10 February, 2008

Gnunify 2008: Enlightening Talks





I attended GNUnify 2008 at SICSR. It was really good, thanks to Organizers, sponsors (Intel) and speakers. Following are my notes of of talks I attended.

Day 1 (Friday, 8 Feb 2008)

Workshop on shell scripting by Gaurav Pant

Basic shell scripting concepts were discussed. I wrote couple of simple bash scripts, things like comparing 2 numbers. I think scripting will be useful to make multiples runs (in different directories) of a program on different data sets.

Visual design by Niyam Bhushan

The talk was mainly to motivate developers to pay attention to user interface design, aesthetics and end user. I plan to learn Gimp and Inkscape and see how far I can go.

OLPC by Sayamindu

Introduction to OLPC project, hardware, software (Sugar interface) and localization effort. Since laptop is for school children Sugar interface has concepts/metaphors like neighborhood, friends, home, and activities (which are basically software programs). Interesting project for people passionate about educations and teachers too. Will this project benefit millions of children in villages of Asia?

Is localization really needed? Children are quick learners, they should be able learn basic English very quickly.

Day 2 (Saturday, 9 Feb 2008)

Open source by Brian Behlendorf

Really good advice from a open source veteran. Open source projects need commercial companies around it. Companies can then represent customers and their needs to developers.
Each company typically should offer something extra to differentiate itself from others.

Then he talked about how IT consultancy companies are offering open source technology to their customers. Many IT companies are going for joint IP rights on the software developed for a customer. This allows them to reuse the software for other clients. Example could be an IT company having many banks as their customers. Because some operations are very similar across banks, software can be reused. This phenomenon blurs line between offering services and products.

Building open source company Chander Kant

Chander Kant founded Zmanda which offers database backup related software products. He shared some excellent advice on starting open source companies. Following are my notes.
  • [ Open source company ]
Apart from free software philosophy, following are plus points of a open source company, in the
order of increasing benefit.
  1. Save development cost. Benefit here is 0 in most cases. Do not count on developers in community working for free.
  2. Testing and QA. Since products can be downloaded for zero cost, many people in the
    community will download the product and provide valuable feedback. Make sure that
    it is easy to provide feedback and communicate.
  3. Marketing and Adverting. Open source products benefit from word-of-mouth publicity. You need not spend large amount of money/effort on marketing campaigns.
  • [ Business Model ]
How do does a company plan generate revenue? Business model should be designed to tap potential customers and revenue.
  1. Support/documentation for a open source product/technology.
  2. IT Consultancy, integration and custom software development business.
  3. Yearly subscription (updates, supports). How to decide on subscription fees?
  4. Appliances (integrate with hardware and sell the hardware).
  5. Software as service (paid?)
  • [ Where do I start ]
  1. Develop a software program to solve a interesting problem. Do not underestimate your program. There might be people we want to save effort and want to use your program.
  2. Identify existing project which solves your problem. Start contributing.
  3. Sometimes you will have to decide on starting from scratch vs reusing existing project.
  4. Develop significant user community.
  5. Make sure that project has a good leader who can motivate team and give direction.
  • [ Funding ]
  1. Initially start on your own.
  2. Find a "patient VC".
  3. Avoid temptation to spend money on Marketing.
  • [ Watch Out ]
  1. Watch out for competition and differentiate your offering.

After presentation, I clarified my doubt related to use GPL licensed library for custom software development. Overall it was really good presentation with practical advice from someone who have been successful in building a open source company.

Later in the afternoon I attended talk on "Multicore Threading" by Vasanth Tovinkere from Intel. I will probably publish my notes in a separate post.

Alu parathas in the SICSR canteen were really tasty. It was good to see young students successfully organizing a technical conference.