To continue my look at how non-profits and the free software community can engage, I've decided to look at some popular free software products and see how well they fit the need of an average charity--namely my employer. I'll start with OpenOffice.org.
Over the last few years, I've come to accept the fact that regardless of my attempts to quit this job, I am fundamentally a programmer. I wrote a book about security, I am the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine, but in the end I am still just a programmer. A lucky one, I must admit.
The word is finally out. It was just a suspicion about a month ago, but it was finally, sadly, confirmed.
The OpenWengo project ceased to exist last November, and all the developers have been laid off. You may want to read the whole thread and see how much sadness there is amongst the developers and the community. All of the developers have to find other jobs, while we, the community, have to find some good alternative VoIP & IM software.
And it's going to be hard.
Free software (eventually) works better than proprietary software; why?
Making dramatic statements always implies a need to "back" them (or "prove" them) with facts, data, statistics. However, a statement like "Free software works better than proprietary software" is so broad, anybody can prove it and disprove it at will. It depends on which angle you take, which area, and what your comparison terms are. However, I would like to add an important keyword to that sentence: "Free software works better than proprietary software". That easily-missed word shyly hiding in brackets makes all the difference.
I'm the increasingly discontent owner of an Hotmail account (don't laugh, I subscribed back when Hotmail wasn't owned by Microsoft). Recently, in order to compete with Google on the Web, Hotmail's interface was overhauled: it now has a "classic" interface, which works reasonably well but is still rather limited, and a supposedly "Full" interface that should make it the equal of sites like Google Apps and Yahoo Mail/Calendar/etc.
Many moons ago I tried using Windows for a week to see how the other half live. Despite my thorough openness and fairness, I still got criticized! (Well, it wouldn’t be the free software community if people didn't, I suppose!) So, when I needed I new PC I decided to take the plunge and buy one. For the first time ever I bought a PC from a shop, instead of building it myself. Consequently, it came with Vista pre-installed. So I decided to spend a week with it to see what had changed...
Are you still using Microsoft Office 2003? If so, get ready to have problems opening older file formats with it once SP3 is applied: Microsoft has decided to disable file parsers for the older file types (Word 95 and older, Wordperfect, Lotus etc.) by default. Why? Security reasons.
With any paradigm shift, it is difficult to see the new world from the old one, even though it is glaringly obvious once you've crossed over. Empirical evidence is one way to bridge the gap. To that end, I want to show some solid evidence for the "impossible" things that commons-based peer production (CBPP) has already accomplished—things that the old conventional wisdom would tell us "can't be done". This week, I'll look at what is probably the most obvious case: free software.
Lately I've been working on an updated version of the comparison between Skype and Wengophone I wrote on June 2006 for Free Software Magazine. While I was working on it, I spotted a number of rather worrying signs:
I recently learned the news that Lenovo is entering the server market outside China.
As the editor of Free Software Magazine, the first question that came to mind was: "Will they run Linux?". To my surprise, the answer was nowhere to be found.
Lenovo: hardly a Linux-friendly maker
Back in April 2007, Lenovo announced that it would "offer a wide selection of low- to high-end machines be loaded with Linux software from Novell Inc.". I won't comment the odd choice of GNU/LInux distribution, which is besides the point (I am an Ubuntu fan, and am convinced that any new Linux desktop user should be given Ubuntu for a number of reasons). What I do want to point out, is that some ten months later those laptops are nowhere to be seen.
I've mentioned before the recent move among UK charities to become more "professional", which is often translated as "do what the corporates do" (particularly when it comes to IT). One reason for this is the dreaded bespoke friend-of-a-friend database. These "databases" (and I use the term loosely) are often written by a student, with tenuous links to the charity, looking for a final year project and usually in Microsoft Access and they are usually awful to maintain.
As we follow the zig-zaggy quest of me trying to learn to program, I discover the next significant step, "Interest". I started with a goal: to learn to program. Next I came up with a plan: Learn Python by writing a program called PT (period tracker) but I lacked the last bit, interest.
You see, there was very little that period tracker did that a calendar didn't. Spending hours to make a program to do work that I could do in five minutes with a calendar and a pencil seemed like a waste of effort.
I read David Jonathon's article Anybody Up To Writing Good Directory Software? the other day, which got me thinking about software directories in general. As David mentioned, many of the software directories one finds when doing a quick google search are free as in beer, not as in freedom. But what interests me is the software directories that already exist, providing a combination of both free as in beer software, and open source software. Sites such as Freeware Downloads and Shareware Download don't advertise themselves as providing free as in liberty software, but each of them have a good selection of open source software available... if you know where to look.
I was at a friend's office last week. Roger (my friend) has a computer training facility, and training rooms for hire in Perth, Australia (where I live). They have all kinds of courses there all the time, and in the course of conversation I asked if they do much Linux training there, because that would be something I would be interested in doing with my staff.
Patent advocates, large successful businesses, and politicians are so enthusiastic about the patenting of software that it’s hard to accept arguments from people like the FFII and Free Software Foundation who claim that the software industry simply does not need software patents and would be far better off without them. In this article I’ll try to explain why software patents are necessary, and in the sake of fairness I’ll look at the other side of each argument. Here is the “defense of Software Patents”. I report, you decide.
You might have gathered from my article about hosting free software events, I work and am interested in the UK Voluntary/Community Sector (VCS). I also am a user and advocate of free software and I have a desire to see it used more often in VCS and non-governmental (NG) organisations. I believe that these two groups should be some of the primary non-personal users of free software and here’s why.
It’s not about cost
Free software has many benefits: you can get more secure software, faster updates, lots of tutorials and, definitely, a new way of making software and software that builds communities. From this, the next logical step was Open Hardware.
This is an editorial about file conversions. It starts with a story about Free Software Magazine and our struggle with article formats, and continues explaining why the world needs to get rid of Office Open XML, which could create more problems than the Microsoft monopoly itself.
The best thing for a programming language is to be powerful and popular at the same time. Perl was like that some time ago, but over the years it has slowly lost its appeal, even while retaining and increasing its power. And Perl 6 has just come too late to save the day.
On 2 Nov 2007, the Free Software Foundation Europe held an event in London, UK called "Free Software as a Social Innovation" to which I was fortunate to be invited. Run jointly with M6-IT CIC and described as an event to “help people learn more about Free Software and provide opportunities for hands-on experience with the technology”, it was aimed at those in the European not-for-profit and non-governmental sectors (hereafter referred to as the third sector).