Sri Lanka: An island that is linking up aggressively to the outside world
This is a small country, with a high profile. Work being done here, specially the links being built with universities and the diaspora technologies, hold lessons for many of us in the rest of Asia.
Like any other
developing nation, Sri Lanka still has a low-penetration of
ICTs? in its rural areas. Low English-language skills (in a country which
however has high literacy in the local language, Sinhala) is seen as a
barrier, as is the relatively high cost of computers -- both hardware and
FOSS campaigners have undertaken some very interesting iniatiatives: by involving local developers in global projects, linking up and absorbing support from university-based IT-skill sets, launching a Sinhala language operating system for GNU/Linux and encouraging Sri Lankans to contribute actively to global projects such as Apache (Web Services), Geronimo, Prozilla, and GNU. During the December 2004 tsunami, the work of this badly-affected island-nation in creating a software called Sahana (for humanitarian disaster management) also got noticed.
By actively linking up with the rest of the globe, this small country is working to build up its FOSS skills, and in September 2005 launches an ambitious set of conferences that will draw in participation from across Asia. Non-profit organisations like the Lanka Software Foundation has taken the lead to encourage Sri Lankan developers to participate in global FOSS projects. The Lanka Linux Users Group LKLUG -- founded at the Peradeniya University -- has also been promoting FOSS for the last decade. Companies like Virtusa, JKCS, hSenid have or are building export oriented service/product offerings on FOSS.
FOSS penetration in Sri Lanka
Fields in which FOSS is having an impact include telecom providers, software engineering services for export, IT security services, universities, government organisations, commercial distribution support, schools, network solutions.
The two principal organisations working on OSS are Lanka Linux User Group (LKLUG) at http://www.linux.lk which can be contacted via Anuradha firstname.lastname@example.org. Its members come from a wide range of backgrounds. (FSF-type hackers, Linux enthusiasts, professors, academics, liminaries ofrom the Sri Lanka software industry.) Then, there's the Colombo University-based Lanka Software Foundation at http://www.opensource.lk It's headed by Dr. Sajiva Weerawarna, an OSI board member doing world class work on Apache. Contact Sanjiva email@example.com
Floss.lk is a network linking the organising of the National Free and Open - Source software week in early September 2005. See http://www.foss.lk and contact via Pradeep - firstname.lastname@example.org.
A closer look: LSF
Lanka Software Foundation (LSF) is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to encourage Sri Lankan developers to participate in global free and open-source software projects. It was founded by Sanjiva Weerawarana and Jivaka Weeratunga. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org This is being done "in order that Sri Lanka's IT industry can become a driving force in the global computing industry". Acts as a medium to direct and coordinate funds and resources for the development and enhancement of knowledge and research in open source related fields with the Sri Lanka IT Industry
LSF says it currently operates three development labs:
University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC): This lab accomodates 12 developers working on the various Apache projects. There are 15 desktop machines of which three are used for automated building and as test servers, work areas, ADSL connectivity and a whiteboard in this room.
University of Moratuwa, Dept. of Computer Science & Engineering: This lab has facilities to accomodate upto 15 developers although currently used by only six industrial placement students. The desktop machines have been donated by the University. It has internet connectivity via the University and was completely refurbished in September 2004.
Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) : Six developers work at this lab with all modern facilities being made available inlcuding a discussion room with a whiteboard and internet connectivity.
LSF has a fellowship programme which is supported by IBM (USA) and the Swedish International Development Co-operation Program (SIDA). It has also acknowledged support from the University of Colombo School of Computing (by way of a development lab and hosts for the LSF mail server), the University of Moratuwa Department of Computer Science and Engineering (by way of a development lab), and the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), also by way of a development lab.
Companies providing developers to its initiatives include John Keells Computer Services (three full-time developers), Virtusa (1 full-time developer), hSenid (1 full-time developer ). Earlier contributions came in from IFS, Kingslake, and uBizPort. Companies providing infrastructure include Ceynet.net (providing DNS, email and Web facilities).
LSF Projects: LSF says it intends to support its developers on two kinds of open-source projects -- projects that have been started elsewhere and projects that it runs on its own.
