Category Archives: Open standards

ACCELN interview

Interview with Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network

Adam Holt and I were inter­viewed last night by the Aus­tralian Coun­cil for Com­puters in Edu­ca­tion Learn­ing Net­work about our not-​​for-​​profit work to improve edu­ca­tional oppor­tun­it­ies for chil­dren in the devel­op­ing world.

We talked about One Laptop per Child, OLPC Aus­tralia and Sugar Labs. We dis­cussed the chal­lenges of provid­ing edu­ca­tion in the devel­op­ing world, and how that com­pares with the developed world.

Aus­tralia poses some of its own chal­lenges. As a coun­try that is 90% urb­an­ised, the remain­ing 10% are scattered across vast dis­tances. The cir­cum­stances of these com­munit­ies often share both developed and devel­op­ing world char­ac­ter­ist­ics. We developed the One Edu­ca­tion pro­gramme to accom­mod­ate this.

These les­sons have been developed fur­ther into Unleash Kids, an ini­ti­at­ive that we are cur­rently work­ing on to sup­port the com­munity of volun­teers world­wide and take to the move­ment to the next level.

HTML5 support in Browse

One of the most excit­ing improve­ments in OLPC OS 12.1.0 is a revamped Browse activ­ity:

Browse, Wiki­pe­dia and Help have been moved from Moz­illa to Web­Kit intern­ally, as the Moz­illa engine can no longer be embed­ded into other applic­a­tions (like Browse) and Moz­illa has stated offi­cially that it is unsup­por­ted. Web­Kit has proven to be a far super­ior altern­at­ive and this rep­res­ents a valu­able step for­ward for Sugar’s future. As a user, you will notice faster activ­ity star­tup time and a smoother brows­ing exper­i­ence. Also, form ele­ments on webpages are now themed accord­ing to the sys­tem theme, so you’ll see Sugar’s UI design blend­ing more into the web forms that you access.

In short, the Web will be a nicer place on XOs. These improve­ments (and more!) will be mak­ing their way onto One Edu­ca­tion XOs (such as those in Aus­tralia) in 2013.

Here are the res­ults from the HTML5 Test using Browse 140 on OLPC OS 12.1.0 on an XO-1.75. The final score (345 and 15 bonus points) com­pares favour­ably against other Web browsers. Fire­fox 14 run­ning on my Fedora 17 desktop scores 345 and 9 bonus points.

Update: Rafael Ortiz writes, “For the record pre­vi­ous non-​​webkit ver­sions of browse only got 187 points on html5test, my beta chrome has 400 points, so it’s a great advance!

HTML5 in Sugar

In my last blog post, I made the sug­ges­tion that Sugar integ­rate HTML5 more closely to allow for the cre­ation of activ­it­ies in stand­ard Web tech­no­lo­gies. The Karma Pro­ject has since been poin­ted out to me, and the demos look impress­ive. Unfor­tu­nately, its pro­gress looks to have stalled. There is now con­sid­er­a­tion hap­pen­ing in the com­munity about mov­ing Browse to a WebKit-​​based altern­at­ive, pos­sibly Surf.

It seems like now is the time to revisit the notion of integ­rat­ing HTML5 into Sugar itself. I feel that this can achieve a far more power­ful out­come than just swap­ping Browse with Surf. The primary weak­nesses of HTML5, its imma­tur­ity and dearth of good devel­op­ment tools, are being addressed. Microsoft and Adobe are con­tinue to move towards HTML5, which can only be a good thing.

We have the chance to tap into the cur­rent rush of developers cre­at­ing Web applic­a­tions. We don’t need to (and can’t afford to) go to the extreme always-​​online level of Chrome OS, but I think the devel­op­ments in that space are really show­ing what HTML5 can do in terms of applic­a­tions devel­op­ment. Take the Chrome ver­sion of Angry Birds, for example. Writ­ten (almost) entirely in HTML5/​JS (I think the “almost” part could have been imple­men­ted in HTML5 as well), it’s a fant­astic example of what can be achieved. More than a mind­less game, the phys­ics engine is real­istic enough to become a fun edu­ca­tional tool. It’s so much fun that most kids won’t even real­ise that they’re learning.

