Open Source Movement & India: Where are our Documents? Amandeep Singh Sandhu

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Open Source Movement & India: Where are our Documents?

  • Amandeep Singh Sandhu



  • This talk focuses on the background and current status of Open Source and presents some ways of working in the area …

  • It does not intend to explain Open Source Docs or Tools in detail

  • It intends to give a perspective on an emerging field - Without the consideration of jobs or compensation 

  • It focuses on the FUN

A Brief History

  • . . . Multics . . .

  • UNIX: 1969 – Bell Labs – Ossana, Thompson, Ritchie

  • BSD: 1979 - Berkely Software Distribution

  • HP UX: 1981 – Hewlett Packard

  • SunOS/Solaris: 1984 – Sun Microsystems

  • NetWare: 1983 – Novell, easy version later NetWare 3.11

  • Apple Mac: 1984 – Apple Computers

  • Windows: 1985 - Microsoft

  • Linux: 1991 – Linus Torvaldus later merges Linux with GNU

  • These surely are a lot, and there are another 300+ operating systems in the world.

A soap is a Soap is a Soap

What is Open Source

  • It is a way of working where the users of a system know how the system works

  • It is not necessarily free: money wise

  • The freedom is in the usage

  • Users are free to modify and put back the changes into the source code

  • It has its own set of trademark rules

  • Users must add the open source rights to their software, so others can use and modify

Is it Affecting India

  • A small poll: How many companies here are influenced/affected by Open Source?

Traditional Vs Open Source

  • Traditional

  • Manuals: User/Admin

  • Readme

  • Help Systems

  • Quick Start Cards

  • Deployment

  • TroubleShooting …

Change Control in Open Source

  • Engineers do not bother about docs

  • Users bother about docs

  • Docs solve most of the problems

  • ‘How To’ docs are an Open Source invention

  • Even ‘How To’ docs are not updated!

Are Open Source Docs different?

  • The fact that these docs do not follow a proprietor model

  • So they are open to being downloaded and modified by all and sundry

  • The challenge is to make docs open yet control what goes into it

  • Hence domain expertise!

Is this a New Idea?

  • Not really,

    • Respect keeps the Open Source movement alive
    • Respect pushes them to create better quality
  • This respect comes from peers, and fellow hackers

    • Open Source documentation means writers will need to earn respect beyond the company tags, from the community

Support: Mantra of Free Software

  • Here are two versions of software: one priced and one free

  • Take the priced one and you get extra features and support

  • Take the free one and you are left to your devices

  • What is support? The entity which makes a difference?

Documentation is Support

  • Docs are a value proposition (wish our managers saw it as one)

  • By delivering accurate docs we cut down support costs

  • By retaining the knowledge and supplying it appropriately we cut down on support costs

An Example

  • I had a problem with my dial up connection. A support guy charged me and fixed it

  • I still had a problem: I couldn’t open a browser

  • Another support guy charged me and fixed it

  • Fact: I found no docs on the Internet to solve my problem. And this was with Windows.

  • Imagine Linux ... Imagine all the other flavours.

Some Approaches

  • Mailing Lists

    • MySQL
    • RedHat
    • VeriSign
    • Open Source Application Foundation
  • Blogs

    • ZDNet
    • MSN!
    • Site Point
  • 601 Yahoo groups

  • Other groups (Apache, Snort)

Tools for Open Source Docs

  • Editing:

    • Emacs
    • VI
    • JEdit,
    • Kate
    • KWrite
    • for smaller doc projects
  • Formats:

    • XML
    • LaTeX

Tools for Open Source Docs - II

  • Output:

    • PDF
    • PostScript
    • HTML
  • Vector graphics:

    • XFig
    • Sodipodi
    • Draw
  • Graphics:

    • GIMP
  • Versioning, archives and distributed work:

    CVS, Subversion


  • Copyleft:

    Method requiring all modified and extended versions of a software program to be free. The same applies to documentation.
  • GPL:

    GNU General Public License intends to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software. This General Public License applies to most of the Free Software Foundation's software and to any other program whose authors commit to using it.
  • Free Software:

    Free software is a matter of freedom, not cost. It is a matter of liberty, not price. The word `free' in free software has a similar meaning as in free speech, free people and free country and should not be confused with its other eaning associated with zero-cost. Think of free software as software which is free of encumbrances. Think of it as swatantra software.


  • Motivation  Why be interested?

    • It provides a blend of writing and technical path
    • Might be satisfying
  • Lack of community of writers

  • Lack of forums

  • Lack of acknowledgement from management

Some Links

  • Doc Efforts

    • Doc Book:
    • Writers:
  • Free Software:

  • Open Source:

  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar:

  • Eric S Raymond Feb ’01 ISBN: 0-596-00108-8



  • Time to move:

    • From company to individual branding
    • From listening to what is to be done to doing it
    • From being a technical communicator to being a technical communicator with domain expertise
    • From riding the bus to driving the bus
          • Thanks!

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