Category Archives: SLUG

Sydney Linux Users Group

OLPC Australia talk at OSDC 2011

Update: my talk has been covered by OLPC News.

Here’s the video of the talk I said I’d be giving at OSDC 2011, titled Australia’s Toughest Linux Deploy­ment:

In it, I outline our educational programme and how the technology fits into it. Some key points:

  • we have a better version on YouTube of the video I show in the talk
  • we maintain a Policy Document, which provides an overview of our overall programme
  • OLPC Australia have two core principles in addition to OLPC’s original five
  • we have some support in government at different levels — for example, we were praised in federal parliament and the print media (paywall) by a prominent federal Member of Parliament
  • we have deployments across remote Australia — a feat that can only be managed through building self-sufficiency
  • our programme is showing beneficial results, and we are engaged in longitudinal and detailed evaluation
  • we have a comprehensive educational programme, with online training and certifications (such as our XO-cert course)
  • we are breaking dependence on special expertise and infrastructure — building sustainability and grass-roots support is key
  • deployments are made at the classroom level, which is more manageable than saturating a whole school at once
  • we don’t provide XOs without training — a teacher must earn a certification before they can receive XOs for their class
  • our support is focused on enabling schools and communities to help themselves, and each other
  • we have innovated in the technology space, with offerings such as the XO-AU OS, XO-AU USB, XOP and XS-AU
  • contextualising learning, for example through localisation, is a powerful tool to improve engagement from the child, school and community
  • we invite people to join our development efforts
  • there’s a nice surprise mentioned towards the end, which I shall elaborate upon in the near future 🙂

For those of you who have seen me speak about OLPC Australia at SLUG, this is a much more polished talk.

Education Expo report

Two weeks ago, we had the Education Expo.

Here’s my report, as co-ordinator of the Linux Australia stand:

Education Expo
Sat 14 to Sun 15 June
Rosehill Racecourse, Sydney

The Education Expo is an annual trades show targeted towards the K-12 educational space. Visitors consist of families and educators. Linux Australia once again had a stand, with volunteers spreading the word about free and open source software.

As always, we were very successful. With each passing year, the level of awareness of FOSS noticeably improves. Whereas at previous shows we would spend much energy expounding the basic concepts of FOSS/Linux, this year most people had either heard of it or were already using FOSS products such as Firefox and OpenOffice.org.

One thing we did differently this year was place more focus on FOSS running on Windows. Our past efforts have been meet with some resistance, as installing a different operating system posed a barrier to entry that many would not surmount. We had plenty of copies of the OpenEducationDisc to distribute, in addition to Fedora, Ubuntu, Edubuntu and Mandriva.

The fact that the NSW Dept of Education is migrating over 40,000 PCs across the state to OpenOffice.org was a useful selling point as well.

Our marketing efforts have been improving with each event. Our message is becoming more refined, and our leaflets are becoming more relevant. On the technical side, FOSS is becoming easier and more accessible, with projects such the aforementioned OpenEducationDisc and Wubi leading the way.

Our Web presence is improving, too. It’s far easier to point a newbie to just one easy-to-remember URL instead of confusing them with a list. In addition, I built an education portal for Linux Australia just in time for the expo.

There were at least two other stands that were FOSS-friendly. In fact, one of the largest stands were demonstrating their Web-based software product on about ten computers, all of which were running Ubuntu. Other stands expressed real interest when approached.

Other highlights of our presence included:

  • OLPC XO laptops (from OLPC Australia)
  • Intel Classmate PCs (from Mandriva Australia)
  • ASUS Eee PCs
  • laptops showing Edubuntu

Rodger Dean has some photos of the event.

A big thanks to everyone who helped at the stand:

  • Ashley Lynn
  • Ashley Maher
  • Brendan Puckeridge
  • David Andresen
  • Gloria Arnold
  • Harrison Conlin
  • John Arnold
  • Megha Kanth
  • Pia Waugh
  • Rodger Dean
  • Vicki Burke

A special thank you goes to Melissa Draper, who was instrumental in ensuring the success of the stand in more ways than one.

