April 6, 2009
When NASA decided to build Mars Exploration Rovers at a cost of several hundred million dollars, it chose free and open source software to power the robots. Launched on the Martian surface in 2003, the rovers are still going strong today. When Amrita decided to build a complex ERP software solution for its 1300-bed specialty hospital AIMS, the decision was taken to use a free and open source operating system and database. Free and open source software (FOSS) is now a world-wide movement; many computer companies are investing their resources to support the effort.
For example, take the case of Sun Microsystems. Its operating system Solaris, initially a proprietary product, is now also available in its open source version. Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham students have, in fact, contributed to the development of this product. Abhilash TG, a final year B Tech student at Amrita was the first person not employed by Sun to fix a bug in OpenSolaris’s Open High Availability Cluster. Senior executives from Sun Microsystems and other companies were in Amrita recently as resource persons and to participate in FOSSTER 09, Amrita’s first national conference organized to promote the use of free and open source software and technologies.
Conceived and organized by students, the conference had extensive support from the Amrita faculty and administration. Nearly a hundred non-Amrita delegates — students, faculty members and professionals from industry — in addition to hundreds from Amrita, participated. “We wanted to promote the awareness of FOSS and take steps to create a user base competent in the use of this technology,” stated Avinash Joshi, the student coordinator. Avinash will graduate with an engineering degree from Amrita next year; he was the one to first float the idea about the conference a few months ago. “I am happy that we have met these objectives,” he added.
Invited speakers included several eminent names from the FOSS community. The sessions were organized in two parallel tracks — technology/education and culture/society — and covered topics as varied as Linux, blogging, 3D games, movie-making, Drupal. The keynote address on the inaugural day by Mr. Nageshwara Rao, Sun’s Senior Site Director of its India Engineering Center, underscored the importance of FOSS in students’ lives in terms of employability, becoming part of a vibrant community, and learning and sharpening technical skills. The importance of FOSS in the world of emerging technologies was also highlighted.
Most sessions were house-full, delegates participated enthusiastically. “I learned so many new concepts; I am inspired to develop new skills now,” said M. Sangeeta, B Tech student from Bannariamman Institute of Technology in Tamil Nadu, which sent nearly 90 student-delegates. “You all have done a great job!” added Yadu Nand B, from College of Engineering, Trivadrum. Several sessions were ‘taught’ by Amrita students and staff. These included two demos on installation and customization of GNU/Linux and doing everyday things with it; the sessions made migration to this operating system look easy. A session on building websites using the content management system, Drupal, was also conducted by Amrita students.
Multiple sessions on blogging were included. “I learned to blog late in my life,” stated Mr. Chandrasekharan Nair, a retired jawan, now a farmer. Mr. Nair helps other farmers through his blog; he publishes correct rubber statistics and campaigns against genetically modified crops. “I am glad I could attend his talk,” said Swapna Laxman, B Tech student. “The talk was moving and inspirational. Mr. Nair’s experience proves that age is not a bar for learning new technologies.” Additional sessions on blogging were conducted by ‘Uncle’ Chandrakumar who contributes to community service through his blogs, Anand Subramaniam, a professional blogger and Arun Basil, a student, whose blogging has brought him fame and fortune.
Apoorv Singhal, a final year BBM student in Amrita, was the event manager for this event. “I want to make my career in Event Management, I learnt a lot from having the opportunity to plan for this event,” he shared. “Initially there was a lot of turmoil but in the end, everything worked out well; the conference was a big success.” “I am very happy with the response to the conference,” added Dr. Sankaran, Principal of the School of Engineering, the chief patron of this initiative of the students. “The response exceeded our expectations. I am glad that the students came forward with the idea and we were able to provide them the needed support.”
For more information about the conference, please see http://foss.amrita.ac.in