Going From "Ow" To "Wow" In Open Source
Venkat Mangudi, an open source evangelist and OSI Days speaker, recalls how his 10-year-old kid made him realise that Linux should be made compulsory in schools. He also explains how FOSS came to the rescue of small businesses, the new open technologies revolutionalising the world and how to overcome the 'Ow' of discomfort in open source to get a 'Wow' of admiration!
Venkat is an open source evangelist based out
of Bengaluru, India. He is passionate about open source and
speaks/writes about open source whenever possible. He writes for publications like Businessgyan which help the small
and medium enterprises. He has spoken on various topics in OSI
Days and Interop among other conferences. He manages two
companies, AssetMapr Inc (www.assetmapr.com)
and Venkat Mangudi Consulting Pvt Ltd (www.venkatmangudi.com). In his spare time (of which he has none these days), he loves to
play golf, go wine tasting and cook.
Please tell us a
little about your tryst with Linux and open source.
I started using Linux
more than a decade ago when it had serious teething issues. Since six
years now, I have been evangelising open source and Linux. While
working with apps in Europe and the US, I have always kept a lookout
for open source alternatives and remained in tune with the FOSS
world. When I was implementing PeopleSoft CRM for PeopleSoft and
Oracle, I was aware of SugarCRM. Even in its early days, it was a
reasonable contender for the commercial packages. Of course, it was
fraught with issues and bugs then, nevertheless, it has grown now to
be a major choice for users worldwide. Ever since I returned to India
in 2006, I have been actively writing and speaking on FOSS as well as
on implementing FOSS enterprise applications for small and medium
businesses. The reason why I focussed on such businesses was that
they lacked a good advisor when it came to technology and business.
They cannot afford the big guns and the small players are often
inexperienced except in their particular application to provide an
unbiased recommendation. Working with enterprise application giants
worldwide has taught me what enterprise applications should really be
and how it could bring improvement for their organisations. However,
at the same time, I am not an advocator of esoteric management
theories like the theory of constraints or balanced scorecard because
it simply doesn't make sense to think along those lines when there is
an issue in basic processes.
According to you,
what role is open source playing in the technology world, currently,
and going forward, how do you foresee the landscape evolving?
Open source is
certainly the way forward. I have no doubt that FOSS will be the
single largest contender for all system and application softwares in
the near future. We are in exciting times. People have started
looking at FOSS as an alternative that is not just limited to the
geeks. Although I agree that significant challenges need to be
addressed before it becomes the first choice and not just an
alternative for users, it is only a matter of time before everything
will be FOSS, as the technological landscape is rapidly evolving.
Commercial apps will become outcasts then. In fact, it would not be
surprising to find large apps like SAP and Oracle to be licensed
under open source in future. After all, it's in the services and not
the software where the money lies. No organisation could use just any
software the way it is. Every organisation has its own unique needs.
FOSS makes it possible for organisations to ensure that software can
be used effectively. We need to make sure that a proper support
infrastructure is available to FOSS to boost consumer confidence.
Linux completed 20
years this year; what according to you has been the landmark
achievement/development in this space?
In the past 20 years,
Linux has evolved from a geeky offering to a mainstream operating
system. More and more people are considering it as an alternative,
especially in times of the recession. That's the good news. The bad
news, I am afraid is that most of the people are unaware of open
source. While they may have heard of the term and linked it to Linux,
the word 'open' sparks an irrational fear in them that it could be
prone to data security issues. Adequate awareness is yet to be spread
on Linux and open source. In this regard, I think OSI Days is doing
its bit. But it's not enough.
Lots more is still left
to be done. We need to visit schools and colleges to ensure that all
young minds are familiar with Linux. In schools, computer learning is
restricted to Windows. My 10-year-old comes home and wants to
practice on MS Word. And I don't have a single computer with Windows
at home. How can we let this happen to our kids? We need to get more
pro-active at the school level and advocate the useage of Linux
instead of Windows.
The biggest achievement
for Linux in my opinion, has been its acceptance in the Indian BFSI
sector. The fact that such an extra cautious industry has
wholeheartedly accepted Linux, speaks a lot about Linux.