LotD: Insurance company bets health on open source — I’m quite heavily involved in this project, so needless to say I’m proud of what we’ve achieved 🙂

Education Expo, this weekend!

The Education Expo is on this weekend. I’ve sent a couple of missives to our helpers. The second one contains some advice that would work well in many situations regarding FOSS (especially where marketing is concerned), so I’ll reproduce it (slightly edited) here:

Subject: Education Expo, this weekend!
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2008 23:29
From: Sridhar Dhanapalan <sridhar@dhanapalan.com>
To: SLUG Activities <activities@slug.org.au>

Thanks again to everyone who has volunteered to help with the Linux Australia stand at the Education Expo.

The expo itself runs from 9am to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. Entry is free. It’s a fun day for families with children in the K-12 space, so feel free to bring along your kids and make a day (or two!) out of it.

This year, the expo will be held in Rosehill Racecourse’s brand new Events Centre, and our stand is in a prime position right in front of the door. If you haven’t already, take a look at the original announcement and the Education Expo Web site.

I asked in my previous message if people could tell me when they would be available to help out. If you haven’t already, please let me know. If you’re unsure, that’s fine too: just show up and grab me at the stand.

I’ll be there at 8am on Saturday (an hour before it starts) to set up the stand, and probably at 8:30 on Sunday. I might need some assistance to set up, and also to pack up afterwards.

Some tips:

  • Wear comfortable casual clothing. It might get hot in the exhibition hall.
  • If you’ve got any Linux or FOSS themed clothing, wear that 🙂
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be standing most of the time.
  • Keep some water handy.
  • Talking to stand visitors can strain your throat. Some mints can help.

Make it clear to visitors that there is a vibrant FOSS community in Australia, and especially in Sydney. Invite them to SLUG, which meets in the city on the last Friday of every month (next meeting on 27 June). SLUG has a segment known as ‘SLUGlets’, which is intended for newbies.

Familiarise yourself with the leaflets that we will distribute:

Have a read of Linux Australia’s guides to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and FOSS in education. Remember to promote these to stand visitors as the best place to start with Linux and FOSS:

One important point to remember is that Linux is not FOSS. We will be handing out copies of the OpenEducationDisc, which is a CD full of education-oriented FOSS for Windows. Not everyone is able to switch over to Linux cold-turkey, but we can get them started with FOSS on Windows first.

Similarly, open standards are not FOSS, but they are a good start. Inform people about the dangers of proprietary file formats, as seen with Microsoft Office, and promote in their stead open alternatives such as OpenDocument and PDF.

Show people that Linux isn’t strange and new. Many don’t realise it, but they are already using FOSS. For example:

  • Firefox and OpenOffice are becoming increasingly popular. The NSW Department of Education is in the process of switching over >40,000 school computers to OpenOffice.
  • Wikipedia is built around the idea of open knowledge, inspired directly from the FOSS movement (and it’s built on FOSS too!).
  • Even Mac OS X has many important components based on FOSS, such as the kernel, file sharing, printing and the Web browser.
  • About two-thirds of Web sites are served by the FOSS Web server, Apache.
  • Most of the large Web companies (like Google, Facebook and Yahoo) are built with FOSS.
  • It is normal for Hollywood films to be created using Linux.
  • Linux is prevalent in a range of consumer devices.
  • The popular ASUS Eee PC, and many of its competitors, come with Linux pre-installed.

Show people that Linux is easy to install and use. Ubuntu has an installer called Wubi, which is a Windows application that installs Ubuntu as a file without partitioning the hard drive. It behaves like a normal dual-boot system, but it can be uninstalled from ‘Add/Remove Programs’ just like any Windows application. We’ll also have copies of Edubuntu. Remember that this is an add-on companion, not a stand-alone liveCD as in the past. Give a copy of Ubuntu with every Edubuntu disc you distribute.