Free and Open matters

Why ‘Free and Open’ matters

Adobe is drop­ping Linux sup­port for their Adobe AIR devel­op­ment plat­form. To be hon­est, I don’t really care. Why? Because I’ve been care­ful enough to not tie my efforts to a pro­pri­et­ary platform.

I’ve had sev­eral groups offer to write applications/​activities for OLPC Aus­tralia using pro­pri­et­ary tools like AIR. I’ve dis­cour­aged them every time. Had we gone with the ‘con­veni­ent’ route and acqui­esced, we would have been in quite a spot of bother right now. My pre­cious resources would have to be spent on port­ing or rewrit­ing all of that work, or just leav­ing it to bit-​​rot.

A beauty of Sugar and Linux is that they are not depend­ent on a single entity. We can develop with the con­fid­ence of know­ing that our code will con­tinue to work, or at least can be made to con­tinue to work in the face of under­ly­ing plat­form changes. This embod­ies our Core Prin­ciple #5, Free and Open.

Free and Open means that chil­dren can be con­tent cre­at­ors. The tele­vi­sion age releg­ated chil­dren (and every­one, for that mat­ter) to just being con­sumers of con­tent. I have very fond child­hood memor­ies of attempts to counter that, but those efforts pale in com­par­ison to the pos­sib­il­it­ies afforded to us today by mod­ern digital tech­no­lo­gies. We now have the oppor­tun­ity to prop­erly enable chil­dren to be in charge of their learn­ing. Edu­ca­tion becomes act­ive, not pass­ive. There’s a reason why we refer to Sugar applic­a­tions as activ­it­ies.

Grow­ing up in the 80s, my recol­lec­tions are of a dynamic com­put­ing mar­ket. Machines like the ZX Spec­trum and the early Com­modore mod­els inspired a gen­er­a­tion of kids into learn­ing about how com­puters work. By exten­sion, that sparked interest in the sci­ences: math­em­at­ics, phys­ics, engin­eer­ing, etc.. Those machines were afford­able and quite open to the tinkerer. My first com­puter (which from vague recol­lec­tion was a Dick Smith VZ200) had only a BASIC inter­preter and 4k of memory. We didn’t pur­chase the optional tape drive, so I had to type my pro­grams in manu­ally from the sup­plied book. Along the way, I taught myself how to make my own cus­tom­isa­tions to the code. I didn’t need to learn that skill, but I choose to take the oppor­tun­ity presen­ted to me.

Like­wise, I remem­ber (and still have in my pos­ses­sion, sadly without the machine) the detailed tech­nical bind­ers sup­plied with my IBM PC. I think I recog­nised early on that I was more inter­ested in soft­ware, because I didn’t spend as much time on the sup­plied hard­ware schem­at­ics and doc­u­ment­a­tion. How­ever, the option was there, and I could have made the choice to get more into hardware.

Those exper­i­ences were very defin­ing parts of my life, help­ing to shape me into the Free Soft­ware, open stand­ards lov­ing per­son I am. Being able to get involved in tech­nical devel­op­ment, at whatever level of my choos­ing, is some­thing I was able to exper­i­ence from a very early age. I was able to be act­ive, not just con­sume. As I have writ­ten about before, even the king of pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware and vendor lock-​​in him­self, Bill Gates, has acknow­ledged a sim­ilar exper­i­ence as a tip­ping point in his life.

With this in mind, I worry about the super­fi­cial solu­tions being pro­moted in the edu­ca­tion space. A recent art­icle on the BBC’s Click laments that chil­dren are becom­ing “digit­ally illit­er­ate”. Most of the solu­tions pro­posed in the art­icle (and attached video) are highly pro­pri­et­ary, being based on plat­forms such as Microsoft’s Win­dows and Xbox. The lone standout appears to be the wonderful-​​looking Rasp­berry Pi device, which is based on Linux and Free Software.

