Open source opening doors to IT

Danishka Navin speaks to the Mirror about revolutionizing IT needs among those in the outstations with open source software

Danishka Navin saw a problem. In the rural regions of Sri Lanka people were struggling with the advancement of IT; students had to compete with the internet savvy kids of more privileged surroundings and teachers found it hard to keep up with the computer related modes of teaching. Danishka realized that a certain percentage of the younger generation was being left behind.

The solution was free open source software that replaced the more expensive variants like Windows software, giving them a better change at a fast developing future. Hanthana Linux is a remix of the popular Linux distribution Fedora and was built with the aim of easily fulfilling the needs of people who don’t have consistent Internet facilities and people with minimal computer experience.

Danishka is a 31-year-old System Engineer and a double degree holder. He has a BSc special degree in IT and BSc Join Major Degree in IT and Industrial Management, from the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) and Wayamba University. He works as a community leader for several open source projects such as Mozilla, and Fedora. “In 2009 I was conducting an ICT workshop for students and teachers in the Wilgamuwa Education Zone, of the Central Province. During the workshop I noticed what few resources they had. They had very poor internet connectivity.

They couldn’t even check their emails. So, I decided to add all applications used in general PCs and [another] set of educational applications. Those kids were talented but they did not have enough resources as students do in the city. And most of the teachers complained that they couldn’t keep abreast of the advancements taking place. Which meant [that the] kids were not in touch either. I am not a person who is just shouting on a blog or on facebook. I [actually] do visit rural areas and bring the technology to their door step.”

“Hanthana Linux includes all the software, services and facilities you get from the standard Fedora system,” explains Danishka. “In addition, Hanthana includes a number of software to cater to your office, educational, multimedia and graphics needs.”

Hanthana Linux can also be redistributed as copies, giving accessibility to many. One could also make improvements to the program, and release an improved version to the public, so that the whole community may benefit further.

Hanthana Linux helps people with weak, almost nonexistent connections and limited IT knowledge to make full use of the internet and its features. 

Launched on September 19, 2009 [at the Software Freedom Day], The Hanthana Community now consists of school students, undergraduates and professionals in the industry. Recently Hanthana Linux was installed as the only operating system in more than 250 computers in 10 School labs around the country. “The numbers keeps growing due to the quality and quantity of the useful applications in Hanthana Linux. School children tend to use it at their homes specially when there is no Internet connection” said Danishka. “Hanthana Linux is capable [enough] to cater [to the] undergraduates from different universities in the island. Not only for educational purposes, Hanthana Linux [also] runs at the places where more professional solutions are needed; Internet Cafes, CD renters and merchants. Professionals of the field such as system administrators also use Hanthana Linux.” 

Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda, Richmand College, Galle, Bandaranayake College, Gampaha, Ferguson High School, Rathnapura are some of the schools the Hanthana Lenux project has worked with so far. Danishka elaborates further on the work they have done within the past two years. “Since this is a community project, we want to work with everyone in the community. Such as individuals, SMEs, Government Organization and the Private Sector. Hanthana Linux DVD ISO is there in our web site to be downloaded free of charge for anyone. There were awareness and training programs conducted for several government organizations including National College of Education (NCOE) Dhargatown, Aluthgama, and the Department of Police. I have recently conducted a 3day training for a group of 35 members of the of Sri Lanka Navy IT staff”.  

Various people from different fields and segments of society are behind the project working together to make it a success. They include school and university students, teachers, system administrators, graphics designers and a number of non technical individuals. The response in general to the Hanthana Linux free and open software is positive.

The Hanthana Community Magazine will be launched shortly and would be available in Sinhala, Tamil and English. It is an e-magazine that will help the Hanthana Linux users gain further insight to the system while understanding Free and Open Source Technologies. It will also give the community members an opportunity to share and publish their work and gain feedback and ideas from each other. Video tutorials could also be submitted and shared by the Hanthana Community. The very first video tutorial was submitted by a school student on the Hanthana Linux installation. ‌“Most importantly” Danishka stresses “We will bring Hanthana Linux to your door step. We are conducting Hands on training for ICT teachers, within their Educational Zone. We conduct those workshops free of charge and we cover our travel and other expenses on our own. The only expectation is [that] all participants will spread this knowledge. We are not just doing work on the Internet and [it is not just limited to the] city areas. I am proud to say that we focus on visiting rural places and conducting hands on trainings [there].” 

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