Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pune's PLUG Mash a resounding success!

Participating at PLUG's mashup camp in October was an exciting opportunity for me to be among friends and Pluggies again.

The PLUG Mash organized by the Pune Linux User's Group and its friends and supporters was a resounding success. The 2-day camp had a combination of formal talks as well as a hack-a-thon for FOSS hackers to gather together and code. Major sponsors including Thoughtworks and Zmanda did an outstanding job of participating in the sessions. I found the talks by various open source contributors - Chris Stevenson (of Thoughtworks), Ramki (of Red Hat), Friji (of Radio Schizoid), Satish (of Red Hat), Valsa (of Intel), KK George (of Zmanda), Niyam (creative guru), and Karunakar (of - led to a valuable discussion of how developers, users and FOSS advocates are doing their part in making open source contributions possible from India. I presented about the OSI and its global initiatives and enjoyed the discussion thereafter about how OSI could become more pertinent in India's ecosystem.

Many thanks to my friends for putting in a lot of hard work, for being such fantastic hosts and making this 2-day camp in Pune memorable and successful for me. The great conversations, wonderful food, and the "coffee" added just the right touch. And reminded me of what makes Pune's community so enjoyable to be part of.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Pharma patent loss is a win for healthcare and free software in India

In January 2006, India's Patent Office rejected a patent application for Gleevec, a leukemia cancer drug by Swiss pharmaceutical Novartis. Now, in August 2007, the Chennai High Court has rejected Novartis' appeal to overturn this rejection.

Novartis claims that India's ruling will stunt R&D and innovation in pharmaceuticals and violates WTO intellectual property agreements. But the Indian government sees this decision as helping ensure that affordable medicines continue to be available for her people and those of other developing countries. Such medicines are essential to combat killer diseases like AIDS and cancer. Indian companies manufacture generic Gleevec (known as Glivec in India) for one-tenth the price offered by Novartis.

Why does this matter? India's ruling will deter international pharma giants from trying to extend their monopolies by patenting newer versions of existing medicines. This ruling allows India to continue manufacturing inexpensive generic drugs. For example, 85% of AIDS generics to Africa are provided by India's pharmaceuticals. That's significant.

This precedent also establishes a model for rejecting software patents in India. The arguments that favor availability of generic medicines equally apply to free and open source software (FOSS). India cannot afford the monopolies and high prices brought about by software patents. FOSS is the only practical way developing nations can afford long-term, large-scale IT automation. Without automation, India and others cannot scale to provide the infrastructure and banking, education and health care needed to ensure prosperity for billions of people across the globe.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Partners may be worse than enemies

An intriguing article by Fortune Magazine on Microsoft's China strategy reveals how Craig Mundie, Microsoft's Chief Research and Strategy officer was deployed by Bill Gates in 1999 to fix the company's problems with the Chinese market and its government. Mundie turned around Microsoft's strategy from short-term to long-term engagement - one from antagonism to partnership. Mundie even hired famous China lobbyist Henry Kissinger as advisor.

Bill Gates is quoted in the article, "It's easier for our software to compete with Linux when there's piracy than when there's not... You can get the real thing, and you get the same price." After walking hand in hand with China's leadership, Microsoft's alliance with officialdom is but a short term gain. Arrogance, Microsoft's true partner, is the enemy of progress. In the long run it will only blind Microsoft to the paradigm shift that open source signifies.

Monday, July 9, 2007

iPhoneDevCamp in SF - An absolute hit

The iPhoneDevCamp this weekend (July 7-8) was an absolute hit! The hack-a-thon to develop iPhone applications resulted in 48 apps and websites being demonstrated. Some great collaboration took place! Creative enthusiasts, developers, designers and testers all worked together to have some fun creating neat iPhone Apps. However, FOSS people like me do feel that the iPhone platform should be opened up to encourage lots of useful apps to be developed by talent outside Apple. The web sites and applications created at the hack-a-thon are available here.

My thanks to the organizers - Raven Zachary, Whurley, Chris Allen and other team members for a tremendous job managing logistics, press and the sub-events. And Adobe's venue was perfect for the camp.

Here is the group photo of some of the attending iPhone owners. I missed it. Hopefully, better luck next time.

