Mehdi Hasan Khan is a full stack software developer, voluntarist, startup enthusiast and a strong believer in software freedom. In 2003, he started the ‘Let Language Be Free’movement and founded OmicronLab with a mission that the sad state of writing Bangla on computer should be changed and that can only be done with the help of free and user friendly tools. He and his likeminded peers at OmicronLab has been researching, developing and maintaining high quality open source Bangla input methods, spell checkers, free Bangla Unicode fonts under the name Avro, supporting various platforms like Windows, Mac, Linux and web. Their effort in the last decade helped democratizing online communication for Bangla speakers, bloggers, and activists from all around the world.
Mehdi is a trained doctor and is graduated from Mymensingh Medical College. But for his passion for programming which started in high school, love for making stuffs and his hacker mindset, he decided to pursue his carrier as a software developer instead. He is now working as a software engineer at a Silicon Valley based startup operating in Dhaka. He is a father of a 3 year old son, and in his free time he is keeping the flame of Avro project alive with his friends at OmicronLab for the last 13 years.
Mehdi started working for Avro project and founded OmicronLab (www.omicronlab.com) in 2003 when he was a student of Notre Dame College. The aim was to help make Bangla computing easy, accessible, approachable and free to anyone. The first version of Avro Keyboard was released from OmicronLab in 26 March 2003, in the Independence Day of Bangladesh. Eventually it was able to attract likeminded programmers and a community who volunteered to take it forward ever since.
During the inception of Avro project, Bangla usage on computer was limited to desktop publishing only. The barrier to entry was high; the tools were not user focused enough to attract the mass people. The market was monopolized and only commercial tools were available. Avro was born with a vision to change all that (hence the slogan- ‘Let Language Be Free’). Avro Keyboard was the first Unicode based free Bangla Input method for Windows when it was released. It was feature rich yet flexible, customizable and had tons of options to help users write in Bangla.
The activists and volunteers of OmicronLab didn’t stop just at that. Eventually they targeted other problems of using Bangla on computers, like lack of Unicode Bangla fonts, a good spellchecker, and a converter to help people migrating from legacy encoding systems and devoted themselves to build tools for that. Avro Keyboard targeted mass people using Windows; later ibus-avro arrived for linux users, iAvro for Mac OSX and avro.im for web that works on all platforms. They have designed and developed Kalpurush and Siyam Rupali, free open type Bangla fonts. Every product from OmicronLab arrived with tons of good quality documentation. Although these were free, the people of OmicronLab focused on providing dedicated online support and built a community that can collaborate to help each other to learn and solve problems.
With its honest intention to help people, it didn’t take long for Avro to reach millions of Bangla speaking people. Meanwhile other organizations have also noticed its popularity and adoption. And since the whole point was promoting software freedom and accessibility, Avro team has always be welcoming if other products want to integrate its input method or reimplement it themselves and kept everything in permissive open source license. It has been incorporated into Bangla Wikipedia as its official writing system (as a separate effort by Wikimedia contributors), in Bangla search engine in Pipilika by its developers, major online news portals and the popular mobile input method Ridmik as individual efforts outside OmicronLab. As of today, Avro is being used officially by various sectors of Bangladesh Government, various NGOs and for profit companies, publishers, as a recommended typing system for Bangla blogging platforms and of course by hundreds of thousands of individuals. Avro was also the official Bangla input method for the first National ID card project of Bangladesh Government.
For its outstanding and special contribution Avro team was awarded by BASIS in 2011. Mehdi was also invited to TEDxDhaka to talk about “Unlocking Bengali Computing” in 2013.