Linux is more secure. While nothing can claim to be 100% secure and virus proof, Linux has an excellent track record. It doesn’t need ‘band-aid’ solutions like anti-virus and anti-spyware software because the software was built sanely to begin with. The Internet was built for UNIX, not for Windows.

Linux and FOSS is great for families. It’s affordable and reliable. It won’t get infected and show unsolicited porn adverts to your children. There are heaps of great educational software installable with just a few mouse clicks.

Some caveats:

  • As a community stand, we are not selling anything.
  • Avoid unnecessary Microsoft-bashing. We’re running the stand because we love FOSS, not because we hate Microsoft.

Open CeBIT

The second Open CeBIT in Sydney ended last week. Forming a section of the much larger CeBIT expo, Open CeBIT focused on open source technologies and solutions. I was involved in three stands: BizCubed (my employer), Linux Australia and Open Source Industry Australia.

In the market, FOSS is clearly maturing and becoming more mainstream. At a CeBIT a couple of years ago, I’d be answering basic questions like, “what is open source?”, “what is Linux?” and “how do you make money?” This year, I didn’t get any questions like that at all. Most people knew something about Linux and FOSS, and just needed some direction to get started.

We had much interest in community and general usage at the Linux Australia stand. Our Fedora, Ubuntu and Edubuntu discs were popular. Of immense popularity were our OLPC XOs, thanks to OLPC Australia. Visitors were genuinely interested in the units, and I didn’t hear any negative feedback at all. I do believe that a lot of people did understand that this is an education project for children in the developing world and not just a laptop project.

At the Open Source Industry Australia stand, I spoke to many people who were interested in deploying FOSS solutions to solve specific problems. Many of these people would not have considered FOSS in the past, so clearly our message is resonating.

Coming up in a couple of weeks (June 14-15) is the Education Expo. We’ve always been successful there, and all signs point to us repeating that.

LotD: MacGyver is favourite disaster hero

Where’s the video?

I promised way back in January that we’d release a video of that month’s SLUG meeting — our up-close-and-personal with Microsoft. We did just that a month ago, but I totally forgot to mention it here.

I know, I suck.

Anyway, you can get the video and slides here (the links in the original announcement are no longer functional). It’s been pointed out to me that the slides in the video vary slightly from the PDF, but the difference is minimal. It’s three months old now — so don’t expect any revelations — but it’s still an interesting watch.

LotD: Save money by buying directly from the USA (for Australians only)

A fabulous fortnight

The last two weeks have been quite eventful. Each of these probably deserves its own blog post, but since I don’t have the time to write them all I’ll just give a summary.

Document Freedom Day, 26 March

The first annual Document Freedom Day (inspired by Software Freedom Day) was celebrated globally. In Sydney, the celebrations were hosted by Google at their offices, supported by the Internet Society of Australia and the Sydney Linux Users Group (SLUG). As the SLUG representative, I was asked to say a few words about our organisation and its relevance to document freedom. Not having time to prepare, I managed to ad-lib a speech, drawing on memories of what I had written before on the Domesday Book and Domesday Project. I’m not an experienced speaker, so I’m very glad that it came out well.

Senator Kate Lundy and David Vaile delivered great talks that made us think about openness of information and their importance to society. For the most part, we didn’t mention the war (which unfortunately has been lost), but there was no escaping acknowledgement of the Waughs. Anyone disillusioned at the state of politics in Australia ought to speak with Kate. Even after 12 years in parliament, she is still inspiring.

All in all, it was a fantastic night. Thanks to Alan Noble, Andrew McRae and the other folks at Google for making it happen. Andrew and Sarah Maddox have written good summaries of the evening.

I would have loved to have taken Kate up on her invitation to join her ‘Foundations of Open: Technology and Digital Knowledge‘ local 2020 Summit, but alas a trip to Canberra for one day was a bit much. I’m glad to see it all went well, though.

Sydney Linux Users Group Annual General Meeting, 28 March

What can I say? Thanks to everyone in SLUG who supported my candidacy for the role of President. The new Committee looks like a great mix of talents, and we already have some good ideas in the pipeline. The next twelve months is looking to be exciting indeed.

