Posts Tagged ‘GNU/Linux’

Kozhikode Declaration: National Conference on Free Software and Education

September 12, 2010

This is a Draft Declaration

We request all those who read this page to suggest any changes before Monday 13th September 2010, so that the declaration can be released sooner than later.   The draft is uploaded on the wiki page.

The text is pasted here for broad dissemination.

The Role of ICT and Education in Social Inclusion

Information & Communication Technology (ICT) is one of the most powerful technologies ever developed by humankind. It has drastically changed the way we do things, the way we communicate and even the way we think. Education is one of the spheres of human activity that is being strongly influenced by ICT. While the teaching of ICT has been incorporated at the school-level, ICT itself is being used in the classroom and outside for teaching and learning more effectively. However, access to ICT is not universal due to various reasons, including obscurity and the high cost of proprietary software.

Education is a basic requirement for a comfortable life in today’s society. In view of this, some countries, including India, have made it a fundamental right. This is certainly a move in the right direction. Education in ICT and ICT-enabled education are also becoming wide-spread. Part of the reason for this is the rapid decline in the cost of hardware. At the same time, the high cost of software is acting as a hurdle for further progress. Another factor that prevents more wide-spread use of ICT is the fact that the interface is not available in many languages, which bothers a lot of people.

Obscurity stops people and especially students to learn how things work, software in particular. The right to use, know, change and share technical knowledge about modern artefacts is an essential human right in knowledge societies.

Why is Software Freedom a necessity and not a choice?

Proprietary software does not allow community participation in shaping the ICT to be used for education, and is not suitable for education since their solutions treat students as consumers. Free software community (sometimes called free and open source software community) on the other hand produced GNU/Linux operating system and a comprehensive stack of collaborative workspaces that enable students during the last 25 years. Most of the free software workspaces are made accessible for speakers of all languages of the world, including physically challenged students. The software freedom granted to the people (1. to use the software for any purpose; 2. to study how it works; 3. to modify it and 4. to distribute the modified software) is unquestionably the core source of the free software revolution that is being witnessed. Any software that grants these four freedoms is called Free Software. These freedoms are essential for students to learn how things work, and to share their experience, knowledge and collaborate with others without legal encumbrances.

The software freedom makes it eminently suitable for any purpose, especially for education. The software used in education has to be freely available and accessible to all because education has to be universal. Moreover, the software has to be available in the language used by the community in that part of the world, however small the community may be. This is normally not possible with proprietary software because some communities could be too small to satisfy the commercial interests of the company.

But the situation is different with Free Software. Since the source code is available for study and modification by anyone, students of computer science and software engineering are able to see code written by master programmers and learn from them, just as students of literature learn from works of great writers, or students of art or cinema learn from the works of great artists and movie makers. This is obviously not possible with proprietary software.

Any community that has people with reasonable software skills can customise the interface to show the menu and other items in their own language. They can also create fonts for the language if they are not available. And they can localise applications to suit their culture and environment.

Finally, the students who have computers in their homes can use the same software they use in their educational institutions without either breaking the law and using illegal software, or spending a lot of money to buy the same software.

Thus, Free Software is undeniably the most ideal for use in all educational institutions at all levels; for primary, secondary or higher education. Proprietary software keeps people divided and helpless, while Free Software empowers them. Free software nurtures the much needed creativity by encouraging us to critical thinking and reasoning while proprietary software forces us to consume what they pack.

It is important for the graduating students to become entrepreneurs or join the various agencies for employment. Considering this requirement it is essential that the syllabus in educational institutions focuses on skills and does not include any specific branded applications. Therefore, the syllabus should be neutral and not mention any particular brand.

Just as the software requires to be free, it is essential that learning and teaching resources including documentation, books, journals, and other media should be released with a license (such as Creative Commons by Share Alike) which grants similar freedoms for other resources. All these resources must also be encoded in an open standard so that the exchanged documents are decodable in all platforms ensuring interoperability.

Therefore

considering all the reasons mentioned above, we, the undersigned, call on all educational institutions, policy makers, students and teachers in all corners of the world to discard all proprietary software and use exclusively Free Software.

