Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More on Richard Stallman in Calcutta

Following my post on Richard Stallman's visit to and lecture in Calcutta, I have received some responses.

Yogi wrote:

So I met Stallman last year.. and I think he is the kind of person who would really enjoy it if you question the govt. in front of him... I would even say take along a video camera and ask someone to tape the session while you are questioning the CPM(I) leader... and later maybe you can hand it to some news channel.

On a different note ... I am really surprised by the fact that despite all this noise about India and its large number of programmers - open source movement in India is non-existent. This is a sign that all these programmers arenothing more than coding monkeys... who do not understand anything more than whats immediately before their eyes. Even some of my so called smart Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) friends still think that Microsoft is the greatest thing which has happened to India, because they brought computing to the common people ... but I ask them ... at what cost? A cage is a cage ... even if its made out of gold. I think the Indian government needs to ban the use of proprietary software from all educational institutes.

Tapas Ray wrote:

Exactly five years ago, an op-ed piece written by me on the basis of an email interview with Mr Stallman and discussions with Indian free software activists was published in The Statesman, Calcutta, under the title "Gates open for long-term dependence". It was about the West Bengal government's neglect of free software in its push for a memorandum with Microsoft for an e-governance package. A follow-up op-ed piece, "West Bengal keeps software window shut", was published thereafter. These articles can help to put things in perspective.

Tapas Ray's articles are most interesting. He wrote:

The memorandum signed by the Left Front government with Microsoft for an e-governance package, among other things, has exposed the state administration to strong criticism from a section of anti-monopoly software professionals in India and abroad. The main question that has arisen is whether a Leftist government in a poor country should choose a high-cost path that is seen to exacerbate the rich-poor divide and lead to security leaks in addition to keeping the state in bondage to the software supplier, while cheaper and widely accepted alternatives are available that can be modified at any time and without any additional cost to suit specific needs.

In this case, the users have access to the source code and are free to modify the software to suit their needs, at any time and at no additional cost. Free software can also be freely copied and distributed. Governments in France, Germany, China, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil had supported such software in significant ways.

“Computer users in India, as everywhere, deserve the freedom to study, change and redistribute software,” Richard Stallman, a leader of the free software movement, president of the FSF in the USA, and formerly a scientist at MIT’s famed Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, told this correspondent in response to an e-mailed questionnaire. “I don’t know the details of the West Bengal deal with Microsoft, but regardless of those details, it is surely a mistake if you look at the long-term consequences.”

Activists of the Free Software Foundation of India (FSF-I) had sent a protest letter to the West Bengal government and the CPI-M Politburo member (the pathetic politician I referred to). West Bengal, he wrote, faced a choice between the path of dependence on Microsoft – which would be increasingly costly – and the path of independence and freedom.

This correspondent had sought comments both from Microsoft and (the un-named pathetic politician), but failed to elicit a response from either. Repeated attempts to contact the West Bengal information technology secretary were of no avail. West Bengal’s Information Technology Minister seems to be perennially busy at meetings. As such, it is not known whether the agreement with Microsoft is being implemented, if so at what pace, and whether the Left Front government is giving the question of free software any thought at all. Some software developers in the state complain of a lack of responsiveness to these issues in government circles.

I had also mailed my blog-post to the Free Software Foundation. I got this autoreply message from Richard M. Stallman:

I am not on vacation, but I am at the end of a long time delay. I am located somewhere on Earth, but as far as responding to email is concerned, I appear to be well outside the solar system. After your message arrives at, I will collect it in my next batch of incoming mail, some time within the following 24 hours. I will spend much of the following day reading that batch of mail and will come across your message at some point. If I can write a response for it immediately, the response will go out in the next outgoing batch--typically around 24 hours after I collected your message, but occasionally sooner or later than that. As a result, you should expect a minimum delay of between 24 and 48 hours in seeing any response to your mail to me. If you are having a conversation with me, please keep in mind that each message you receive from me is probably a response to the mail you sent 24 to 48 hours earlier, and any subsequent mail you sent has not yet been seen by me. If you are in a hurry to speak with me, try sending mail to saying what you would like to talk with me about, and giving your telephone number. Another option to reach me urgently is to call the Free Software Foundation office at 617-542-5942 and ask them to contact me on your behalf. If you aren't in an immediate hurry, there is no need to contact or the Free Software Foundation office. I will get back to you as soon as I possibly can.

This is becoming more and more interesting. I had written about the CPI(M)'s fundamental dissonance with the underlying people's empowerment ideals of the Free Software Movement championed by Richard Stallman. But It seems on the specific matter of software too, not surprisingly this wonderful bankrupt party had played a retrograde role.

The CPI(M)'s patronisation of Stallman to give itself a progressive image - is really beginning to stink.

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