Archive for the 'open source' Category

Betavine Cape Town Developer Day 2010

I used to work for OLPC, whose mission is to distribute low cost laptops for education, without necessarily the connectivity with the outside world. Now at Praekelt we’re focusing on using connectivity as the power – harnessing the deployed base of mobile phones in Africa without requiring them to be smartphones or computing devices. As part of this Praekelt Foundation and Vodacom are hosting the Betavine Social Exchange Cape Town Developer Day 2010.

I’ve asked Steve Wolak to tell us more about Betavine and the event.

Who is Steve Wolak?

Stephen Wolak, Founder and Head of Betavine, has worked in mobile technology and software since graduating from Imperial College, London. Stephen joined Vodafone Group R&D in 2000 and in 2006 put forward the idea of an open platform for engaging the wider technology community with R&D activities.  The rest, as they say, is history.

MC: I first became aware of Betavine when looking for 3G drivers for Linux, but I’m sure there is more to it than that. What is Betavine and how did it start?

SW: Betavine was launched in January 2007 and has been evolving ever since, with new features being added in response to new requirements and feedback from the user base.  One area of success has been the linux software for the Vodafone Mobile Connect (VMC) card which has been downloaded over 750,000 times and has created a lively community around it.

We have also run a number of successful competitions on the website and created a lively Widget Zone. The website continues to evolve and we try out new things.

MC: What is the Betavine Social Exchange?

SW: This is our latest idea.. creating “social and sustainable” mobile solutions.  The Betavine Social Exchange seeks to bring together 3 communities; the mobile community, the social sector and the entrepreuners.  Together these communities can create mobile solutions for the social sector.  Community organisations create challenges on the website and mobile developers / social entrepreneurs create solutions. The website then supports the deployment of these solutions on the ground.

MC: The BSX’s success certainly depends on connecting the right people: those with needs – the NGOs and community organisations – and the developers. How do you publicise the BSX to reach them?

SW: We are running our pilot in South Africa and so we are working with Sangonet to help us get in touch with South African NGOs.  We are running a developer day in Cape Town to help us engage with the local developer community.

MC: What do the resulting solutions include – are they apps for mobile phones, mobi websites, SMS solutions or all of the above?

SW: All of the above.  It is important that the solution is appropriate for the challenge and the local community that will ultimately use the solution.

MC: What can developers expect from participating in the BSX?

SW: They can find real world challenges that people are seeking solutions to.  They can meet other developers and find useful resources to help them create a business.  The full resources section is coming soon.

MC: Which leads us on to the Developer Day being hosted in Cape Town next month. What’s going to be happening at the event, and how does it tie in with the BSX?

SW: We are keen to encourage mobile developers based in South Africa to engage with the real challenges that have been posted on the Betavine Social Exchange.  The developer day will include presentations on mobile technology and some exciting mobile solutions plus a developer competition and lots of creative energy and networking.

MC: You’re going to be speaking at the event. Who would you like to see there?

SW: I would like to see mobile developers plus those with design skills and a passion for using mobile technology for social change.

MC: We’re having a developer competition on the day. Can you tell us anything about the prizes/incentives you’re planning to bring?

SW: Well, the developer day is free and includes lots of food and drink plus some beer at the end of the day … :-)  We also intend to offer a few prizes for the competition winners .. But we have not decided exactly what yet.  You will have to come along and see but tickets are going fast!

Developer Day details

Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 from 9:30 AM – 7:00 PM

Location: The Lightbox Daylight Studio, Green Point, Cape Town

More information and free tickets are available at eventbrite. Due to the demand, the event has been expanded to 70 people.

Ubuwiki Live released to mark Software Freedom Day

David Robert Lewis, one of the ubuntu-za crowd, announced this today:

Ubuwiki Live, a digest of free content specially formatted for Ubuntu, has been released to mark Software Freedom Day. What is unique about the Internet bundle available from, is that it exists entirely within a self-contained XHTML file. The application is the result of work carried out by the Wiki on a Stick (WoaS) project in conjunction with Indlovu, a South African Intermediate Technology initiative. As the person responsible, I can say I am quite pleased with the result and hopefully similar such offerings will be on the way to enliven the Ubuntu experience. However,  I’ve probably destroyed Windows in the process and life is never going to be the same.

