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FOSS Is Fun – The Unsung Heroes

There is always an ongoing debate in FOSS circles on how to define a FOSS contributor. What is real FOSS contribution? Who are the elite contributors, and who are the also-rans? This debate arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of how FOSS works, and what ‘contribution’ is. And people who waste everyone’s time in indulging in this debate do not have a clue as to how FOSS projects work.

The very point is that the community as such does not distinguish between a user and a contributor. Every user is, by definition, also a contributor—and vice versa. How does one contribute? By writing code, doing documentation, translating, testing applications, reporting or fixing bugs, using applications, advocating FOSS adoption, writing tutorials, textbooks and how-tos, conducting training workshops, giving talks at user group meetings, attending user group meetings, monitoring mailing lists and chat channels, and asking and answering questions… or by just talking about FOSS—the list is endless.

Genuine FOSS contributors are absurdly grateful for even the smallest of contributions to their projects, and take a lot of time and effort to thank the contributors and help them out. Yes, even asking a question on a project mailing list is of enormous help—it shows that the documentation may be unclear, or the work-flow of the project confusing. Where would Firefox be without the lakhs of people who download and use it?

Anyway, it is time to focus on real contributors—so meet Baskar Selvaraj, CEO of linuXpert systems, Chennai. For pleasure and profit, Baskar has been focusing on FOSS in higher education in Tamil Nadu. Over the past decade, he has criss-crossed the state to conduct over 170 seminars, workshops and training programs related to FOSS in higher education. He has developed his own FOSSLAB server, which can be used to set up and maintain FOSS labs in colleges. This year, he has set up FOSS labs in more than 50 engineering and other colleges in the state, and is confident of breaking Sehwag’s record for the highest score by an Indian! He has developed a methodology—the first lab for an institution is free of cost, the others are paid for—and he also arranges Faculty Development Programmes, with the help of local Linux User Groups. Baskar can be reached at baskar@linuxpert.in.

At the other end of the country is Narendra Sisodiya from the NCR. When not indulging in his favourite pastime of chiselling off the Windows keys on any keyboard he can get hold of, Narendra is engaged in a plethora of FOSS activities, which are too numerous to mention here. Among other things, he is the promoter of LUG@IITD, which has become the premier Linux Users’ Group in the NCR. He has set up the portal for jobs at http://fossjobs.in, and started a project called eduvid (http://eduvid.techfandu.org), which proposes a whole new architecture of Web content delivery. Project Svg-Edit is a sub-project he started, which is now a successful project; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SVG-edit. This has subsequently been taken up by the main SVG community of developers, and they have extended it.

Still, his main contribution is undoubtedly http://schoolos.org, a distro for schools around which an active community for promotion of FOSS in schools is built. A feature of SchoolOS is that it is completely without non-free software. He is now launching ELPA, an online shop to purchase pre-installed Linux machines. Narendra can be reached at narendra@narendrasisodiya.com.

So, you see, it is not that hard to contribute! Check out when these people are next in your neighbourhood, and lend them a helping hand! Or meet them online, and help out.


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