Projects handled by LSF include implementation of SOAP Engines
- Apache Axis C++ Apache Axis Java 2.0 Axis Mora
Implementation of Web Services: specifications for web services security, reliable messaging and transactions
- WS-Reliable Messaging (Apache Sandesha) WS-SecureConversation? & WS-Trust (under Apache WS-FX) WS-Atomic Transactions (Apache Kandula) * WS-Security (WSS4C)
Implementations in the Telecom Industry
- JSR 172 * Multimedia Messaging Service Center (MMSC)
- Sahana BSF WSDL<->WS
LSF says it believes that open-source can be a major positive influence in the further development of Sri Lanka. LSF offers "opportunities" for postgradute students to join LSF and master some of the most challenging and exciting areas in SOA. CVs? are to be sent to email@example.com
Says LSF: "On a different level, the usage of open-source software in societal and educational applications can greatly reduce the cost of large-scale deployments of software. Similarly, open-source has a significant role to play in e-government issues."
A closer look: http://www.lug.lk/
Started in 1998. Informal, but very influential. A diverse community of geeks. Very active mailing lists. Organizes booths and workshops. Working on localizing GNU/Linux desktop. Helps schools adopt FOSS.
Quote: "The main objective of Lanka Linux User Group is to promote GNU/Linux
software in Sri Lanka. It was started during the
Linux for Educational and
Commercial Environments workshop conducted in July 1998, with 40 members
and five advisors. We handle Linux installations and lend distribution kits.
The Linux mini library contains Linux Journals, Linux HOWTOs?, LaTeX?
documents, CDs? and many other Linux books. The users interchange their
experiences through the mailing list."
For an interesting debate see
Open Source and Developing Countries, by
& Sanjiva Weerawarana, Chairman Executive Director, Lanka Software
& Foundation, CEO, Serendib Systems
http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/os2005/view/e_sess/7006 It argues that
while the people who active as early drivers of the FOSS movement globally
have primarly come from US and Western Europe, the situation of the rest of
the world being "users" of FOSS is change. Weerawarana presents a study
showing how a group of developers from Sri Lanka are beginning to contribute
actively to the Apache open source world. "Generalized to the developing
world, this could translate to a major shift in how open source software is
built. Many open source projects suffer from lack of resources. On the other
hand, highly skilled technical experts in developing countries suffer from
lack of opportunies; not lack of well-paying jobs, but lack of jobs that
allows them to be creative," he argues.
Quote: "The Lanka Software Foundation, a non-profit organization formed in Sri Lanka about two years ago, is attempting to basically connect these two to bring more and more technical resources to projects and to give the developers the opportunities they so crave. It is slowly succeeding: From around the 1200+ committers in Apache today nearly 50 are now from tiny Sri Lanka. While the numbers do not directly translate to contribution and impact, the numbers are the beginnings of an environment where significant contribution may occur."
Also discussed are some of the opportunities that the globalized development of open source project creates and how it could fundamentally change the dynamics of the global software industry.
One of the notable people working on FOSS in Sri Lanka is a Danish
Buddhist monk by the name of Venerable Mettavihari; who has been
doing some fantastic work especially in schools. Contact
firstname.lastname@example.org or or Bhikkhu Mettavihari
Ruvan Weerasinghe (UCSC) http://www.ucsc.cmb.ac.lk email@example.com
Chamindra De Silva (LSF / Virtusa) firstname.lastname@example.org
Anuradha Ratnaweera (LKLUG / Virtusa) www.linux.lk/~anuradha/
Wasantha recently announced plans to make Grappix user-friendly to use, and says he to "categorize all the graphic applications accordingly". He also managed to change the default webpage where he plans to include links to official sites of the graphic applications that have been added to this distribution. Screenshot: http://dhost.info/mygimp/images/tmp/grappix.jpg
- Chamindra de Silva
- and http://www.linux.lk/~chamindra -- points out that "as a developing nation Sri Lanka still has low IT penetration in rural areas (though we have high literacy rates), however this is picking up rapidly and people are more open to adopting FOSS platforms as they have no legacy exposure. Microsoft has recently become very aggressive in schools/universities and their programs seem to be even reaching our curriculum."
He adds: "Unfortunately right now we do not have similar programs on FOSS for our developing nation. The upcoming FOSS Week in Sri Lanka this September (see http://www.iosn.net/country/sri-lanka/events/FOSSWeek2005 ) ending on the Software freedom day is targeted also at schools/universities. We hope to have a roadshow for rural areas. You are probably aware this is entirely a volunteer effort."
