Those who’ve touched other’s lives don’t die. Their essense lives on in each of the people they’ve impacted. Yesterday morning, Atul Chitnis lost his battle to cancer. The first and only time I met him was last year at FOSS.IN. I was interested in speaking with him because Atul had a great relationship with YourStory.in. Morever, he once tweeted about an article that I had written.
Everyone had told me that Atul was the god of open source technology, and ever since I’ve wanted to talk to him. But when I saw him, he nonchalantly walked past me. Every step that he took was sapping him of his energy and I didn’t have the heart to stop and speak with him. In retrospect, I should have…
We interviewed Atul once before where he enthusiastically spoke of his pet project FOSS.IN and the impact that it had on the Indian FOSS community. But on hearing of the news of his demise, I knew I had missed the chance to personally interact with one of the greatest names in India’s open source story. But I am lucky enough to know technologists and entrepreneurs whom Atul had directly or indirectly impacted.
We at YourStory.in dedicate this week’s Techie Tuesday column to Atul Chitnis, a legend.
Atul was well known for his column, COMversations, at PC Quest, where he spoke extensively about data communication and the internet. To many, this was the first place that they’d heard of the internet. Kingsley Joseph, Trip Thirsty co-founder and past Techie Tuesday says, “He used to run a bulletin board service (BBS) called CiX from 1989 to 1996, which was essentially a computer messaging service over phone lines. I used to remember the code to get “on the line” by heart!”
Atul was also responsible for writing and evangelizing free and open source software (FOSS). Back in 1996, Atul and his team at PC Quest put a copy of Slackware Linux on a CD. At the time, this was the only feasible way to get a copy of Linux on a PC. He continued to evangelize FOSS through his efforts with the Bangalore Linux User Group and FOSS.IN, one of Asia’s largest FOSS events.
Atul was very proud of his achievements with FOSS.IN and rightly so. The event attracts a lot of international talent and provides Indian hackers a platform with enormous reach. In an interview with us, Atul himself said, “Having people like Harald Welte, Rasmus Lerdorf, Alan Cox, James Morris, Jon Corbet and other well known names participating and (most important of all) interacting with other participants – that was memorable. And seeing Indian hackers like Gopal Vijayraghavan, Philip Tellis, Naba Kumar, Suparna Bhattacharya and so many others emerging from relative obscurity? Priceless!”
Janakiram MSV, head of cloud infrastructure at Aditi Technologies says, “I remember proposing a talk on Microsoft technologies at FOSS.IN. At the time I was a hard core Microsoft evangelist and the talk was shot down by almost every FOSS.IN moderator! But he approved my session at Foss.in though it came from a hardcore MS evangelist giving me a fair chance. I have spoken many times at FOSS ever since.”
“Later on, I had the privilege of being his mentee and he reviewed my business plan when I was stepping out of my full time job. Truth be told, if I have an unbiased opinion about technology today, it is because of Atul.”
An open source evangelist AND an iOS fanboy
Atul was a twitter buff and a lot of the younger developers recount interacting with him on the microblogging site. Soham Mondal, founder of mobile app startup, Trivious technologies says, “The first time that I saw him was at a tweetup and back then I had no idea who he was. But he had a really strong personality and strong, but valid, opinions on various technology topics. Conversations with Atul at that tweetup was one of the sole reasons why I took to Android and embraced open source technologies. It is a crazy way if you think about it, but he’s really impacted me.”
However, Atul wasn’t a big fan of Android and often accused it of not being open enough. Soham says, “While on one hand he was one of the greatest evangelist of FOSS, he would always accuse Android of not being open and would heap praises on iOS and Apple products. That was the only place that I never agreed with him, and he would never back down from his opinion!”
With Atul’s demise, the technology community has lost a great leader, who has influenced many, many lives. But cancer is a terrible disease and to an extent, I am happy that his suffering has ended. He leaves us with a legacy of amazing work that spans across many decades and that will live on for many years to come.
His last tweet was – “Morning prayer: Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond :)”
He sure will…