Web log

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.

small computers

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.

collaboration

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 :-)

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IT@school

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.

Distribution

IT@school is a distribution originally based on Debian, later rebased on Ubuntu.

Next release will possibly again be a direct derivative of Debian, or maybe even - time will tell - a Debian pure blend.

Aim is education

As its name indicates, IT@school is targeted at schools: The system is used in 8th - 10th grades of most (or all?) public primary schools in Kerala,

Together with KEK members Anto and Fayad, Siri and I met with former and current key participants in the project where we learned about its history and current status, and discussed some differences between Ubuntu and Debian.

IT@school has a strong emphasis on the educational aspect, arguably setting it apart from Skolelinux/DebianEdu which emphasizes the technical aspect of relieving teachers from admin tasks. In the early years of deployment the project faced many hardware issues - e.g. in getting sound cards to work. This was seen not as problems but as beneficial learning for the teachers facing those issues.

Kerala public school system has set the standard for other states in India, but sadly political support within the state has been weak in recent years. It is hoped that next election - this April - will bring a positive change.

School book

IT@school is accompagnied by a school book written specifically for use of the included tools.

No explicit license is applied to the book (which means it defaults to classic copyright). Possibly it will get Creative Commons licensed.

If the school book gets a DFSG-free license, several collaboration opportunities emerge:

Currently the book is drafted in LibreOffice but then - due to state procedures - finalized with PageMaker. Would be interesting to setup an alternate process using only Free tools - either with Scribus or XeLaTeX. An important detail here is to ensure that the process supports malayalam script.

Curriculum

Work is in progress mapping FLOSS tools to the state curriculum. I recommended to share that work publicly with a Free license, to encourage comparisons across countries, and invite collaboration e.g. with Skolelunux/DebianEdu.

Blend for SBCs

Some Kerala higher education schools (sorry, don't remember which) have bought some thousands of RaspberryPi2. I suggested to create a Debian Blend for SBCs (Single Board Computers) - we will see what comes of that idea…

Blend for education

I also suggested to make a Debian blend around IT@school distribution itself, with its strong focus on educational content - i.e. not just as addon to technical tools but the primary purpose pulling in tools as needed.

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Hamara Linux

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.

Distribution

Hamara Linux is a distribution based on Trisquel, hence descending from Debian via Ubuntu.

Next release will be a direct derivative of Debian.

We recommended to package missing parts for Debian itself, even if Hamara needs them faster than deemed "stable" in Debian. ITP bugreports is since filed for theme and install routine.

Visual design

Hamara Linux ships with a coherent visual style, covering widget theme, install routine, boot and login, and a range of wallpapers.

Siri has begun comparing widget theme against Debian. We might try distill diffs for each Debian→Ubuntu→Trisquel→Hamara derivation.

System contents and setup

Hamara Linux comes in two flavors: Hamara Namaste with a GNOME desktop, and Hamara Sugam with an Lxde desktop.

I have begun decomposing the package sets into classes for Boxer, at the same time extending Boxer.

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India 2015

Siri and I are now three weeks into our two months journey, by train through India and by bus in Nepal.

During my Asia 2011 journey I promised myself (and Chandan) that next visit to India would be together with Siri. Here we are, few hours away from next 20 hour train ride towards Hyderabad in South India, both with running noses from a cold week in Nepal.

Theme of our trip is Debian Pure Blends. More specifically, we will meet with distribution developers and designers to try understand why they fork from (other forks of) Debian, and how Debian might improve to better serve them - ideally be able to fully contain such projects within Debian itself.

Distributions we will look into - some more detailed than others - include…

Thanks to the organizations and individuals hosting us on our journey.

FreedomBox - Helps You Stay Free!

On saturday 25. of May I gave a talk about FreedomBox at the "Claim back your device" track of LinuxTag in Berlin.

LinuxTag is a fairly big annual conference about (yes, you guessed right) Linux and related topics.

The FreedomBox is a project to help non-geeks care about their personal privacy when online, same ways as geeks have practiced for a decade or more. Concrete goal is to design a small, cheap physical box similar to an internet gateway or wifi router but with three additions:

  • Easy and intuitive to setup and personalize for non-geeks
  • Offers routines to help you protect your privacy
  • Offers routines to let you help others in need of privacy

"Privacy" is commonly mistaken as "secrecy": Privacy is to keep you in control of your information, so that sharing or keeping to yourself is truly your own choice.