In a blog [The Rodent's Burrow Maunderings Rodentical, http://ken.coar.org/burrow/index?citations=Sanjiva+Weerawarana#875 ] lists a number of players in the Apache field in Sri Lanka, whose work has been recognised by the Apache Software Foundation:
It notes, "Back in January I was honoured to be one of the people handing out recognition plaques to ASF contributors in Sri Lanka. Here are their names, affiliations, and areas of contribution, as provided me by Sanjiva Weerawarana":
- Lilantha Dharshana, Virtusa Chamindra De Silva, Virtusa Susantha Kumara, Virtusa Chaminda Divitotawela, Virtusa Nuwan Gurusinghe, hSenid Nadika Ranasinghe, Virtusa Roshan Weerasuriya, JKCS Damitha Kumarage, JKCS Sanjaya Sinharage, JKCS * Satheesh Thurairajah, ex-Virtusa now in Canada
- Srinath Perera, University of Moratuwa Dimuthu Leelaratne, University of Moratuwa Vairamuthu Thayapavan, University of Moratuwa * Jeykumar Chandrasegaram, University of Moratuwa
- Amila Navaratne, University of Moratuwa Amila Nilantha, University of Moratuwa Sudar Nimalan, University of Moratuwa * Jaliya Ekanayake, University of Moratuwa
Axis/C++ Team Recognized
In addition to the Sri Lankan individuals who were given recognition for their achievement of committer status at the ASF, here is the total list of Axis/C++ team who were recognised at the presentation. Some of them are ASF committers, and some are not -- but all have contributed to the project's success.
- Lilantha Dharshana, Virtusa Chamindra De Silva, Virtusa Susantha Kumara, Virtusa Chaminda Divitotawela, Virtusa Nuwan Gurusinghe, hSenid Nadika Ranasinghe, Virtusa Roshan Weerasuriya, JKCS Damitha Kumarage, JKCS Sanjaya Sinharage, JKCS Kanchana Welagedara, LSF Satheesh Thurairajah, ex-Virtusa now in Canada Srinath Perera, University of Moratuwa Dimuthu Leelaratne, University of Moratuwa Vairamuthu Thayapavan, University of Moratuwa Jeykumar Chandrasegaram, University of Moratuwa Thushantha Ravipriya De Alwis, BeyondM? Piranavam Thiruchelvan, University of Colombo Dharmarajeswaran Dharmeehan, University of Colombo Selvarajah Selvendra, University of Colombo * Sanjiva Weerawarana, IBM
Current advisors of the LK-LUG
- Gihan Dias, University of Moratuwa Nimal Ratnayake, University of Peradeniya http://www.pdn.ac.lk/personal/nimalr/index.html Santha Sumanasekera, University of Peradeniya http://www.cs.rmit.edu.au/~santhas/ Prasad Wimalasiri, University of Southern California http://www-scf.usc.edu/~wimalasi/ Ananth Vigneswaran, Lanka Communication Services Ltd * Anuradha Ratnaweera, Virtusa Corporation http://www.linux.lk/~anuradha/
University of Colombo School of Computing, University of Moratuwa, University of Peradeniya, University of Ruhuna
Companies Virtusa, JKCS, hSenid, EuroCentre?
Government Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA)
http://sinhala.linux.lk/ is the Sinhala project. In October 2004, Sinhala GNU/Linux 0.2.1-rc1 was released.
Highlights of Sinhala GNU/Linux 0.1 (released in August 2004) are:
- Sinhala language patch for Pango Sinhala opentype font (with GSUB lookups) Sinhala locale (glibc/X) for Sri Lanka * GTK phonetic input method for Sinhala
They also have a sourceforge mirror and some screenshots for display. Says the network, "You can find archives of the Sinhala Linux mailing list and subscription information to our Sinhala Linux mailing list in our mailing list information pages. We also have a collection of links related to i18n/l10n resources on the web."
Features of the GNU/Sinhala desktop: Sinhala font, Sinhala rendering, Transliteration KB input, Spell checking, Sinhala locale for SL, Patches to Pango, GTK & QT.
Initiatives and projects
relief in Sinhalese), a disaster relief management system built
following the recent Asian tsunami. Sinhala GNU/Linux desktop, Kandula (for
WS Atomics transactions), Grappix (a live CD optimizer for 2D and 3D
graphics), Sandesha (web services reliable messaging implementation).
