Free/Open Source Software in CUSAT: A Success Story
G. Santhosh Kumar
Department of Computer Science,
Cochin University of Science and Technology
E-mail : san[at]cusat.ac.in
Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) concept is
very important in the academic community. The open
philosophy of FOSS is consistent with academic
freedom and the open dissemination of knowledge and
information in academia. FOSS can lower the barriers
to access of ICTs by reducing the cost of the software.
This article discusses the success story of
CUSAT's adoption of Free/Open Source Software.
FOSS is the preferred method of software
business of the day. This may not be a surprising
statement if we see major industry players like IBM,
HP, Novell, and Sun Microsystems have rebuilt their
business models around FOSS. Internet giant Google
has built massively scalable infrastructures primarily
on FOSS technologies. Recently Google has
announced a mobile platform, Android. It is the first
free, open source, and fully customizable end-to-end
software platform for your mobile phones. The best
news is anyone can contribute to Android and influence
the future of mobile devices as a whole.
Open source rhymes well with the Internet's focus
on standardization, more so now than ever before.
Penguin is the most popular server animal on the
Internet. LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) is
by far the most common set-up of the web sites on
the Internet. Interestingly, lots of alternatives are coming
up but most are Free/Open Source solutions.
Free Vs Open
Free (as in freedom/liberty) software and open
source software are often treated as the same thing.
However, there are differences between them with
regards to the licenses assigned to the respective
software. Free software generally appears licensed with
the GNU General Public License (GPL), while OSS
may use either the GPL or some other license that
allows for the integration of software that may not be
free software. Free software, according to free software
advocates like Richard M.Stallman and the Free
Software Foundation, can be seen as a social
movement, whereas OSS is just a software
development methodology. The hallmark of free
software and most OSS is that the source code is
available for remote access, open to study and
modification, and available for redistribution to other
with few constraints, except the right to insure these
freedoms. OSS sometimes adds or removes similar
freedoms or copyright privileges depending on which
OSS copyright and end-user license agreement is
associated with a particular OSS code base. More
simply, free software is always available as OSS, but
OSS is not always free software.
CUSAT Network & Web Presence
We have a campus wide Local Area Network
(LAN) having Internet connectivity bandwidth of
10Mbps. The services offered to the academic
community are managed by Centre for Information
Resource Management (CIRM) with the support of
Department of Computer Science.
The URL http://cusat.ac.in is the web presence
of CUSAT. This web site is hosted in Apache web server
2.2.3 fully running in GNU/Linux (Debian Etch) with
2.6.kemel. The visitor count crosses 65, 00,000 user
clicks as of now.
CUSAT extensively uses the LAMP solution
stack to support its application servers. The
applications services are engineered to have 24x7
uptime. The combination of Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP
has become popular because of its low acquisition rate
and because of the ubiquity of its components.
Our transformation to Free/Open source
paradigm started day back in 2001. CUSAT were using
proprietary solutions to manage its webservices. The
philosophy of hosting and maintaining every service
by our own was not possible by these proprietary
Cochin University of Science and TechnologyPage 2
National Conference on Free Software
technologies. It was also evident that cost spent to
update the licences was huge. Now we have Freedom
as well as Cost effectiveness in managing these
E-Mail service truly has become the primary
communications medium for most organizations and
it is the communications tool that users can least
affords to be without. Internet's mail transfer agent
(MTA) of choice qmail is used in CUSAT. A large
community consisting of 1500 users including
administrative staffs, teachers, researchers and
students use this service, http://mail.cusat.ac.in is the
site and it uses SquirrelMail as the web interface client.
Apache SpamAssasin 3.0 is used along with mail
service to filter out possible spam mails. ClamAV 0.87
supports anti-virus service. All these software available
under GNU Public Licence (GPL)
We have a hierarchical star topology network.
Departments are grouped and put into subnets. These
subnets are managed by dynamic IP addressing with
the help of a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration
Protocol) server configured in GNU/Linux. A machine
in any department just to plug in its network interface
card into point-of-presence and it will be internet ready.