Friday, July 6, 2007

iPhone Developers Camp this weekend

Is this cool or what? An iPhoneDevCamp starting today at sundown (July 6) through Sunday (July 8) in San Francisco at Adobe's offices at 601 Townsend St.

Many companies and individuals have pitched in to make this camp happen. My friend, Danese Cooper said about the camp - "It's a great example of a spontaneous community forming around really compelling technologies," in an interview with the SF Chronicle about the upcoming DevCamp.

There are 400+ designers, developers, testers and iPhone owners signed up already. By the end of Sunday, there will be some cool web apps and sites which are even iPhone friendly. If you're in the area, sign up, bring your laptop or iPhone and join in. See you there this weekend.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The iPhone Phenomenon

The world has changed. We've all been hearing about the iPhone for months now and its finally out. And unexpectedly, while watching the waves of eager customers line up to enter the Apple Store along Palo Alto's University Blvd., my friends and I got bitten by the iPhone bug too. So there I found myself standing on opening day (June 29), in a line that was surprisingly fast moving, and got myself an iPhone. The gadget is sleek. It's glamorous and it's just plain cool. What a beautiful user interface. Very easy. Very, very intuitive. It's got maps, music, movies, email, weather, stocks, wi-fi, camera, and a quad-band phone - everything a professional needs. The integration of Google maps, YouTube, Yahoo weather, iTunes music and movies is fantastic. This gadget sets new standards for convergence and raises the bar for all handheld devices to aspire to.

The only thing I don't like is the bundling of a 2 year mandatory phone service contract from AT&T. The user should be able to select their own voice carrier and have more flexible monthly plans available. But, on the positive side, the bundled data service is unmetered. That's a revolution for the US market. Unrestricted data connectivity will assure iPhone's success because the network apps and features can be accessed at any and all times without being nickle and dimed to death.

But the iPhone whets my appetite and expands my wish-list for a comparable open source software solution. I want to see an 'openPhone' with the same level of integration from the OS to the GUI. Perhaps Red Hat with its '' will aim to achieve the same standard of integration and do a 'Fedora Fone' :-)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Connecting Eyeballs

In his keynote at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit at Google, Ubuntu chief Mark Shuttleworth focused on the importance of collaboration. For Mark, collaboration inspires innovation and tools and processes that help collaboration are key to maintaining the edge of innovation in FOSS. I couldn't agree with Mark more. Mark observed that barriers to collaboration include too many interfaces to communicate with, rigid community structure management, attitudes of "us vs. them", poor project management, and insufficient standardization. He said that while there are many collaboration techniques and tools WITHIN global open source projects, there are not many ACROSS these projects. Many of his efforts try to connect islands of eyeballs through the tools the Ubuntu community is building - Launchpad, Bazaar, Rosetta, UbuntuForums. Otherwise, a lack of tools and standards across projects are hampering bug tracking, submission of translations & patches and testing. He cited the GNOME project as a great example of communication across projects especially in helping downstream developers.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Open Invention Network (OIN) visits India

Jerry Rosenthal, CEO of intellectual patents company - Open Invention Network (OIN), was in India last week to interact with technology companies in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. During its trip, OIN met with leaders in government, the IT industry and with India IP experts to discuss ways Linux can promote innovation as well as how to better protect Linux end-users and developers. Two Indian companies were announced as new licensees of OIN - and Quad One Technologies. is a partnership between of Vienna, Virginia and Sumangala CreativeTech India Pvt. Ltd. (SCTI) of Hyderabad. It offers call center helpdesk services. Quad One Technologies Pvt. Ltd. of Hyderabad provides offshore software consulting services for the healthcare/pharmaceutical industry.

Indian law does not recognize software patents as of now, though it is under tremendous pressure from the WTO to buckle under. Today, Indian IT companies involved in offshoring and outsourcing for US clients are the prime candidates for joining OIN's license network.