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Saturation in the scale-free dependency networks of free software

February 3, 2009

As reported in my previous post on Debian Dependency Maps we started to study the properties of dependency relation and the kind of networks the relation can generate.  One preliminary study we (me along with Arnab K. Ray and Rajiv Nair) posit a  nonlinear model for the global analysis of data pertaining to the semantic network of a complex operating system (free and open-source software). While the distribution of links in the dependency network of this system is scale-free for the intermediate nodes, we found that the richest nodes deviate from this trend, and exhibit a nonlinearity-induced saturation effect. This also distinguishes the two directed networks of incoming and outgoing links from each other. The initial condition for a dynamic model, evolving towards the steady dependency distribution, determines the saturation properties of the mature scale-free network.

Here I give some of the motivations on conducting this study and some conclusions.
The full paper with all the technical details is uploaded at arxiv.org.

Scale-free distributions in complex networks have been very well studied by now. The ubiquity of scale-free properties is quite noteworthy, and spans across vastly  diverse domains like (to name a few) the World Wide Web and the Internet, the social, ecological, biological and linguistic networks, income and wealth distributions, trade and business networks, and semantic networks.

It should occasion no surprise, therefore, that further developments have led to the discovery of scale-free features in the architecture of computer software as well. A recent
work  has shown that the structure of object-oriented software is a heterogeneous network characterised by a power-law distribution.  More in keeping with the purpose of this present paper, an earlier work on complex networks in software engineering had found evidence of power-law behaviour in the inter-package dependency networks in free and open-source software (FOSS).  It is a matter of common knowledge that when it comes to installing a software package from the  Debian GNU/Linux repository, many other packages — the “dependencies” — are also called for as prerequisites. This leads to a network of these dependencies, and every such package may be treated as a node in a network of dependency relationships. Each dependency relationship connecting any two packages (nodes) is treated as a link (an edge), and every link establishes a relation between a prior package and a posterior package, whereby the functions defined in the
prior package are called in the posterior package. This enables reuse (economy) of functions and eliminates duplicate development. As a result the whole operating system emerges as a coherent and stable semantic network. However, unlike other semantic networks, the network of nodes in the Debian repository is founded on a single relation spanning across all its nodes: Y depends on X; its inverse, X is required for Y .
So, given any particular node, its links (the relations with other nodes) can be of two types — incoming links and outgoing links — as a result of which, there will arise two distinct kinds of directed network.  For the network of incoming links, a newly-reported work  has empirically established the relevance of Zipf’s law and the conditions attendant on it in Debian GNU/Linux distribution. Carrying further along these very lines, the present study purports to analyse and model the finite-size effects in a FOSS network. There is a general appreciation that for any system with a finite size, the power-law trend is not manifested indefinitely, and in the context of the FOSS network, this is a matter that is recognised as one worthy of a more thorough investigation. Deviations from the power-law trend appear for both the heavily-linked and the sparsely-linked nodes. The former case corresponds to the distribution of a disproportionately high number of links connected to a very few special nodes — the so-called “top nodes” (or rich nodes).  The importance of these nodes is, therefore, a self-evident fact.

The data needed for the modelling pertain to the current stable Debian release, Etch (Debian GNU/Linux 4.0).  The respective networks of both the incoming links and the outgoing links span 18630 nodes (software packages).
The study argues for the significance of non-linearity and saturation, as regards a quantitative characterisation of the incoming and outgoing distribution in the Debian GNU/Linux network.  One might rightly expect to encounter similar features in other networks.  And indeed, given the possibility that the entire network of software packages in an operating system can be construed to be a semantic (albeit non-autonomous) system, its characteristics can furnish a model that can shed light on much more complex but realistic autonomous semantic and cognitive systems, such as the human society, or
even the human mind.

In the road ahead, the gnowledge lab will conduct a similar study for the dependencies between concepts and activities as and when we obtain sufficient number of nodes at gnowledge.org.  Currently we have only about 1000 dependency relations.  As more people get to know about the need of establishing dependency relation between concepts, and as and when the portal itself matures with features to attract more users we can study the properties of the resulting knowledge network.

The full paper with all the technical details is uploaded at arxiv.org.

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