Download it at:

OLPC review by a 12 year old; XO speed

Ed Felton’s blog features a review of the OLPC XO written by a 12-year-old. Amazingly literate – we mustn’t discount the intelligence of kids! I really think the OLPC project will have results far beyond expectations.

The main negative issue that “SG” mentions is the speed:

My main problem with this laptop is how very slow it is. It’s true that I am used to faster computers, but that’s not the problem. It’s just really slow. I had to wait two minutes to get onto one application. That’s just a little longer than I can accept. Also, it got slower and slower and slower the longer I went without rebooting it. I had to reboot it all the time.

It was confirmed that the machine reviewed was a B2, and I agree they are very slow, especially with the latest software. I’ve got a B2 and a B4 (much closer to the planned Gen1 version) and did some quick side by side tests to show how much faster it has already been made.

Both machines are running build 542, the Trial 2 milestone build.

Switch on to “home” screen:

  • B2: 128 seconds
  • B4: 72 seconds

Launch “Write”, the AbiWord version for Sugar:

  • B2: 25s
  • B4: 9s

Launch “Web”, the browser:

  • B2: 39s
  • B4: 14s

So fortunately that issue has already been addressed. I was interested to see the opinion of a non-adult on the keyboard:

my favorite part of the computer: the keyboard. It’s green rubber so that dust and water won’t get in under the keys, and this makes the keyboard an awesome thing to type on. Every time you hit a key, it provides a certain amount of satisfaction of how squishy and effortless it is. I just can’t get over that keyboard.

Pretty much all the adults I’ve heard comment on the keyboard disliked both the size of the keys (too small) and the tactile feedback. Great to hear from someone closer to the target audience… Incidently, the B4 keyboards are definitely better than the B2 keyboards – on the B2 I had to press the keys hard to make sure they registered, whereas the B4 picks up my typing without missing letters.

Noughts and Crosses


My XO arrived today, courtesy of the World Wide Workshop for whom I am developing some Sugar activities which will take advantage of the mesh network.

It will also come in handy with the work I’m doing for Collabora Ltd on enabling collaboration for OLPC using Telepathy and Tubes!

The above picture was taken with the XO’s built in camera – the dot above the speaker on the side closest to my face.

The laptop is a B2 prototype, with 256 MB RAM and 512 MB NAND flash storage.

Restricted to be Free?

Craig A. Adams, co-leader of the Ubuntu ZA LoCoTeam, wrote an insightful piece on the Principles of Free Software a while back which I have been meaning to comment on.

It made me think that, in order to guarantee freedom, we place restrictions. It sounds ironic at first: Wikipedia defines Freedom as “the ability to act without restraint”.

But the freedom in software and intellectual property isn’t arbitrary and it needs to be protected. In my view, the GPL is often misunderstood as too restrictive. But what if the BSD licence was the best we had?  Where would “Open Source” be today without Free Software?

A lot less Free.

Adobe to Open Source Flex

Here‘s the announcement that Adobe is intending to release Flex as Open Source.


Adobe is announcing plans to open source Flex under the Mozilla Public License (MPL). This includes not only the source to the ActionScript components from the Flex SDK, which have been available in source code form with the SDK since Flex 2 was released, but also includes the Java source code for the ActionScript and MXML compilers, the ActionScript debugger and the core ActionScript libraries from the SDK. The Flex SDK includes all of the components needed to create Flex applications that run in any browser – on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux and on now on the desktop using “Apollo”.

Developers can use the Flex SDK to freely develop and deploy Flex applications using either Adobe Flex Builder or an IDE of their choice.

In other news, “Open Source” is now also a verb…

Ubuntu-ZA Competition

Update: Congratulations Jan Kroeze who wins the book and Michael Chadbourne who wins the t-shirt!

Update: deadline extended to 4 May

Ubuntu Book Cover
At the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Mountain View, I got a copy of The Official Ubuntu Book autographed by some of the authors, as a prize for a competition to promote participation in the Ubuntu South Africa LoCoTeam. Since nobody has proposed a competition, here goes…

The book is autographed by Mako Hill, Jono Bacon and Ivan Krstic. To win this prize, you need to make a page for yourself on the Ubuntu South Africa wiki, telling us a little about yourself – how long you have used Ubuntu and what for – and some way to contact you. Continue reading ‘Ubuntu-ZA Competition’

Getting Open Source into the Enterprise

Seth Godin has a good insight on why open source is a hard sell to CEOs:

Almost no new idea meets the needs of shareholders and CEOs. That’s because most of all they need predictability and apparent freedom from risk.

