­si­tion. For In­dia, there’s no more ‘talk­ing’; it is all about the code now.

So the jour­ney that be­gan with ‘What next?’ (end­ing with a ques­tion mark) has now reached a point where ‘What next!’ ends with an ex­cla­ma­tion mark.

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