A strong case for using the free and open source software (FOSS) in research and academic learning was made at a day long workshop in JNTU Hyderabad today. The societal benefits of this software were underlined by the speakers in the workshop.
The workshop on 'Women in Research - the FOSS paradigm' was inaugurated by the Vice Chancellor of JNTU Hyd, Professor D N Reddy, at the UGC Academic Staff College in the campus. The workshop, organised jointly by Swecha and G Narayanamma Institute of Information Technology (GNIIT) in association with JNTU Hyd, was attended by 150 women researchers and academics from across the state.
In his inaugural address, Professor D N Reddy stressed the importance of the source codes being open and available for modification and improvement. He said unlike the propriety software, it was the GNU/Linux based free and open source software that has made the source codes open so that developers could improve the software as per the requirements. He lauded the GNU/Linux model for bringing together the community of developers and engineers to work in common interest of the society. The Vice Chancellor appreciated the work of Swecha in propagating the use of FOSS and wished it success in its endeavours.
Professor Jayanti, head of IT in Education department in IIIT, in her address put forward two reasons to consider use of FOSS. One, from the social justice point of view as the proprietary software cuts access to lakhs of people who cannot afford the high cost of that software. Two, use of FOSS also makes economic sense as it encourages and involves many more people in the process and thus would be good for the economy of the country.
As for concrete application of FOSS in research, she gave the example of how FOSS was much superior in usage for her while developing virtual labs for science. The idea of virtual labs for science was prompted by the lack of proper labs and infrastructure in most of the schools and colleges in Hyderabad. The IIIT is involved in developing these labs and now the union ministry of HRD is asking for similar virtual labs to be developed for engineering colleges also. She pointed out that the use of FOSS in such research projects is growing not only in India but across the world.
Professor K S Rajan of IIIT said that knowledge can grow only when it is shared with others and free software provides the platform for such sharing and enriching of knowledge. In this context he emphasised the importance of peer learning and how it is important to do so at every level of education. He felt that FOSS platform enables the academics and researchers to be updated in their knowledge about their spheres.
Dr Manjula Vani, Director UGC Academic Staff College and Dr Shanti Prabha of ECE department of JNTU Kakinada were also present on the dais. Ms Deepti of Swecha welcomed the gathering while Dr B Padmaja Rani of JNTU Hyd delivered vote of thanks.
Later, the workshop saw presentation on 'Computing freedom in free software - the Experience of Swecha' by Dr L Pratap Reddy of JNTU Hyd who is also the working chairman of Swecha; a presentation on 'How to use FOSS for research and development' by Ms Sirisha of WIPRO. There were also testimonials by women from various institutes who used FOSS in their research work and how it helped them to accomplish their goals.