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BOSS - Barath Operating System Solutions
Siri and I are on a journey through India and Nepal, with the aim of learning about needs of Debian derivatives, to improve Debian and encourage closer integration.
C-DAC and BOSS
Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) is a large organization serving country- and state-level institutions in India, with offices and training facilities several major cities. In Chennai, C-DAC has a staff of 25 developers working full time on Barath Operating System Solutions (BOSS).
BOSS is a Debian derivative with several flavors - a desktop for use at primary schools (EduBOSS), a desktop for governmental offices (BOSS), and a range of server-oriented use cases using same core as the desktops with various (non-packaged) code and configuration on top.
The core common to all BOSS flavors is a derivative of Debian. Major work has been in strengthening localization and related code - including the development of a font covering all officially supported indic scripts, tuning input methods configuration, and bugfixing LibreOffice handling of complex scripts. All that work is all passed directly to upstream code projects (some still show as derived work until sifting down again into Debian).
Besides locale derivations, BOSS currently includes 11 packages not yet in Debian - a mixture of package dependencies, branding data and configuration tweaks. Seems most if not all can fit into Debian with a bit of restructuring work.
As some of you know, I always had a special interest in low-resource (yet general purpose) computers (partly driven by my lack of money to spend on shinier hardware), and since ~2009 particularly in ARM-based computers.
After 4 days of meetings and discussion with C-DAC, - literally few minutes before departure - I casually mentioned my interest in small computers, and much to my surprise it turned out that C-DAC also works on that, just didn't get around to mention it yet at the Debian wiki page.
C-DAC have worked for a year on tuning BOSS to work on the Vidyut laptop (successor to the Aakash tablet). All except builtin camera is allegedly working.
C-DAC is also looking into Olimex boards - my favorites - possibly for use with small server setups…
…but our time was up, we had to leave for our train to Pune, so details on that we will have to figure out through mail.
In the past, C-DAC have kept in touch with their users through BOSS-specific places like a dedicated IRC channel. Recent changes in management style at the development office have caused less attention available to that communication, however.
C-DAC have politely offered their code changes upstram for years, but maybe "too polite": Maybe they have offered only polished fixes, being less loud about "interesting problems".
I suggested, as way to improve while limiting (ideally avoiding) extra work, is to mentally take a step up the stream: Treat BOSS not as a derivative but a subset of Debian itself, hang out and discuss issues and ideas at debian irc channels, and maintain your packages directly in Debian.
Only parts unfit for Debian - secret stuff done for India military, and dirty configuration hacks not yet possible within Debian Policy - really need to be kept away from Debian.
C-DAC agreed, and Debian now has a BOSS team!
Anyone interested to follow BOSS as a Debian blend, and perhaps even contribute with opinions and/or code, is quite welcome to join the newly created mailinglist on Debian Alioth: https://lists.alioth.debian.org/mailman/listinfo/boss-devel.
Our meetings with BOSS developers have been very pleasant. Even those working at the top of cloud or big data stacks - furthest away from our mindset of tightly "locking down" all parts as packages - were patient with us.
Thanks in particular to Prema S and Prathibha B, working on packaging of BOSS for the past 5+ years, and both likely to enter the Debian New Maintainer Queue before long