Archive for the 'open source' Category



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?

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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 Collab.net 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.

Finally my laptop can shut down!

My Sony Vaio S460 has been unable to shut down cleanly with Ubuntu 6.06 or 6.10. Here’s the bug, which seems to affect some small percentage of laptop, desktop and even server users: Bug #43961: Power down after shutdown does not work…

With Feisty Herd 5 installed, it can power off – and hibernate. Finally I don’t have to shut down when battery runs out – or remember to hold down the power switch to really power off!

Ubuntu 7.04’s due out in April – I can’t wait. If ADSL bandwidth wasn’t so expensive ($10 per GB usage!) I would install now as my primary desktop, and do the daily update thing until release. Perhaps I’ll wait for the beta…

Migrating from Evolution to Thunderbird

I was a die-hard Thunderbird user. Back in the Warty or Hoary days I tried Evolution briefly, but it was too buggy for my taste.

However when I installed Edgy on my notebook I decided to try Evolution out for the calendar and todo list – which until that point I had been keeping only on my Nokia 9500 as it was always on me.

Finally I must admit that I’m not using Evo’s calendar or todo list. Depite the promise of syncing my Nokia E61 to Evolution, I’ve given up on that as it always grinds to a halt after only half my contacts have been copied over. After it duplicated those it had copied I gave up on synchronisation.

So… back to Thunderbird. The mail was easy as my two primary mailboxes are IMAP – but getting the Address Book copied over has been painful.

In summary, Evolution only exports to VCard, and Thunderbird only imports from CSV or LDIF.

Despite the promise of this script evol2tbird-addressbook.py, it only extracted the names from Evo, without email addresses, so I tried this method of exporting Evolution’s Address Book to CSV and importing that into Thunderbird:

evolution-addressbook-export --format=csv > contacts.csv

It took some fiddling on the CSV import to get the fields to line up, but it worked – except that none of the contacts have display names now so they look weird in Thunderbird. Somehow the automatic concatenation of first and last names when you are entering a new contact doesn’t work when editing an existing contact…

There is also apparently a two-step process of using KAddressbook (a KDE app) which can import VCard and export LDIF. Perhaps I’ll try this out if editing all the displaynames in Thunderbird proves too painful.

I’ll let Evo’s development catch up for the next year or two and try again…