What are the
challenges in open source adoption at developers' and/or
implementers' level, and how can these challenges be overcome?
There are many
challenges for open source at all levels. Awareness is a key issue
among them. It is surprising that many software engineers and
developers haven't a clue about open source.
Recently, at a meeting
with a client, the developer of the incumbent home grown software
(.Net/MS SQL) actually declared that open source is a security
issue. So I invited him to the OSI Days this year. I hope that he
attends it and that should open his eyes to reality!.
As you can see, if
software engineers with four to five years of experience are
ignorant, what do we expect from users who really don't care much
about technology? After all, technology is just an enabler and should
augment the user's work.
Another big challenge
for open source is that most of us, ie the Indian software
community, are consumers of open source. How many of us have
contributed the code back? The answer is a very small percentage of
Advocating the use of
FOSS to end users is another big challenge. Most organizations do not
have the money to spend on selling FOSS, unless you count the big
guys like Redhat. Much of our work revolves around making people
aware of FOSS solutions and how they make better business sense. We
need an apex body like NASSCOMM to help in promoting FOSS.
Could you share some
of the open source technologies/platforms/languages et al
that you are excited about?
There are a plethora of
exciting open source stacks available today. Other than the
ubiquitous LAMP stack, Ruby on Rails, Django and Perl also excite me.
I also cannot wait to know what HTML5 is going to deliver for the
bandwidth hungry populace. Then, enterprise open source applications
like ERP, CRM, EPM, BI and CMS are all set to make such a huge
difference to the way the world sees itself. Talking abot
Virtualization & Cloud Computing technologies, they are
definitely going to make hardware redundant. I can go on forever,
naming several of these exciting technologies but the time is too
little to learn everything.
It astounds me that the
power of my little cell phone is far greater than the first PC I ever
used. Android, Meego and Symbian are bringing revolutionary
technologies to the common man. It was very heartening to see my
illiterate gardener use the address book on his cellphone. He had
memorised certain alphabets and assigned them to people in his
address book. So, even though he cannot read/write English, he could
pull up the phone number from his phone's address book. Amazing,
Oh, I almost forgot. I
had a look at Dart today and went gaga over its nice and elegant
language. Too bad, a simple Hello World program was translated to
library, unnecessary to the execution of the program, was loaded.
So much technology has
taught me to keep things simple and use the right tools for the right
job. Cutting cheese with axe is not a good idea after all!
Did you attend or
participate in the event last year? If yes, how was your experience?
I have been a part of
the OSI Days for the past few years. It was called OSI Week and not
OSI Days, when I participated for the first time. Last year, I was
all over the place. I was a keynote speaker for a couple of sessions
and then chaired/participated in a couple of panel discussions. It
was exciting, albeit a little hot since it was in Chennai, to meet so
many talented FOSS enthusiasts. Hopefully, I will be able to meet
with a few this year as well.
What are your
expectations from the Summit this year?
This year, considering
that it is held in Bangalore, I hope to see tremendous turnover for
the sessions. Also, we'll see a lot of developers attending the
conference. The ignorance I spoke of earlier, hopefully will be
cleared and we'll see a surge of FOSS evangelists.
What are going to be
the key highlights of your talk/session(s)?
One of my sessions this
year is about converting the "Ows" of open source to "Wows".
If any of us have assisted someone new to Linux/FOSS in migrating, we
would get to hear endless complaints from them about how things are
not working like proprietary applications. While we can attribute
such complaints to ignorance or lack of knowledge, what we need to
understand is that it is this impression at the consumers' level is
what is changing the world. When the Ipod was introduced, it was not
the first portable solid state music player. But what made it click?
Simplicity? Elegance? Or simple features? I think it was all these.
Google was not the first search engine. But it is the reigning search
engine today. How did that happen? Because of the "wow"
factor. Imagine if the Ipod kept rebooting or the search results were
only 70 per cent accurate. There would be so many "ows" and
no "wows". Today, we see many "ows" everywhere
and only a few are ready to try on FOSS seriously. Most people try it
and then switch back. We need to provide the "wow" factor.
My talk examines the "ow" factors today and explores
potential ways to convert them to "wow" factors.