The fact that one can “borrow” the code base of a stable Operating System to roll out a customized version of a Linux Distribution, is Open Source software’s strongest property.

TCE, or Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai is one of Tamil Nadu’s finest Educational Institutions. In an organization that uses Debian as it’s OS of choice, two students Sowmy Narayan and Sarvesh Ghautham have rolled out their own version of an Ubuntu clone.

The following is an interview , done over Email, with Sowmy, one of the Lead Devleopers of the new Linux Distribution called TCE Operating System  Services, or TOSS.

What was the basic, or the most primal inspiration for making your own Distro ? What did you feel was lacking in the current 200-odd Linux Distributions out there ?

The primary goal of TOSS was to create a single Operating System that would cater to the needs of students from all streams of Engineering. In our experience, Linux distros that target regular desktop users seem to be a difficult choice for users who want to do advanced tasks like Electrical/Mechanical Simulation, Multimedia programming etc. TOSS_1On the other hand, those few distros that do offer support for such advanced users seem to assume that all engineers are geeks! Our goal was to create an environment where all users would feel right at home and still access and use engineering,design as well as simulation software.

Why was Ubuntu the choice for the fork (the base ) ?  Why did you not choose more mature Distro like Debian, Fedora Core, Slackware, etc.

With ease-of-use being a key point in our mind, we set out to create a distro that would enable users to install software with minimum hassle. Apt and Synaptic are wonderful tools in this regard, hence bringing down our
choice to Debian and Ubuntu. Of these, Ubuntu, in its 5 years of existence, is arguably the most popular distro out there (and also easier to remaster). Hence the choice was obvious.

Who were the initial members of the team ? And how big is the team now ?

This project started only a year ago and our initial core team members then were myself and Sarvesh Ghautham, both 3rd year CSE students of TCE. Now the team has expanded to 4 comprising our immediate juniors Raghavendhra and Saravanan.We also have for support the 700 member GNU/Linux Users Group of TCE.

What was your working environment ? Collge lab ? Dorm room ? Home bedroom ?

Since this started as a mini project out of boredom, we worked entirely in the amicable environment of our College lab.

Who helped you in this initiative ? TCE facutly ? Did you receive any financial backing ?

The Principal of TCE, Mr.Abhai Kumar and the HOD of CSE Dept, Mrs.Mercy Shalinie were omnipresent to back our venture. We are indebted to the staff of CSE Dept of Thiagarajar College of Engg. without whom TOSS might not have been possible. We were also backed to the hilt by our seniors, especially Aswin and N.G.Karthikeyan.

TOSS_2Raseel : How much time has it taken for you guys to make the TOSS-1.0 release ? Any road-map about future release ?

We started in the December holidays last year and the first version TOSS 0.1 came out on February 9 2009, released by TCS CTO Mr.Ananthkrishnan. TOSS 1.0, basically a stabler and upgraded version of 0.1 came out in May ’09 while TOSS 2.0 may be released anytime before December. We plan to make future releases more regular with a possible 6-month release cycle.

You mentioned that the 0.1 release was made in February 2009 and the release was done by TCS CTO Mr.Ananthkrishnan. Can you elaborate more on how he got involved ?

TCE’s annual 11-day inter-college Technical Fest ‘TecUthsav’ this year began on Feb 9 and Mr.Ananthkrishnan was Chief Guest for the Opening Ceremony. TOSS was officially released as part of the event and hence the first CD was released to the public by Mr.Ananthkrishnan.We must add that 3 days later,during the TecUthsav CSE Day, Yahoo! India R&D chief Mr.Chidambaram Kollengode received a copy of TOSS and briefly reviewed it.

Why was the particular choice of softwares and what was the inspiration for adding the Engineering softwares likegEDA, nasm, qCad, Electric, etc. ?

We use OpenOffice,GIMP,VLC,Rythmbox and Firefox the applications mentionedabove.The reason for all these choices is the same. They are popular, easyto use and most importantly Open Source software. Also as mentioned in our answer for the first question, our primary goal was todevelop an OS for engineers and engineering application developers.

Is there any new software or patches in terms of code or scripts that you have added in TOSS ?

Yes indeed. We have a couple of small ‘in-house’ apps coming with TOSS  2.0.Toss-Menu is a Cairo Menu/GnoMenu-style eye-candy menu for the Gnome Desktop intended to be a replacement for the default GNOME menu. Toss-archiver, is a tool to backup all personal data and TOSSDM is a lightweight desktop  manager/configurator. However these small apps are just the beginning where we got a feel of Linux and GUI programming. Our ultimate aim, is to develop our own Kernel and thereby develop TOSS as a full-fledged OS than just a Linux distro.

Have you guys taken any active steps to involve more of the community? Can the community contribute in any way like code patches,documentation, etc. ?

While we provide full and ready support to any member of the public, at the moment TOSS is more of an internal project within TCE. Hence unlike many other distributions, artwork, patch and software development is restricted within the realm of GLUGOT and the CSE Department.

Are you guys open for a donation or financial backing for doingthis full time ? TOSS_4

We may consider such offers.

Any glimpses of what the next TOSS Release might have in store for the users ?

Better look and feel,essential patches and security upgrades, a ‘cooler’ booting and working experience, newer Kernel, optional ext4 support are allon the anvil for TOSS 2.0. With the release slated soon, we hope the wait has been worth.

Have recorded any numbers as to how many downloads may have taken place ?

Shortly after its release,TOSS was reviewed by the popular online magazine Softpedia. The number of downloads through the Softpedia link alone is nearly 950. Apart from this we also distributed nearly 100 CDs during TecUthsav ’09 and our college’s SFD celebrations. We havent kept track of the number of downloads directly from the site, but from the Softpedia figures, about 2000 downloads is a safe estimate.

Rolling out a Linux Distribution, maintaining it, adding features, engaging the community and all the while yearning to write your very own kernel may sound like a lot of work for most established software companies. However, just like entrepreneurs who know no fear, the TOSS developers have set out on their mission.

It makes me proud to know that a Linux Distribution of this caliber has be rolled out of India. With more and more youth from even rural areas taking part in the Open Source software movement, I hope there are more Distributions being rolled out.

Would you like to read more interview about these indigenously developed Distributions ?

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