It is dis­ap­point­ing that the same organ­isa­tion that had the foresight to give us the BBC Com­puter Lit­er­acy Pro­ject (with the BBC Micro as its centrepiece) now appears to have dis­reg­arded a key bene­fit of that pro­gramme. By provid­ing the most advanced BASIC inter­preter of the time, the BBC Micro was well suited to edu­ca­tion. Soph­ist­ic­ated applic­a­tions could be writ­ten in an inter­preted lan­guage that could be inspec­ted and mod­i­fied by anyone.

Code is like any other form of work, whether it be a doc­u­ment, art­work, music or some­thing else. From a per­sonal per­spect­ive, I want to be able to access (read and modify) my work at any time. From an eth­ical per­spect­ive, we owe it to our chil­dren to ensure that they con­tinue to have this right. From a soci­etal per­spect­ive, we need to ensure that our cul­ture can per­severe through the ages. I have pre­vi­ously demon­strated how digital pre­ser­va­tion can dra­mat­ic­ally reduce the longev­ity of inform­a­tion, com­par­ing a still-​​legible thousand-​​year-​​old book against its ‘mod­ern’ laser­disc coun­ter­part that became vir­tu­ally unde­cipher­able after only six­teen years. I have also explained how this prob­lem presents a real and present danger to the freedoms (at least in demo­cratic coun­tries) that we take for granted.

Back in the world of code, at least, things are look­ing up. The Inter­net is head­ing towards HTML5/​JavaScript, and even Microsoft and Adobe are fol­low­ing suit. This raises some inter­est­ing con­sid­er­a­tions for Sugar. Maybe we need to be think­ing of writ­ing edu­ca­tional activ­it­ies in HTML5, like those at tinygames? Going even fur­ther, per­haps we should be think­ing about integ­rat­ing HTML5 more closely into the Sugar framework?

I’ll fin­ish with a snip­pet from a speech given by US Pres­id­ent Obama in March (thanks to Greg DeKoenigs­berg for bring­ing it to the atten­tion of the community):

We’re work­ing to make sure every school has a 21st-​​century cur­riculum like you do. And in the same way that we inves­ted in the sci­ence and research that led to the break­throughs like the Inter­net, I’m call­ing for invest­ments in edu­ca­tional tech­no­logy that will help cre­ate digital tutors that are as effect­ive as per­sonal tutors, and edu­ca­tional soft­ware that’s as com­pel­ling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teach­ing you some­thing other than just blow­ing some­thing up.

A bit of corporate indulgence…

Apo­lo­gies for pimp­ing my employer, but I became the sub­ject of the inaug­ural ‘Meet the Team’ por­tion of the BizCubed news­let­ter.

It’s a good feel­ing know­ing that you work for a com­pany that actu­ally cares about open source and open stand­ards. For example, we sponsored the Gov­ern­ment 2.0 event in Can­berra last week.

For the sake of pos­ter­ity, I’ll repro­duce the inter­view here:

Meet The Team — Srid­har Dhanapalan

We are more than a con­sult­ing com­pany — we are a great team! In this sec­tion we will be intro­du­cing one mem­ber of our team in each newsletter.Sridhar Dhanapalan

What do you do at BizCubed?

I make sure that our Sup­port sub­scribers are receiv­ing legendary ser­vice. We like to be an open com­pany, and so know­ledge shar­ing is import­ant to us. I write a lot of doc­u­ment­a­tion on our wiki for the bene­fit of the Pen­taho community.

Intern­ally, I ensure that our team is prop­erly enabled with any inform­a­tion or infra­struc­ture that they need. I take care of our serv­ers and deploy­ments. I also do the occa­sional devel­op­ment of BI solu­tions. It’s a var­ied role — I never have a reason to be bored!

What attracts you to open source BI?