We had the first gathering of the new Committee on Sunday. It was a handover meeting, with the old Committee members present to pass on their wisdom and experience to the new. My sincere gratitude goes to the departing Committee members. I feel truly honoured to have worked with them over this past year.

Australian Open Source Industry & Community Report 2008 launch event, 1 April

Free software and free beer! It appears that with FOSS, you can have your cake and eat it too 😉

Note: there was no cake — but there were Iced Vo Vos! Sweet!

It’s great to finally have some authoritative statistics to back our cause. Common myths were dispelled, and we had confirmation of things that seemed so obvious to us but might have been less so for others.

BarCamp Sydney, 5-6 April

BarCamp 3 was notable for expansion to two days of revelry. The venue migrated from UTS for the first two BarCamps to the UNSW Roundhouse for the third, which despite the longer commute I feel was a good move. Attendance did seem thinner than in previous years. This was probably due to visitors spread over a larger venue and across two days. One thing I like about BarCamp is that I get contact with people and ideas that I otherwise wouldn’t notice from FOSS gatherings like SLUG. BarCamp has considerably more proprietary software developers and entrepreneurs. Less Google, more Microsoft. As much as I love FOSS, I do like to see what’s happening in the rest of the ICT universe.

I made an effort this time to attend talks that were less technical and more business or personal development oriented. Stand-out speakers included Nick Hodge, Matt Moore and Richard Hayes.

Perhaps the highlight was the Saturday evening. Mike from Atlassian led us through a few rounds of Werewolf, a variation (and an improvement, IMHO) of the classic Mafia game. I still can’t believe that we didn’t deplete the bar tab that Mike set up for us. We’ll have to have SLUG’s DebSIG present at BarCamp 4 😉

LotD: OpenOffice.org en masse in NSW schools!

Do you dare open the Necronomicon?

As promised, Microsoft have released documentation on their old binary formats by February 15. I haven’t taken a look yet, but the comments on the article don’t look too encouraging: some people contend that elements are missing and incomplete. It’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft respond to this feedback. Hopefully the kinks will be smoothed out with little fuss. As far as I am concerned, a complete spec needs to cover full formatting, embedding, scripts, macros, formulae, schemas, images, binary blobs, password protection and DRM (and I’m sure I’ve missed some other important stuff too). It should also list exactly which patents are covered, in a manner similar to the Samba/PFIF deal.

Additionally, Microsoft have announced a binary-to-OOXML translator project. How well this will pan out is anyone’s guess. They say that the “project is developed and released under a very liberal BSD-like license (sic)”. IANAL — is this licence GPL-compatible? Could it be used to create a GPL binary-to-ODF converter (using OOXML as an intermediary), that we can embed into applications like OpenOffice.org or Xena?

Obviously these moves are focused on getting OOXML approved by ISO, but I’m also hopeful (though not optimistic) that it is a sign that Microsoft are willing to play more fair with the public and industry. We need to take advantage of this predicament they’ve put themselves in, and pressure them into opening their formats as much as possible. If OOXML is ever going to be approved, it should be so open that it’s no longer an issue. I don’t seriously expect this to happen, so I still hope it fails 😉 .

But standard or not, we’re still going to have to deal with it. Office 2007 has its own variant, lovingly dubbed MS-OOXML by some. The more they open up the format, the more independent and complete implementations there will be, hence there will be more inertia for MS to go with the flow and not deviate any further. Then at least it’ll be a de facto open standard. Maybe I’m dreaming, but it’s at least an interesting theory 🙂

In semi-related news, Microsoft engineer Alistair Speirs has blogged about his visit to SLUG. Some prize quotes:

The Linux community has matured from my university days. … It seems like the linux community has a much more sensible, pragmatic approach now

Geeks are geeks, no matter what OS they use. I think this often gets lost in the religious divides and flamewars. All that geek-anger would be much more useful targeting lawyers and investment bankers.

The crowd was pretty friendly and they took us out to a Chinese restaurant afterwards. In an interesting act of irony, the FLOSS community paid for our dinner.