Internet browsing requires a Domain Name System
(DNS) to translate web addresses (URL) to IP
addresses. DNS servers (primary and secondary) are
also configured in Debian Linux.
While other Universities in Kerala heavily depend
on out-side agencies to design, run and maintain their
web based services, we manage all web services by
our own. They can adopt Free/Open source model and
we welcome them to share our expertise with.
Departments: The FOSS Dimension
Free/open source is an excellent choice for learning
science and technology subjects. Tonnes of software are
already available or being created. Almost any counter
part for proprietary software is available in the Internet.
The choice is then given to the academic staff and
students. Learning proprietary tools or technologies that
does not provide the software code and the freedom to
modify or derive other software from it, limits the potential
of academicians and students to fully understand the
software, thereby seriously curtailing the creativity of the
great minds and the learning process.
Most Linux distributions are used and made
available in the CUSAT campus. Ubuntu, Fedora,
Debian, Mandrake are some of them. Mozilla Firefox
has become the default browser of most students as
well as teachers. Software expertise in tools like Scilab
(replacement for Matlab), Weka (Datamining and
Machine learning tool), Grass (GIS system), PSPP
(Statistical analysis tool), NS2 (Network Simulation)
is available within the campus. Office computing is
done through Open Office.
It is true that some departments use licensed
proprietary software. Being an academic institution,
students are also given freedom to learn such
proprietary technologies as well. It is to be noted that
for teaching, it is better to use free software.
Interestingly, use of Free/Open software discourages
Library: Ready for a better Service
Severe budget cuts, increased demand for
services and lack of adequate staffing are the major
challenges faced by any library system. Free/Open
source has been a buzzword in the library community
for several years now. Till now, library software vendors
have built their businesses around a proprietary
software development model, and, as a result, libraries
have been slow to adopt open source. There is a vibrant
community of FOSS who creates and distributes
software for libraries. CUSAT library system has already
realized the concept and value of FOSS. Most of the
departments use Koha integrated library system for
managing most of the library functions. The users can
check the availability of an item, its status; reservation
of documents, and easy transactions of library items.
The availability of FOSS for Digital libraries/
Repositories is another major advantage for libraries.
DSpace is an open source platform for accessing,
managing and preserving scholarly works. CUSAT is
an early adopter of this ground breaking technology.
The URL http://dspace.cusat.ac.in, running under GNU/
Linux is having 2000 digital documents in it and is
growing steadily. It has been accessed from all over
globe having 70 to 80 hits per day.
Students: Opportunities ahead
It is good news that educational institutions are
beginning to integrate open source into their classes.
Most are merely introducing students to open source
tools; others are providing courses that integrate
Cochin University of Science and TechnologyPage 3
National Conference on Free Software
students deeply into the open source development
Institutions struggle to find the balance between
producing valuable intellectual property and contributing
to the public good. There are still huge problems in the
software world that need to be solved. The free/open
source software model is poised to unlock tremendous
value, and despite the obvious challenges, There is
no reason in the world that educational institutions
shouldn't be at the forefront of the continuing free/open
source revolution. CUSAT is always in the forefront of
Increasingly, students are looking for
opportunities to participate directly in open source
projects. Some students are looking for experience;
some are looking for personally satisfying work; some
foresee greater earning capacity.
Spreading the wave to Society
CUSAT have taken strong steps to disseminate
the concept of intellectual freedom to the society.
[email protected] Project of Kerala is a prestigious effort to
impart ICT enabled education to school children of
Kerala. We have conducted effective workshops to
enable school teachers to work with GNU/Linux.
Trainings are also given to Vocational Higher
Secondary school students. Workshops in Free/Open
Software like DSpace, Koha and GNU/Linux operating
system have been given to library professionals.
CUSAT is an early adopter of Free/Open Source
revolution. Apart from freakish exception to economic
principles we can see lots of reasons to the success
of this revolution. Intellectual property law has allowed
to companies to control knowledge at the expense of
industry-wide cooperation. An academic institution like
CUSAT has to ensure the free distribution of knowledge
that can empower a more effective process for building