It seems incon­gru­ous that while we demand trans­par­ency from, for instance, our polit­ical sys­tems and fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions, they rely on soft­ware that is opaque.

Pro­cesses and organ­isa­tions can­not be thor­oughly audited if the soft­ware that drives them is closed. I also believe that in using open source and open stand­ards, you are show­ing respect for your users and cus­tom­ers. Your users can see what you see; touch what you touch. They can inspect and inter­rog­ate to their heart’s con­tent, and even make their own modi­fic­a­tions if they so wish. They may not opt to exer­cise those rights, but ulti­mately it’s their choice and not their vendor’s.

What were you doing before join­ing BizCubed?

I’ve been using com­puters since the early 1980s, and I dis­covered open source just over ten years ago. I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to make a career out of it. I have a back­ground in net­work engin­eer­ing, satel­lite com­mu­nic­a­tions, sys­tems admin­is­tra­tion and good ol’ fash­ioned tech support.

I com­pleted uni­ver­sity with a Sci­ence degree major­ing in the His­tory and Philo­sophy of Sci­ence and Tech­no­logy, which I feel gave me an appre­ci­ation for the inter­sec­tion of tech­no­logy and soci­ety. I think there should be more atten­tion paid to this in ICT, and it’s an area I often encounter in the field of BI.

Do you work with any pro­jects other than Pentaho?

I’ve been very act­ive in the open source com­munity over the past ten years. For the first half of this dec­ade, I was an admin­is­trator, editor and author at what was at the time the largest Man­drake (now Man­driva) Linux com­munity Web site.

I’m cur­rently the pres­id­ent of the Sydney Linux Users Group and also on the Linux Aus­tralia Coun­cil. Through those, I organ­ise and co-​​ordinate meet­ings and events for the Aus­tralian Linux com­munity. Other than that, I’m involved in the Ubuntu com­munity, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the Grameen Found­a­tion and a few other projects.

What do you do in your spare time?

My open source con­tri­bu­tions take up the bulk of my non-​​work hours. I read a lot of news and cur­rent affairs, and I’ve been known to go on Wiki­pe­dia binges. Other than that, I spend time with fam­ily and friends.

Will it be Domesday or Doomsday for our information?

The ABC have a piece from National Lib­rary of Aus­tralia web archiv­ing man­ager Paul Koerbin, about the import­ance of digital records pre­ser­va­tion.

Of equal import­ance, how can we be sure that we can actu­ally read those archives in the future? Lit­er­acy of Egyp­tian Hiero­glyphs was long-​​gone by the 18th cen­tury, and it took the dis­cov­ery of the Rosetta Stone for them to start mak­ing sense again.

It’s dif­fi­cult enough deci­pher­ing human lan­guage. Under­stand­ing machine lan­guage is another thing entirely.

I’ve writ­ten about this in the past, con­trast­ing the thousand-​​year-​​old Domes­day Book (which is still legible) with the BBC Domes­day Pro­ject (which was rendered vir­tu­ally unread­able a mere six­teen years after production).

The means of pre­serving our cul­ture for digital pre­ser­va­tion is to use open stand­ards. If the means for ‘read­ing’ the inform­a­tion is widely doc­u­mented and under­stood, without any encum­brances, we stand a much greater chance of being able to inter­pret it in a couple of hun­dred years.

I’ve got essays from school writ­ten only ten years ago, and I can’t read them any more as they’re stored in a pro­pri­et­ary file format that is no longer supported.

Ima­gine you ran a com­pany that had import­ant and valu­able writ­ten records stretch­ing back for dec­ades. Stor­ing vast lib­rar­ies of paper is expens­ive and inef­fi­cient, so you decide to digit­ise them all. That’s great — you now have a sys­tem that is easy to man­age and search. Ten years later, you want to migrate your now-​​ageing data man­age­ment sys­tem to some­thing more mod­ern. Only, you can’t — it’s all stored in a pro­pri­et­ary format that can­not be accessed by any­thing else.