He talks about perceived needs, usually served by relationships with big proprietary software companies, vs actual needs – where open source usually does a very good job.

So how can one challenge somebody’s perception of their own needs?

OLPC, Ubuntu at Digital Freedom Expo

One Laptop Per Child is a catchy name, and I know the intention is to convey the concept of each child having a laptop, but the more accurate description would be One Child Per Laptop… :-)

C|Net has some photos of the OLPC XO laptop in actual use – by children, not geeks!

It looks like I’ll be helping at the OLPC stand at UWC’s Digital Freedom Exposition next week, which looks like a very exciting event with speakers including:

Creative Commons founder Prof Lawrence Lessig, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, HP’s Open Source & Linux Chief Technologist Bdale Garbee, Co-founder of the Apache Software Foundation and CTO of Brian Behlendorf, Free and Open Source Software Entrepreneur and instructor in Computing Systems at MIT Philip Greenspun, Founder of Freedom to Innovate SA Bob Jolliffe, CEO of iCommons Heather Ford, Open Academic Publication specialist Eve Gray, Sun Microsystems Regional Director Education & Research for EMEA Todd Korth, Free Software in Education AJ Venter , and Free Software researcher and First Monday founder Rishab Ghosh, Novel SA MD Stafford Masie, UWC Rector Prof Brian O’Connell and Premier of the Western Cape Ebrahim Rasool.

I’ll also be facilitating an Ubuntu South Africa BOF at the event – one day after Feisty releases, so the plan is to give CDs out as fast as we can burn them…

Thoughts on Free Software

I’ve had a fascinating exchange of emails recently with a South African software author who has taken his project open source – GPL in fact – and moved his business model to supporting it. Here are some of my thoughts, as provoked by his comments…

I simply do not get excited by Operating systems. It would suit me down to the ground if Microsoft would Open Source Windows and we could end this and just get on with it.

I think very few people should get excited about operating systems. Most people should see it in the same way as when you pick up the telephone – you get dial tone and you can use it.

Usability should ultimately be the most important factor in IT – are you more productive in the actual job you are doing? Or if you threw the computer out the window and used pencil and paper, would you be more productive? (Some time I wonder…)

Then, I see usability incorporating freedom. While some would restrict what you may do with their software (“Here’s a hammer. You may knock nails into the wall, but you may not fix your car’s engine with it”…) others go out of their way to ensure certain freedoms, like the Free Software Foundation and Richard Stallman.

We have a choice, ranging from completely proprietary to completely Free Software. The software market is tending toward zero cost and increasing freedom. This applies to the whole software stack – applications, utilities, operating system – oh, and web services too.

In some cases, I think the best approach is to look at IT, application by application, and select which app, proprietary or open or Free, suits their needs. The more usable, the less skills required. The lower the cost, the less risk in trying it and the more freedom in an economic sense. The more Free, the less dependency on a particular vendor.

When you have replaced all your desktop applications with Free Software, it almost doesn’t matter what operating system runs beneath – then you can switch from a pure cost perspective.

In other cases, people prefer to evaluate the entire software stack and make a more strategic choice.

The result of all this is an increasing amount of choice. Linux is the poster child of Free Software, but it is by no means the only operating system kernel available on which to run all the rest of the desktop or server environment – there’s FreeBSD and a host of others. Ditto for desktop environment, web server, office suite, web browser, etc.

This diversity is a good thing, and if Windows were open sourced, I for one would cheer – but continue to use Linux. My reasons include the level of technical understanding and control I have over the software, and my perceptions of reliability, security, adaptability etc.

I see Ubuntu as an opportunity – not as a crusade.

Of course. Some do see Free Software and Open Source as a crusade, and to some extent it hurts adoption within business, where the bottom line reigns supreme. (I think these people have made such significant contributions that they are very necessary – but not the best people to “sell” to business…)

I think the “Do what I love, love what I do” thing is very prevalent in Open Source since people can more easily contribute and hence feel some degree of ownership. It can become a fine line between passion and crusading.

I don’t mind erring on the side of crusading, but I certainly see Ubuntu as an opportunity, especially in South Africa and developing countries, for so many people.