Sahana Disaster Relief Project is a simple IT solutions can help the relief, recovery and rehabilitation work. Natural alignment of disaster management domain problems to FOSS. Quote: "This is not a theoretical exercise; it's driven by real needs and realities Feedback from those experienced with disaster management and others has been very positive."
Components so far include: organization registry, people registry, request management system, camp registry and burial registry. Long term objective is to become a free, open source disaster preparation, relief and recovery management system. Sahana is an FOSS project in SourceForge?. See http://www.sahana.lk/ for OS project and http://relief.cno.gov.lk/ for live system. Say its promoters, "We need your help to make it truly global and successful."
In March 1999, a seminar was held in the Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, on 20 March, 1999 on LaTeX? and its Sinhala and Tamil extentions. See seminar material page to get related material and software. http://www.linux.lk/latex/seminar.html
Details of the e-Sri Lanka PC which will also be running Red Hat Linux. http://www.icta.lk/Insidepages/News&event/190705whatsnew.asp Other projects include the Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird localisation project http://www.accimt.ac.lk/sinhala/engpg.htm
Lions on OSS: FOSS programs by Lankans http://www.lug.lk/lions-on-oss.php is a page of FOSS programs by Sri Lankans. Quote: "You have to be a born Sri Lankan to get your program up here." Some of the programs currently listed include the following:
PHPlus? ("Rapid web application development framework and an IDE for PHP"), PHPlus? is an open source project to help PHP developers and designers make web based development faster and painless. The goal of this project is to develop a framework and tools (IDE) which will clearly seperate the interface & program logic. http://phplus.sourceforge.net/
Apache Axis C++ This implementation of a C++ SOAP engine provides a stable platform for developing Web services in C and C++. This engine can be used to develop client applications as well. http://www.apache.org/dyn/closer.cgi/ws/axis-c/
pdnMesh pdnMesh is a program that can solve 2D potential problems (Poisson Equation) and eigenvalue problems (Helmholtz Equation) using the Finite Element Method. Common applications occur in electromagnetics, heat flow and fluid dynamics. http://pdnmesh.sf.net/
Sahana, coping with disaster: Another project of interest is Sahana, the
post-tsunami disaster relief management system which was started in early
2005 and is now continuing. Sanjiva Weerawarana
In August 2005, at the time of writing, Sahana's promoters said it is now going to phase II. The following doc captures the vision: http://www.linux.lk/~chamindra/docs/Sahana-phase2-masterdoc-0_5.pdf
It is also registered on IOSN at the newly created Humanitarian-FOSS section at http://www.iosn.net/foss/humanitarian
Sanjiva commented on his blog (http://www.bloglines.com/blog/sanjiva): I was invited to attend the Redhat User Summit where I received an award for the Sahana project. While I received the award, it really belongs to the 80+ people who contributed to its development. On behalf of everyone, thank you Redhat for recognizing their efforts!
I'm also happy to announce that we have received funding to continue the Sahana project to make it into a truly globally reusable disaster management system. Chamindra de Silva, currently R&D manager at Virtusa is going to be taking an year off and leading that project. Chamindra is a very strong advocate of free and open source software, especially for humanitarian purposes and I'm excited about how far Sahana will go under his guidance.
We're working hard to get wide international participation and have already excellent participation from folks in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand etc.. If you are interested or if you know people interested in disaster management software or have domain expertise in disaster management, please ask them to join the Humanitarian ICT Yahoo! group and jump right in.
Chamindra de Silva
Taprobane project: See the Taprobane project lead by Anuradha and Buddhika. http://www.taprobane.org Taprobane is a convenient GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian. It can be installed to a hard drive or used as a live CD.
Taprobane GNU/Linux is free software (open source). It's a collective work released under the Artistic License 2.0. Taprobane components are released under the GNU General Public License. Taprobane 0.2 2005-08-11 This is not a full featured release, but only a snapshot of present status to get feedback and feature requests.
Quote: "Here we go! Yet another Debian based live CD GNU/Linux distribution!! Why another? Simply because none of the existing ones completely met our criteria for convenience, usability, freedom and power. We wish to address as many of those issues as possible with Taprobane. We just started, so there is not much here or on the SourceForge? project page. But things will soon change; stay tuned! Taprobane is a name for Sri Lanka, a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, which is also known as Ceylon.