If you had kept those paper records, you would have still had access to that inform­a­tion. Your choices now are to con­tinue with your old, obsol­ete sys­tem for all etern­ity, or hire some clever hacker to decipher the file format. With no equi­val­ent of a Rosetta Stone, that’s no mean task. After spend­ing buck­ets of money on this avoid­able prob­lem, and los­ing even more due to inef­fi­cien­cies and com­pet­it­ive dis­ad­vant­age from the old sys­tem, you’d be wise to make sure it can­not hap­pen again.

This is a very com­mon kind of scen­ario. If our inform­a­tion can’t even last ten years, how can it last a thousand?

From a busi­ness per­spect­ive, open stand­ards pro­tect the inde­pend­ence of a com­pany. It means no vendor lock-​​in, so you are not stuck pay­ing mono­poly prices. Through the cre­ation of a free mar­ket sur­round­ing a method/​technology, open stand­ards give you the free­dom to select the vendors, products, meth­ods and tech­no­lo­gies that suit your require­ments best, or you can even cre­ate your own. They are the ulti­mate in risk mit­ig­a­tion, and through their flex­ib­il­ity can also open aven­ues for com­pet­it­ive advant­age. They just make good busi­ness sense.

LotD: Vioxx maker Merck and Co drew up doc­tor hit list and Merck Makes Phony Peer-​​Review Journal

Great start… but the hard work is just beginning

Donna Ben­jamin roun­ded a small group of us together to write a let­ter to Julia Gil­lard, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter and Min­is­ter for Edu­ca­tion. The res­ult was widely syn­dic­ated, hope­fully build­ing some mind­share in the pro­cess. The Edu­ca­tion Expo proved to me more than any­thing else that FOSS is quickly becom­ing accept­able to the gen­eral pub­lic — the trick is in how you pro­mote it.

So where to from here? How can we cap­it­al­ise upon the gains we have made?

Per­haps our greatest single weak­ness is the per­ceived lack of pro­fes­sional sup­port. I think OSIA should be doing more to address this (note: I’m not imply­ing that OSIA isn’t tak­ing this ser­i­ously). Here’s an e-​​mail I wrote to the osia-​​discuss mail­ing list (which is unfor­tu­nately subscriber-​​only):

The best thing OSIA can do is fight the pop­u­lar notion that there’s no
pro­fes­sional sup­port avail­able for FOSS. We can beat the TCO and Free­dom
drums as hard as we want, but few organ­isa­tions are will­ing to entrust their
com­put­ing to ‘com­munity’ support.

I man­aged the Linux Aus­tralia stand at the Edu­ca­tion Expo a few weeks ago, and
my impres­sion is that FOSS is on the cusp of main­stream acceptance:

http://​www​.dhanap​a​lan​.com/​b​l​o​g​/​2008​/​06​/​29​/​e​d​u​c​a​t​i​o​n​-​e​x​p​o​-​r​e​p​o​rt/

Schools are cry­ing out for ways to get bet­ter value for their dol­lar, but they
aren’t going to even think about FOSS if they can’t get pro­fes­sional support.

If I run the stand again next year, I’d like to see some involve­ment from
OSIA. At the very least, we should have avail­able some leaf­lets show­ing that
yes indeed there is qual­ity, paid sup­port for FOSS.

Also note that FOSS isn’t Linux. We got the most interest in the
OpenE­duca­tionDisc, a com­pil­a­tion of FOSS for Windows.

On the com­munity side, we can con­tinue to make FOSS more accept­able to school admin­is­tra­tions, bur­eau­crats and politi­cians. Here’s my idea:

My sug­ges­tion is for us to build a Web site focused on open edu­ca­tion in
Aus­tralia. We already have the per­fect vehicle: http://​opene​duca​tion​.org​.au.
How­ever, at present it’s just a messy wiki more suit­able for our own
brain­storm­ing than for being a public-​​facing resource.

