Thursday, February 02, 2006

Free Electron - free software to your liking Free Electron - free software to your liking


Here is how open source software can be used as an educational resource for the benefit of all, particularly resource-starved institutions.

In a significant attempt to promote innovation and help educational institutions conserve resources and overcome the limitations arising from the use of proprietary software, the Society for Promotion of Alternative Computing and Employment (SPACE) and the free software cell of Government Engineering College at Barton Hill in Thiruvananthapuram have jointly developed Free Electron, a GNU/Linux distribution package, mainly meant to meet the creative pursuits of electronics engineering students and teachers.

Free software

The proponents of free software have taken up the project to make it a valuable resource in education. The curbs imposed by proprietary software companies often hinder young talent from innovating. Either they would have to go for innovation ignoring the rules set by the companies or relinquish such ventures for want of funds.

A boon

Free Electron has come as a boon for all those who strive to make unique contributions in this realm. Setting up an electronic laboratory is rather a tough proposition for Government educational institutions and it is here that the Free Electron package comes to their rescue.

According to R. Deepak, a lecturer in electronics at the Government Engineering College, Barton Hill, in addition to the typical desktop applications, Free Electron has the professional typesetting tool TEX, computer numerical application suite `ocatave,' computer algebra system `xmaxima,' electronic design automation suite gEDA and many more simulators, emulators and compilers required for various kinds of electronic design and simulation.

The use of propriety software often limits IT education. Hence, the Government should adopt a policy against using proprietary technologies in educational institutions. Sensitising students should be the first step in creating an empowered society with free software and the creation of packages like Free Electron would set the trend in securing for the students more freedom to break new ground, he says.

They can design tools and by having the customised CD they can practise at their convenience. They can also distribute the software among themselves totally free of cost.

The software

Free Electron comprises editors, electronic design tools, graphics, Math, a high-level language primarily meant for numerical computations, a multi-platform office productivity suite, `,' programming, typesetting, tools and viewers.

Along with the customised CD, a detailed installation guide has also been prepared for the users. It is also available as an OpenOffice file in the directory `doc' in the CD.

Academicians have made remarkable contributions for the development and popularisation of free software and Free Electron too is a step in this regard, says Vimal Joseph, an activist of SPACE. It gives the students as well as the teachers the right to copy and use it as one's own property, to study, modify and also to redistribute in an unrestricted manner.

Highly adaptive

Free Electron being highly adaptive, can be put to various uses without incurring any financial burden, says Joseph.

SPACE is planning to widen its network on the campuses in an effective manner and make it accessible to more people within a very short span of time.

As part of its awareness drive among students, the society has decided to give an assistance of Rs.50,000 each for the projects taken up by students.

The society also has plans to set up cells in more educational institutions in the State. The society is encouraged by the warm response from the students and teachers.

Almost all institutions would soon have such cells, says Mr. Joseph.

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