For those wondering about the video, we just have to wait on a few things before we can release it. I’m sure we’ll get this sorted soon, so no conspiracy theories please 🙂 .

A win for the People… or Pyrrhic victory?

I mentioned in my write-up of the Microsoft visit to SLUG that Microsoft are going to release the specifications to their binary file formats. I wasn’t aware at the time that this had already been announced: the specs will be released on February 15. Groklaw has decided to look a little closer at the pledge.

Is this a win for information and software freedom worldwide, or just the next step towards a new stage of vendor lock-in? It remains to be seen, but it does show that our keeping Microsoft’s nose to the grindstone is generating some effect. Don’t stop now, we’ve only just begun! 🙂

A note about the video: it will be released as soon as we are able. We’re at linux.conf.au at the moment, so it’ll more likely be out next week. I’ve currently got 20GB of glorious HD video sitting on my hard drive, which we need to edit and convert to something more Internet-friendly. The transcoding alone will take a while!

Dancing with the Devil in the pale moonlight

Last night, SLUG’s monthly meeting played host to four representatives from Microsoft:

  • Sarah Bond, Platform Strategy Manager. Sarah was present to talk about Microsoft’s current position with OOXML, especially with regards to the interoperability with Linux.

  • Amit Pawer, National Technology Specialist. He specialises in Windows Server technologies.

  • Alistair Speirs, Technology Specialist – Office. His background is in Java and .NET development.

  • Rosemary Stark, Product Manager, Windows Server and Infrastructure Products.

This unsurprisingly caused much consternation and controversy within the Australian FOSS community in the weeks leading up to the event, and I (being its organiser, and hence the target of much vitriol) ended up spending much time gauging and responding to the opinions and ideas raised.

We wanted this to be an open community-led Q&A session, and to their credit Microsoft were obliging. Admittedly, I would have saved much sanity and hours of work if people had posted to the wiki as asked, but having to transcribe from the mailing lists to the wiki allowed me to think more about the questions and how they should be worded and ordered. I need no reminder of Microsoft’s transgressions, but I made sure to keep IBM in mind (as a company that was once considered an anathema to software freedom but has now largely reformed) and take an optimistic approach.

Pia was of great help here (as always!). With so many questions and only an hour and a half in which to ask them, we decided to cull the non-constructive, accusative and just plain trolling questions. By the end, Pia had compiled a list that was fairly encompassing of the major issues concerning supporters of competition, technology and freedom.

As I arrived at the venue, I found that our guests had beaten me and were actively helping to get the furniture into place. This allowed us to get better acquainted before the meeting. It was clear (and they openly admitted) that they had been following our open discussion process on mailing lists and the SLUG wiki. Really, they would have been daft not to do so 🙂

I handled the introduction, then turning the microphone over to our guests to introduce themselves. Sarah Bond launched into a presentation on OOXML, in the process answering several of the questions we had on the wiki. I left Pia to officiate most of the meeting, but I chimed in on occasion with both pointed and irreverent questions and comments that were not on the list.

We will be releasing the video of the meeting as soon as we are able, so I shan’t explain its contents too much. Some interesting points though:

  • In the list of rules for the meeting, I put ‘Asking “Why do you eat babies?” doesn’t help anyone.‘ I initially felt bad when I met Sarah and realised that she is pregnant! She was a good sport about it though, and we all had a good laugh 🙂
  • In her presentation, Sarah mentioned that Microsoft will be releasing the specs to their binary Office file formats in mid-February (UPDATE: it’s confirmed!). I’m still not sure if I heard this one right (it’s a lot to swallow!), so if someone can confirm this I’d appreciate it. They made no bones about this being part of their drive to promote OOXML acceptance.
  • Not new, but news to us, is the fact that Windows 2003 has a DRM infrastructure which they call RMS, short for Rights Management Services. I did cheekily ask them if the name was deliberate, and their attempts to seriously and politely address the question was priceless 🙂

Like with any other SLUG meeting, we went out for Chinese food afterwards. Three of our guests joined us (it’s a shame that Sarah couldn’t come, but being pregnant isn’t easy). Did we have dinner with the Devil? It certainly didn’t feel that way. Once we put our differences aside, we realised that we have an awful lot in common. We are all geeks at heart, and some of the MS people have and continue to dabble in Unix and FOSS technologies such as Python.

