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Going From "Ow" To "Wow" In Open Source
 
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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!

About Venkat Mangudi

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 us'.

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, isn't it?

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 17,000 lines of Javascript. But that is primarily because a whole 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.

 
 
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