“Ever since I got diagnosed with cancer in August 2012, I have been acutely aware of the fact that professionally, things were going to change dramatically for me…While I intend to beat this thing, I also need to consider that a lot of things will change for me—things that I can do, things that I won’t be able to…” wrote Atul Chitnis on his website on 23 March.
The German-born Indian consulting technologist was perhaps best known as the founder of Foss.in—one of the world’s largest free and open source software (Foss) events—held annually in India since 2001 (when it was known as Linux Bangalore). He was also consulting editor of technology publication PCQuest.
The 51-year-old Chitnis was a man of many parts. His focus areas, besides Foss, spanned handheld and mobile computing, data communication (remember the modem?) and networks, the Internet and Intranets, online publishing technologies, Voice over IP (VoIP), cluster and grid computer, and virtual and online communities. He was part of India’s technology evolution since the 1980s and was often invited to speak at technology and industry events.
Chitnis was born and brought up in Berlin, Germany, but completed his education in India in 1985, graduating in mechanical engineering from the Gogte Institute of Technology. Though he was not in the best of health in the last few years, Chitnis was often found interacting with people via mailing lists, online forums, discussion groups and electronic media.
During the 1980s, he was actively involved in the development of application software for the personal computer (PC) markets, and eventually moved into the development of data communications and networking solutions. In 1989, as part of his development work on data communications software, Chitnis set up what was apparently India’s first online service—a bulletin board system (BBS) called CiXh was based on his product, CyberNet. This BBS provided an entry point for many newcomers to the field, allowing them to experience the concept of online communication and online communities. He then became active in the field of mobile computing, targeting mobile devices such as phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and converged communication devices such as the Simputer.
As consulting editor of PCQuest from 1996 to 2002, he advocated the cause of Linux and Foss adoption in India by conceiving and driving the PCQuest Linux Initiative, thanks to which, many of us have a collection of Linux CDs. And to make the industry more aware of Foss technologies, Chitnis conceived and drove the Foss.in series of annual conventions, working with industry, community and governments to address their requirements.
He did succeed to quite an extent. While the presence of Linux may be minuscule on desktops, it is a significant competitor to proprietary operating systems in the server segment and major companies in India and abroad run even critical business on the platform today.
“He had done a lot for the (Foss) movement in India. He was strong in execution, but unconventional in many ways. Not everyone agreed with his unconventional methods but even his critics admired him. He managed to get sponsorships from big companies to promote the cause of Foss. This is a great loss for the Foss movement,” said the country manager of a company who did not want to be named.
Apart from his passion for technology, Chitnis was an amateur musician and was involved with music groups. The website posts offered a glimpse into his personal life and the courageous battle with the disease.
“I had just lost my dog Nicky (on 20 February), was desperately down in the dumps. The chemos were weakening the hell out of me, and I was losing the positivity that I had sworn I would maintain as part of my cancer treatment. I desperately needed new focus in my life, and my writing was definitely what I had to concentrate on…” he posted on 21 March.
One quote on the website reads: “You are not remembered for what you are expected to do.”
Foss doesn’t require advocacy any more but it can do with more brand managers. With the passing away of Chitnis, the world of open source has one brand manager less.