Thanks a lot especially to Matthias Kirschner for inviting me as a speaker!

Slides (sources) for the event.

FreedomBox - scratching someone elses itch

Today Sunday November 11th I give a talk at FSCONS in Gothenburg about FreedomBox.

FSCONS is an annual scandinavian hacker conference, with a very friendly attitude and atmosphere.

The FreedomBox is a project to help non-geeks care about their personal privacy when online, same ways as geeks have practiced for more than a decade.

The project is exciting in that is frames a common dream among lots of hackers and therefore sparks new innovation and renewed commitment.

The goal is frustrating to tackle, because us hackers most often solve problems close to ourselves (a.k.a. is driven by "an itch to scratch"), and only very few of us are interface designers, which are crucially needed to make things usable for non-geeks.

Slides and sources for them.

What is FreedomBox? And when can I have one?

On wednesday 7. of November I gave a talk at EPFSUG in Brussels about FreedomBox.

EPFSUG is an interest group of Free Software users working inside the European Parliament.

The FreedomBox is a project to help non-geeks care about their personal privacy when online, same ways as geeks have practiced for a decade or more.

The goal is a small, cheap physical box looking like and operating like an internet gateway or wifi router many are accustomed to nowadays - but with three additions:

  • Easy and intuitive to setup and personalize for non-geeks
  • Offers routines to help you protect your privacy
  • Offers routines to let you help others in need of privacy

"Privacy" is commonly mistaken as "secrecy": Privacy is to keep you in control of your information - you can then use that control to keep secrets from others or to share with others as you like.

Talking about personal privacy in the European Parliament can seem a bit of a stretch. It is not a home but a (huge) office space, where it is perhaps less obvious that you should treat some information as personal, or that you are even allowed to do so.

Try watch the videos, and if you have questions then please don't hesitate to get in touch with me about them.

At the EPFSUG meeting was also a presentation by an emplyee who had succesfully installed and used Free Software at the internal network of the Parliament, but then later told that it wasn't allowed - because the IT staff need to be in control of your computer activities at the place!

The head of IT services at the Parliament attended the meeting and gave a short improvised talk at the end, expressing positive interest in behalf of the established IT services at the place towards our grassroots activities - and even praising explicitly EPFSUG as being the ideal place for all EU citizens to ask questions about Free Software in relation to the European Parliament. See for yourself in the video of Giancarlo!

Thanks a lot especially to Erik Josefsson for making this event reality!

Slides, sources and videos from the event.

How I (don't) use Facebook images

Dear Facebook friend,

I like you and I am happy that you take/tag/share photos of me, just not on Facebook!

I have a Facebook account but don't hang out there.

Please share your photos in public, not (only) inside Facebook. And please consider allowing Free reuse of your photos, by licensing them with a Free license like CC-BY-SA or CC0.

Here & Now

My suggestion for now is to use Flickr, and license all images as "Attribution, share alike".

The Perfect Way

Ideally you would publish the photos on some server that you control, like the Freedombox, but those are unfortunately not yet easy to find or use.

Why not Facebook?

Facebook is a closed system: all activities happen at one central place.

Maybe you don't care who is spying on the photo gallery that you share. That's fine - but please respect those of your friends who do care, by putting a copy of your photos somewhere with less thirdparty control.

Regards, Jonas

Blended configuration

I want all my computing environments "furnished" similarly and as close to my personal taste as possible - be it big and small machines, self-administered and user accounts of others.

…and not only for myself - similar is needed for the environments I help maintain for my friends Siri, Erik and Peter.

The environments are seldom fully equal, so simply copying things around is rarely useful.

Here's a checklist of things that I need to customize and syncronize for me and my friends to feel at $HOME…:

  • System-wide
    • Tools available on the system
    • Graphical login and Desktop environments
    • Adjust fonts, colors etc. of terminal emulator, file manager etc.
    • Register SSH in monkeysphere, MAC in DHCP and hostname in DNS
  • Account
    • Syncronize browser bookmarks
    • Install/configure browser search plugins, config tweaks etc.
    • Setup email and messaging accounts, and syncronize archives
    • Syncronize development scripts, git repositories etc.
    • Register account in monkeysphere

Above is work-in-progress. I hope to later extend with more details - probably by linking to separate pages about each subtopic.

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