OIN was formed in 2005 by IBM, NEC, Novell, Philips, Red Hat, and Sony. It has more than 100 worldwide patents and patent applications as part of its patent commons. These patents can be licensed royalty-free by companies to provide IP protection to Linux end-users, distributors and developers. OIN, a for-profit company, is one of the many organizations such as the Linux Foundation and SFLC who have set up groups to defend Linux against possible patent attacks. One of OIN's goals is to evaluate software and hardware Linux-based solutions and potentially acquire, for its patent commons, the IP embodied in the best solutions.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

BIS revisits Indian IT standards

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) held their second seminar on IT standards in Bangalore on April 12 where they seem to have acquired a semblance of political rectitude by including participants and speakers from a wider swath of the industry. In contrast to the first seminar held earlier this year in New Delhi (February 21), they allowed competing industry stakeholders to represent their positions on IT standards. Proponents of the Open Document Format (ODF) such as IBM, Sun, and Red Hat emphasized the need for open, global standards. Microsoft with its Office Open XML (OOXML) standard reiterated Craig Mundie's message from his talk in Delhi that standards should support interoperability and innovation should be forged through strong IPR.

BIS's additional director general Rakesh Verma announced the formation of a panel of 30 organizations to work along with BIS to help build IT standards for India. Action items for this panel include identifying relevant international standards documents and creating India-specific standards as needed. One hopes that BIS will keep the process transparent to ensure open dialog and comments by the public and experts at large.

Today the digital world has multiple vendors and multiple standards. From a nation's point of view, choosing only one standard from among multiple non-universal standards may be premature. However, enforcing interoperability via adopting open formats and promoting a level playing field can ensure that competing standards play together and communicate productively. An open standards development process can only enhance the prospects of interoperability. The government's interest lies in having all stakeholders compete fairly to protect and support the consumer's interests.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mystifying Open Source and Open Standards

This article by the national technology officer of MS India represents the kind of misinformation about open source and open standards being disseminated in India. This type of FUD confuses the government as well as the market. It points to the need for all stakeholders in India's open source industry and community to rise up to this challenge.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tax hike proposal threatens VC interest in Indian IT

India's finance minister P. Chidambaram has proposed a 35 percent tax on stock options issued by Indian companies. Software and hardware information technology, telecommunications and biotechnology - all high growth industry segments - would be affected.

If Chidambaram's proposal becomes law, Indian companies will have to pay the tax on all stock options (ESOPs) issued to employees. This could dampen VC investment into India and discourage entrepreneurial activity in software as well as in biotechnology.

However, surprisingly, most Silicon Valley investment firms are optimistic that these short term tax changes won't make India less attractive for long-term investment. They predict that money will continue to roll into India's markets.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Standardization through Interoperability - A Seminar with BIS and Microsoft

At a Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) seminar on Feb 21st in New Delhi on "IT Standardization", Mr. Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy officer of Microsoft delivered the inaugural keynote.

Curiously, no industry representative besides Microsoft was allowed to be part of the formal presentations. The BIS leadership -- Alka Sirohi (Director General), Rakesh Verma (Addl. Director General), Sukhbir Singh (Deputy Director General) along with the Secretary of Consumer Affairs Mr. Bhave -- were all present, deeply worshipful of and indebted to their chief sponsor.

Mr. Mundie zealously discussed the need for standardization through interoperability. In the digital world, standardization should no longer be thought of in terms of uniformity but rather in terms of translatability and interoperability. Mr. Mundie explained that interoperability achieved through meta description languages like XML is key to practical standardization. Single solutions that emphasize uniformity of standards are not the answer. If Microsoft really followed Mr. Mundie's advice, perhaps we'd all live in a less contentious digital world.

However, other Microsoft sponsored presentations lionized the need for IPR protection as the basis for healthy standardization -- proposing a so-called "virtuous cycle" of digital products: R&D developed IPR flows into products which then flow into the consumer market and then, through market results, back into R&D. But, somehow without the guiding hand of industry and protection of its IPR, the virtuous cycle short circuits and no innovation is possible.

Now, if I had been invited onto the dias, to keynote alongside Mr. Mundie, my presentation would have included the following. I would have congratulated Mr. Mundie on his vision for redefining standardization in the digital age. I would then have taken the opportunity to inform him of all the wonderful FOSS products, like ODF and OpenOffice, that his company could support on the road to full interoperability.

But I would have been less generous toward the IPR proponents: How can all innovation only come from absolute IP control. Today, India is at a deadly disadvantage in the IT IP regime game. India cannot be regarded as a serious contender at all. Innovation in India should be allowed from anywhere and everywhere. FOSS can provide a level playing field that allows innovation and creativity to grow from within. So why play this one-sided "Innovation = IP" game? Why lock ourselves out of the game with the rules of the leaders before we're even ready to play.