"When some Indo-Aryans from North India first migrated to Sri Lanka about
2500 years ago, they noticed the copper coloured sand on the beach and named
it Tambapanni (Thamba for copper). Ptolemy's map of
Island of Taprobane and
other surrounding islands (150 A.D.) is the earliest surviving map of the
Sri Lanka. Origins of the word Taprobane is very likely to be Tambapanni.
More details and the map itself can be found here."
Mailing lists on the lug.lk server, include the following: advocacy; ict; linux; Mailman; members; Security; and Web. (Archives of some lists appear unavailable as of August 2005. See http://secure.lug.lk/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo )
Other resources available
University FOSS resources: The ftp site is of the University of Peradeniya contains several Linux software packages. Currently it is open only for users from the lk domain. Please refer to our software page to find links to home-pages of those software packages. Downloading from the home pages will be much faster for users outside the lk domain.
Events being observed in Lanka recently include
Software Freedom Day Events (LK-LUG) Open Source Conference (LSF) Booth at e-Society Exhibition (LK-LUG) FOSS promotion at International Book Exhibition (LK-LUG) Booth at ASOCIO Exhibition (LK-LUG) FOSS for Scouts (LK-LUG)
In early September 2005, the Sri Lanka Free and Open Source Convention 2005 is being organised from September 5-11. It will include FOSSSL '05 “Developer” Conference, the 6th AsiaOSS? Symposium, a CxO? Forum, University and Schools Advocacy, Software Freedom Day and Public FOSS Advocacy.
The Tokyo-based Center of the International Cooperation for Computerization
International Information (CICC) Technology Lab, has announced that the 6th
Asia Open Source Software Symposium will be held in Colombo in September
2005. This is one in a series of Asian meet-ups which have brought together
the officials and business backers of FOSS from various Asian countries.
Significantly, this is the first such meet in South Asia. So far, the
meetings looked mainly at the what the outside world calls the
This meet is being organised by the CICC, the Information and Communication Technology Agency, Sri Lanka (ICTA) and the University of Colombo, School of Computing from September 6 to 8 in Colombo. Said the organisers: "This time, we would like to discuss the concrete cooperative ways based on the Beijing Statement (a previously decided-on agenda). Also, we would like to invite official organization, academia, community side participants, focusing on OSS from HRD and the localization point of view. As one of the Asia OSS Symposium activities, a Code Fest will be held."
Past Asia OSS symposium was held in Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Chinese Taipei and Beijing, China. AsiaOSS? Symposium is an invitation only event coordinated by the CICC.
During the event, the First Sri Lanka Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Week is to be held from September 5 to 10, 2005 -- ending on Software Freedom Day. This event aims to draw "recognition to Sri Lanka" through an international Free/Libre and Open Source Software conference; promote the use of FOSS in the island nation for business, government and academia; draw "awareness" to Lanka's FLOSS "capability and accomplishments"; and help "brand" Sri Lanka "as a hub for FLOSS development in Asia".
Organisers announced, "The FOSSSL Developer Conference is a two day event targeted at the IT industry/FOSS developers and technologists. A group of eight to nine international recognized FOSS leaders will give keynotes on the Open Source LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL?/Postgres, PHP/Python/Perl, Distro). In terms of speakers we already have confirmations from Rasmus Lerdorf (Father of PHP), Michael Tiemann (Redhat CTO), Bruce Momjian (co-founder of PostgreSQL? development group), Martin Michelmayr (Debian Project Lead) and Dr Sanjiva Weerawarna (OSI Board Member / Web Services Co-Author). We have had positive responses and awaiting the final confirmation from Apache, MySQL?. All that is pending is leader from the GNU/Linux kernel team."
The CXO conference will be targeted toward public and private sector CxOs? (CIOs? or the main IT decision makers) bring awareness and educating them on the benefits, approaches and commercial services available on the use of Open Source in their enterprise.
More links on Sri Lanka's FOSS initiatives are on the IOSN site at http://www.iosn.net/country/sri-lanka/ In particular, see http://www.iosn.net/country/sri-lanka/contribution http://www.linux.lk/~chamindra/docs/SriLanka.pdf
Thanks to Gihan Dias