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An Ode to OpenSource

-Akshay Ranganath

Last week, in our office, we were working on building an application that needed some graphs and charting capability. Lots of options came up, from Flash, to Silverlight, CSS, AJAX and so on. However, when the timelines got clearer, we had to look for something that was fast and already doing most of the work..

The way we went about deciding on the solution and building a small prototype was a reveleation on how entrenched open source has become – and how we have started to take it for granted. Here’s the story..


The primary requirement was generating graphs. We had options like JfreeChart, CSS based charts, some RUI components like Flash and Silverlight.

Java based tools were too heavy for us. We wanted something to plugin with Apache web server. We did not need another app server – even though they may be free. This effectively rendered most options out – and we did not have time to explore option of changing technology from LAMP stack to Java/J2EE based stack.

Enter Google Charts – Its a free HTTP API. You just send data to be charted in a pre-defined format and the Google server returns you a nice graph as a PNG image. Just embed it and behold – your site has ability to draw charts! No excel, no complicated libraries. What’s more – you canconfigure many things:

  1. type of graph – bar, pie, line
  2. colors for graph
  3. scales – especially for line charts to appear nice
  4. title for graph, legends and so on

and all for free. Development time for graphs – reduced to 0!

Next question was how to provide a rich UI for generating these graphs. There were lots of answers like writing our own XhttpRequest to using Yahoo UI, Jquery and so on.

Finally, we settled on Jquery. It is simple, easy and very light. Compared to Yahoo UI’s MNs of size, this entire library is just one file and provides ability for:

  1. DOM manipulation
  2. AJAX calls
  3. Simple effects like hide, display, etc.

Again – cost is zero and development is 0!

Next was the question of environment. Server we’d already decided was Apache. So again, cost is zero.. (Well, I was getting good at suggestion these zero cost solutions 🙂

Next came the decision of what to use as IDE. Although we could have done a bit of R&D on this, we simply chose Eclipse since the installers were already available.

Test Environment
Since we were learning Jquery and testing it, we wanted a brower that could point out any Javascript errors and in an easy to debug manner. We also wanted to do a multi browser test – just to ensure that it worked correctly. So, we got hold of Firefox and Google Chrome. Both have a very helpful JS debugger (Firebug in Firefox is every developer’s dream come true!) Safari too is free so we just got hold of that too..

So finally..
The result of all these solutions was that we managed to get a small protoype taking user input, sending data to Google, getting the chart and displaying it. This entire application took just about 4 hours of development time – most of which was spent in installation of software! It was amazing that so much could be accomplished with just a plug and start model. We did not have to invest time or money in getting any of the actual functionality to work – we just focused on the business problem of getting the right data for graphing. Everything else was just open sourced!

I was amazed at how we could achieve this all – and never give it a thought. So, I just wanted to say a big “Thank you” to all the people who took pains in developing such helpful software and publish it out so that the entire world could use it for their needs.

OSS rocks!

PS: We tested our application on Ubuntu and this blog was written on OpenOffice – something I totally forgot while writing the blog.. amazing isn’t it how you get used to the OS being non-Windows and OpenOffice just makes you feel so much at for MS Office users (at least for most part!)

Ubuntu & Chrome – Dual Attack on Microsoft?

-Akshay Ranganath

Today, I was just going through some of the popular news items on Digg and found some interesting articles.

Microsoft which has been the leader in desktop OS and the browser market (despite alternatives) is now suddenly in the midst of a dual modal attack. Until now, the competition to MS was more ideological – GNU movement that defined what is *free* but failed to provide any alternative that anyone could use.

However, with Google Chrome and Ubuntu OS, the stranglehold of MS is reducing – or so says most of the sites. Here’s some interesting facts that I found:


An article in NYTimes talks about Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, the maker of the Ubuntu OS. Citing on its usage, philosophy and business model, the article says:

More than 10 million people are estimated to run Ubuntu today, and they represent a threat to Microsoft’s hegemony in developed countries and perhaps even more so in those regions catching up to the technology revolution.

The technology research firm IDC estimates that 11 percent of American businesses have systems based on Ubuntu. That said, many of the largest Ubuntu customers have cropped up in Europe, where Microsoft’s dominance has endured intense regulatory and political scrutiny.

Canonical also receives revenue from companies like Dell that ship computers with Ubuntu and work with it on software engineering projects like adding Linux-based features to laptops. All told, Canonical’s annual revenue is creeping toward $30 million, Mr. Shuttleworth said. That figure won’t worry Microsoft.

But Mr. Shuttleworth contends that $30 million a year is self-sustaining revenue, just what he needs to finance regular Ubuntu updates. And a free operating system that pays for itself, he says, could change how people view and use the software they touch everyday.

The company’s model centers on outpacing Microsoft on both price and features aimed at new markets.

Google Chrome
In a separate article on the blazingly fast development cycles of Google Chrome, an article in says, “Google first released Chrome in September of 2008 and has issued 18 releases spanning both its dev and stable channels.”

To top it, Google has quickly upgraded the WebKT toolkit used in rendering by the browser. But, a more serious dent to Microsoft is the creation of a Google HTTP Stack. This HTTP stack totally bypasses the Windows based WinHTTP rendering the browser mode cross-platform. Google is slowly making the browser more and more independent of the underlying platform..

Compare this with a single note on what Microsoft has been doing lately (from NYTimes ):

Microsoft had an estimated 10,000 people working on Vista, its newest desktop operating system, for five years. The result of this multibillion-dollar investment has been a product late to market and widely panned.