The wiki should of course remain, but I pro­pose that we build a proper,
present­able Web site that is dir­ectly access­ible via the
http://​opene​duca​tion​.org​.au address.

Why do this when we already have http://​linux​.org​.au/​e​d​u​c​a​t​ion? Open Edu­ca­tion
is much big­ger than Linux, and cer­tainly should not be anchored to it. Here’s
a short list of what it can include:

  • FOSS
  • (GNU/)Linux OS — on servers
  • (GNU/)Linux OS — on clients/​desktops
  • open stand­ards
  • open languages/​libraries/​APIs
  • free content/​culture
  • open learn­ing
  • open cur­riculum

To be hon­est, I fear that we might be only hurt­ing ourselves by tying open
edu­ca­tion to a com­pletely Free com­put­ing envir­on­ment. That might be a worthy
aim, but few insti­tu­tions are going to switch over all in one go. By offer­ing
a migra­tion path (or paths), a school can migrate more com­fort­ably at its own
pace. We ought to be provid­ing real choice, not just a bin­ary ‘with us or
with the terrists’.

FOSS (Fire­fox, Open​Of​fice​.org, Scribus, etc.) can run on oper­at­ing sys­tems
other than Linux. To use the recent Edu­ca­tion Expo as an example, we got a
lot of buy-​​in through the OpenE­duca­tionDisc, a com­pil­a­tion of FOSS for
Windows.

Also note how I split Linux cli­ents from serv­ers. Linux’s place in the server
realm is very solid, but con­vin­cing an insti­tu­tion to accept a Linux cli­ent
solu­tion is tougher. And by ‘cli­ent’, I mean either tra­di­tional desktops or
thin cli­ents. The lat­ter are often cost-​​effective and rep­res­ent a real
strength of Linux, but are often over­looked or even have reg­u­la­tions work­ing
against their adop­tion. On the server side, we have some great edu­ca­tional
tools such as Moodle and LAMS.

Open stand­ards obvi­ously include things like file formats and pro­to­cols, which
will become even more rel­ev­ant as we see more applic­a­tions (pro­pri­et­ary or
oth­er­wise) pick up stand­ard­ised meth­ods of inform­a­tion exchange such as ODF
and PDF. This should also ease the integ­ra­tion of FOSS into pre-​​existing
envir­on­ments. It also can include lan­guages and all things related. Why are
schools still teach­ing Visual Basic when they could be teach­ing Python?

The final three points all link together. Most not­ably, they are not depend­ent
upon tech­no­logy at all. Your aver­age teacher isn’t a tech­no­lo­gist, and
shouldn’t have to be. Know­ledge can be shared and organ­ised openly just like
code. Wiki­pe­dia has proven that great things can be built if ordin­ary people
are given easy to use tools.

Where to from this point? I sug­gest that we work towards get­ting a CMS run­ning
at opene​duca​tion​.org​.au. We’ll have to agree upon a design and the mes­sage
that we want to pur­vey. Con­tent cre­ation should be sep­ar­ate from tech­nical
abil­ity, so the CMS should be simple enough for any­body to contribute.

Here is some inspir­a­tion from the UK:

The UK edu­ca­tion sec­tor appears to be much fur­ther ahead of us in terms of
embra­cing open­ness, and I think we can take some les­sons from their efforts.

To cla­rify one thing in the above, I wrote the text for http://​linux​.org​.au/​e​d​u​c​a​t​ion, but I never felt com­fort­able with it being there. So much of open edu­ca­tion has noth­ing to do with Linux and Linux Aus­tralia shouldn’t be divert­ing its focus to dwell on it dir­ectly. With a more inde­pend­ent Web pres­ence (in col­lab­or­a­tion with Linux Aus­tralia), I feel that we can be much more effective.

LotD:   Open sourcing Aus­tralia: OpenAus​tralia​.org goes live

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, 56 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: Open​Of​fice​.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 Open​Of​fice​.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 :-) .