Were we successful? It depends on how you look at it. From my perspective of trying to build trust and understanding, without dwelling too much on (but certainly not ignoring) the past, I think so. Asking loaded questions and making our guests feel uncomfortable might have brought some short-term satisfaction to some of us, but would it have achieved anything? There were some inappropriate comments from the audience going in both directions (one of the loudest people actually seemed to be pro-Microsoft), but those people were easily outnumbered by the more sensible majority. My original fears of the crowd devolving into a senseless rabble dissipated rapidly, and I am very pleased and proud of our community for that.

I was initially disappointed by our turn out, but that feeling changed as the meeting progressed. Due to it being January, linux.conf.au being just around the corner (which siphoned a lot of our best and brightest) and the sensitive nature of the subject matter, we had a crowd that was smaller than expected, but felt more conversational and manageable.

If you were at the meeting, please let me know what you thought of it by posting a comment.

Sarah will be speaking again at LUV on February 5. If you’re in Melbourne for linux.conf.au, it might be worth extending your trip by a few days to see it. I would also suggest that you take inspiration from the list of questions that we have compiled. If our video is out by then, watch it to avoid repeating the questions that we’ve already asked (or pose follow-up questions).

My warmest thanks go to:

  • the rest of the SLUG Committee (Lindsay Holmwood, Silvia Pfeiffer, Matt Moor, Ken Wilson, John Ferlito and James Dumay), for their support throughout
  • Pia Waugh
  • Anna, Matt and everyone who helped with setting up, packing up, recording and so on
  • our guests from Microsoft, for being such good sports
  • and of course, our community

P.S. Happy Invasion Day to Australians, and happy Anti-Invasion Day to Indians 🙂

Software Freedom Day 2007: Sydney report

It’s been indicated to me that I never put out a report on Software Freedom Day in Sydney. Well, better late than never 🙂

Advocates of free software celebrated at the University of New South Wales on 16 September for the fourth annual Software Freedom Day. Members of SLUG, Ubuntu-AU and the general FOSS community collaborated to spread the message of free software to the general public.

Interest and buzz was generated in the days leading-up to the event through a poster campaign across the campus. At the UNSW Computer Fair, we piqued the curiosity of many computer users with our displays, screencasts and spiels. Those who were enthusiastic migrated to our room in the nearby Law Building, where we could explain and demonstrate in greater detail. Not only did we have many expressions of interest from newcomers in free software and the free software community, we also succeeded in bringing those who already use FOSS into participation in the local community.

Regrettably, I was not able to take any decent photographs of the event. If anyone has pictures, I’d be grateful if they could be sent to me.

I would like to give a big word of thanks to everyone who helped on the day:

  • Andreas Fischer
  • Brendan Puckeridge
  • David McQuire
  • James Dumay
  • Jim Tsao
  • John Ferlito
  • Ken Wilson
  • Lindsay Holmwood
  • Matt Moor
  • Peter Baker
  • Pia Waugh
  • Rodger Dean
  • Silvia Pfeiffer
  • Anyone else who I may have forgotten (if I have, sorry!)

In addition, I would like to thank those who provided resources in support of our efforts:

  • Computer Fairs Australia (tables at the computer fair)
  • David Vaile, Abi Paramaguru and Alana Maurushat at the UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre (room in the Law Building)
  • John Schilit (IBM and Robocode materials)
  • Solutions First (Unwired modem)
  • Ubuntu Screencasts Team (screencasts and subtitles)
  • Canonical (Ubuntu CDs)
  • The worldwide free software community 🙂

 

 

LotD: Sign the petition for a Free Society and against Digital Restrictions Management and Treacherous Computing