Perhaps my turn on the dias at a future BIS Seminar will come. I look forward to being their next chief guest!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Thailand caught between a rock and a hard place

In its latest efforts to promote the importance of intellectual property rights (IPR), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) recently awarded the King of Thailand HM Bhumibol Adulyadej, an avid artist and an inventor with over 20 patents and 19 trademarks - its new "WIPO Global Leaders Award". This award is intended to recognize world leaders who promote IPR in their sphere of influence at national and international levels.

Ironically, Thailand, a country of 60 million people with a per capita income of $8,300 USD, has been marked as a serious offender of IPR because of piracy and copyright infringement. Piracy accounts for a high percentage of the Thai market for movies, music (approx. 50%), software (approx.
80%), and books, most of which are produced in developed countries. The country has been targeted by IIPA's Priority Watch List for 2007 (see my post on IIPA's Special 301 report).

The Global Leaders Award may now increase pressure on Thailand to comply with WIPO rules, starting right from the top with the King.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Envisage Knowledge Sharing at IIC's FOSS Festival on Feb 24-25 in New Delhi

If you happen to be in Delhi next weekend on February 24-25th, come and visit Envisage'07, the annual inter-collegiate open source technical festival organized by the students and faculty of the Institute of Informatics and Communications (IIC), University of Delhi. A range of competitive challenges, both technical and non-technical will be held. The event is FREE - so stop by and encourage the engineering students and faculty of IIC and participating teams from all over the country. For more information check out

Thursday, February 15, 2007

India in IIPA's crosshairs!

Reading through the International Intellectual Property Alliance's (IIPA) Special 301 report... It is shocking to see an alliance of special interests declare itself judge, jury and executioner. "Comply or lose WTO/WIPO favors" is the message. The IIPA seems to think that the whole world should further the interests of its members who are primarily US organizations such as the MPAA, RIAA, AAPA and BSA.

India has made it to IIPA's "Priority Watch" list this year. Countries lucky enough to be on this list are being admonished for not doing enough to protect US Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Should this be the highest priority for developing nations? Wealthy nations like the US must use their vast repetoire of IPR to improve the state of the world instead of hoarding all knowledge for their own gain.

Monday, February 5, 2007

At GNUnify 2007 in Pune

GNUnify, the annual open source symposium of Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research (SICSR), Pune was held this year on January 27-28. I had the pleasure of speaking there and very much enjoyed being in Pune again. The students of SICSR along with Harshad Gune, their professor and organizer of GNUnify '07, were again in great form and did a fabulous job in pulling together good talks on interesting topics.

I always feel that Pune has a special buzz especially when it has to do with open source. Students from many colleges and developers from local IT companies such as Infosys, Red Hat, Persistent, Thoughtworks, Celunite all join in to make GNUnify successful. The Pune LUG is also refreshingly participatory and conducts very successful install fests!

Despite the long weekend for Republic Day, GNUnify was packed with FOSS fans, enjoying every thing about the event. Community, collaboration, and entrepreneurial ideas were highlights of the event. A lot of hallway conversations, ideas and FOSS project discussions added to the energy.

Looking forward to next year!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Creative Commons India Launch

I had the opportunity to be in Mumbai for the launch of Creative Commons in India on January 26th, 2007 - India's Republic Day. Many free and open source activists from across the country gathered at IIT Bombay along with industry leaders such as Nandu Pradhan of Red Hat and academic leaders such as Dr. Deepak Phatak. The launch generated a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

Joichi Ito (chairman of Creative Commons) and Catharina Maracke (international legal advisor for Creative Commons) led the inauguration. Joi was awesome. He talked about his interaction with media companies and governments who are on the DRM bandwagon and how technologies including open source software were key in a paradigm shift towards more choice for creators and consumers of music, movies, and knowledge. Dr. Phatak expressed his interest in promoting the CC licenses for content. He felt these licenses are a better fit for knowledge than some software oriented licenses.

My thanks to Dr. Shishir Jha of IIT Bombay for organizing the launch festivities in conjuction with IIT's Tech Fest and making India the 35th country to join Creative Commons.