Friday, November 12, 2004

Sri Lanka to flirt with Desktop Linux

Today was an interesting day for me, as I was very much looking forward to joining with the LKLUG crew, to go and convince ICTA effort headed by Riza, that Linux was the way to go for their 100,000 Home PC initiative. Though nothing is official at this point, ICTA is planning to offer 100,000 personal desktops at a very reasonable price to Sri Lankan families in an effort to increase computer literacy among the population. It is rumored that after approaching Microsoft , and seeing their lack of enthusiasm to provide a cost effective and attractive price solution for Windows/MS Office suite, ICTA had decided to go with OpenOffice as the Office Suite and possibly Linux as the Operating System (OS). It is also rumored that once news got out of the possibility of going with OpenSource, Microsoft had decided to cut prices and reapproach ICTA. If these rumors are true, then it is really a good fortune that ICTA, despite the influence from one of THE biggest software giants (a.k.a monopolist) , is going ahead and giving OpenSource a fair try.

The meeting was scheduled at 4:00 but for some reason some of us got the feeling it was at 4:30, probably due to an earlier post on the LKLUG mailing list that other LKLUgers were planning to meet at the Narada Center at 4:00 and leave from there. Channa (CEO of itabs or should I say my BOSS) had also been invited, so I was planning to tag along with him. Anuradha , said he would also like to tag along with us and would come to our office by 4:00. Anyway although Anuradha managed to find our new office and get their at about 4:10, Channa had got a call from ICTA asking why we were not there! Oh well! due to the misunderstanding now we are late as usual :) It was good that ICTA was close by (Kirimandala Mawatha) and so we managed to get there before 4:30.

The discussion was quite positive, and I suppose an eye opener for them as well. The biggest question on their minds was the support issue. If something goes wrong, how can the average home user get support to solve the problem. What they initially failed to realize, but ultimately came around to, was the fact that even with Windows support wasn't all that great. For one thing even if you legally bought windows, currently Mirosoft in Sri Lanka, doesn't provide good support and calling Singapore (for some support) is expensive. Then the unofficial support you tend to get from your local computer dealer or your smart friend, usually involves reinstalling software, cleaning viruses or in most cases reinstalling the whole Windows OS. Nevertheless due to the amount of Windows penetration, currently the chances of finding someone with some knowledge to help is better than that for Linux. On the otherhand you wont have a good linux support from the general public without a good linux penetration, which requires an acceptable level of support to begin with - this is a vicious cycle that we must really break out of! ITABS and a couple of other companies are interested in the possibility of providing some sort of Linux Support to Home users by extending their current Corporate Support. But the exact nature of support (phone, email, on site) is yet to be decided.

Another pressing question that kept cropping up during past discussions on the list, which eventually leads to a lot of debate is "What Linux distro should we go with?". This is a question that leads to a common argument among linux enthusiasts and is often labeled - "Distro WARS". Its a fact that most of us in the opensource community has learned to live/avoid with since unlike in the proprietary world where there are only one or two choices, with opensource there are a lot of choices. Like there are a lot of political parties, religions, or ethic groups which we generally consider a_good_thing, sometimes they also cause tension when it comes to the discussion which is better - since better is just a relative term.

Anyway it was really good that all of us at LKLUG had met prior to the meeting and had decided to support Mandrake Linux for its easy of installation, configuration and use. After describing the advantages of Mandrake Linux over Windows and then over Redhat/Fedora (other popular versions of Linux) and why its a good option to start with, most of the ICTA people were very curious to learn more and for a demonstration.

So that's where we strand at the end of the today. We have a demonstration scheduled for tomorrow morning at ICTA, where we will show that installing Mandrake Linux is faster and easier than installing Windows XP! Things are looking good at the moment. We are positive if things pick up, then we can even work on a sinhala version of Mandrake Linux in a very short period, as most of the work has already been done (

Anyway I was too excited about tomorrow's demonstration that I ended up going to Narada Center and installing Mandrake 10.1 Community edition on my Bare Bone System :D Actually I took it to office today, hoping to install gentoo, but have a bit more work to do on that since its a stage2 installation that I am performing, which requires most of the packages to be compiled from source code.

The Mandrake installation was smooth (as opposed to installing Windows on a SATA hard drive -- a pain!), and everything pretty much worked out of the box. I did run in to small configuration issue after upgrading to the proprietary NVdia drivers, but managed to get that sorted out under half an hour.

Things are looking good for tomorrow and I am hoping to also take my Bare Bone System, just to show off :P Check back tomorrow to see what happened!

To be Continued...


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