THE PENGUIN AS ENGINEER: TAKING GNU/LINUX TO THE PORTALS OF HIGHER
By Frederick Noronha
IT MAY BE taking its time to get done, but this is one simple idea that
could have a wide-ranging impact for thousand of young
engineers-in-the-making across India.
Put briefly, the idea is simply to compile a whole range of useful and
'free' software that engineering students from this 'talent-rich,
resource-poor' country of a thousand million-plus can effectively use in
their studies and work.
It calls for quite a bit of scouring around -- and matching the needs of
students with what's available out there, in the wide world of
cyberspace. But since the software to be used is from the Free
Software/Open Source world of GNU/Linux, it means that once compiled,
this useful collection could be freely distributed without copyright or
unreasonably-high cost restrictions.
(GNU/Linux is a computer operating system that runs on many different
computers. It has been built up largely by volunteers worldwide, and
comes with along with its freely-copyable 'source-code' and thus offers
you the freedom to its users and programmers in many more senses than
just coming across at affordable costs.)
First to initiate this Nagarjuna G, a scientist and keen Free Software
proponent at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education. This centre
is located at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in the Indian
commercial capital of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Incidentally Nagarjuna
is also the founder of the Linux-in-Education (LIFE) mailing list. See
details at http://mm.hbcse.tifr.res.in/mailman/listinfo/life
Prof Nagarjuna irst broached the subject thus, via one of the many
GNU/Linux-related mailing lists active in India: I am presently
planning a single CD distribution containing the applications and
goodies required for a regular engineering college student. I would
like to keep in mind the syllabus and projects students do. Can some of
you tell us what kind of applications are used/needed by students?
He argues that volunteers can build the list and sit on one Sunday and
put together the 'distro' (or distribution, referring to the collection
of software required).
It sounds easy. But this is a task which calls for considerable thought,
coordination and planning.
Nagarjuna admits that this project has been on the cards for some time
now. Inspite of being such an interesting idea -- a whole generation of
engineering students could get access to the power of GNU/Linux software
-- it has not been easy to push through. Not surprising in the world of
volunteer work, where real-life jobs and earning a living mean one can't
always do what one wanted to.
But the efforts are on.
(This is) another thing which needs to be done but could not do it
because no volunteers. But this is also on the agendas of the FSF-India
(the Indian-branch of the Free Software Foundation). We will soon
identify a team for this and get it going, says he, determinedly.
Mumbai-based Trevor Warren agrees. He recently noted that working to
build up such a forum would be suitable for like-minded GNUers like us
to spread and nurture the idea of Free Software. This is increasingly
seen as an important job in a country like India, rich in software
talent but poor in terms of the code it actually has access to when it
comes to meeting its own requirements.
There has been a lot of debate over what software would be best squeezed
into the space available on the CD.
Electronic students, for instance, would have their own requirements.
For instance Spice, the analog circuit simulation software or Varkon
(which plays the role of a computer-aided design software). BruseY20 is
a VHDL generator. VGUI is a block-diagram to VHDL. SAVANT is a VHDL
simulator while Alliance offers a complete set of VLSI tools. (VLSI
stands for very large scale integration, and relates to the important
field of chip design.)
Other suggestions that have come up include something for CAM/gerber
post-processing, a FPGA design package and a VLSI design package.
Besides, GNU/Linux also offers such suitable tools like RDBMS with its
front-ends and admin tools; PostGreSQL; MySQL; PgAccess; Tcl/Tk; Perl5;
PHP; PHP MyAdmin and PHPPgAdmin (administrative interfaces for MySQL and
Postgres in PHP).
For chemical engineers-in-the-making, GNULinux also offers a chance of
finding suitable molecular manipulation software.
There were many other names of free software products that could be
GNULinux is a great operating system for the Net, since it was itself
born in an Internet generation, though collaborative cooperation among
thousands of volunteers worldwide. This means it has a number of useful
web tools -- including Apache, PHP, Perl5, Webmin and CGI scripting.
Zope and Python, Tomcat and jservers are the other useful tools.
For civil engineers, Free Software offers a whole list of useful tools
to engineers-in-the-making. These include Varkon (CAD), Grass5 (GIS),