Tag: OSS

5 reasons to use Open Source Software

A few weeks back, Mark Berthelemy asked me to speak at an upcoming conference about Open Source Software. I couldn’t make it, but promised to record a video that he could show at the event. I used Mozilla Popcorn Maker to add text, etc. after recording on my Sony NEX-5 and editing in iMovie:

It should be embedded above. If it doesn’t show up for whatever reason, click here. The source video is on YouTube.

5 reasons I’m using less and less Open Source stuff.

I’m not attempting to get into a flame war with this post. It’s a personal reflection and more of a statement than an argument. Please comment appropriately! 🙂

In a perfect world, everything I use would be an Open Source product and have been produced using Open principles and philosophies. I’ve been part of a Becta-funded project into the use of Open Source Software (OSS) in schools, spent time with Linux as my sole operating system, and have given away (to anyone who’d have them) CDs and DVDs containing OSS.

But, without consciously aiming to do so, I’ve found myself using less and less Open Source stuff over the last year or so.  Why? There’s several reasons.

1. Standards are to innovate upon

The reason that we have ‘standards’ in any area of life is to ensure compliance. But that isn’t meant to limit creativity and innovation, but to serve as a basis upon which it can flourish. Whilst there’s a lot of wonderful work going on in the OSS arena, there’s also a lot of people and projects engaging in catch-up.

2. Willingness to pay for software

When I was younger I had no or very little money. I’m far from rich now, but can nevertheless afford to pay for software that improves my productivity and/or outputs. This means that I’m using iWork instead of OpenOffice.org, for example.

3. Ecosystems and things ‘just working’

I was sorely tempted to purchase an Android-powered mobile phone recently. The main reason I didn’t? It had nothing to do with the specifications of the phone I had in mind. It was to do with access to the iTunes store. I listen to a lot of podcasts but, since moving completely to Spotify for my music, no longer sync my iPhone at all. Whilst I would be able to use software such as DoubleTwist to get content onto an Android-powered phone, it would mean syncing again and no access on-the-move. That, as they say, was a dealbreaker for me.

The other thing about tightly-controlled ecosystems is that, for all the whinging about control, DRM and monopolies they provide a seamless, enjoyable and fairly risk-free experience to the end user. I know, for example, that I’m going to get well-made app in the iPhone app store, and that books are going to be formatted correctly when using the Amazon Kindle store.

Finally, ecosystems mean that things ‘just work’. I continue to use Google’s online offerings because they all work together so well. I can get data in and data out easily, and transfer information between applications quickly. Taking any longer than necessary to do tasks isn’t high on my list of desirable features for any technology with a thesis to write…

4. Too much choice

The mantra of the ‘noughties’, if it had one, would have been ‘choice, choice, choice’. We were given a plethora of television channels, luxury goods and even hospitals to choose from. More choice, it was argued, led to higher standards.

However, the problem with too much choice is that you become paralysed in the process of decision-making. You need some kind of kind or heuristic to apply to the situation. Think about purchasing a laptop. There are so many makes, types, shapes and colours that it would take a great deal of time even to whittle it down to three choices.

The same goes with software. Once I’ve found a reputable and high-quality source of hardware or software, I’m likely to stick with that source unless something disastrous happens. So who do I look for when I’m making hardware purchases? Apple and Sony. Where do I look first for my online apps and software? Google.

5. Free is not OSS

I still use a lot of free software. But much of it is not OSS. There are new models evolving where the end product is made available either temporarily or permanently to users for free. (think of ‘freemium’ models, sponsored apps and the like!)

The fact that it is (usually) free is, like it or not, the biggest selling point of OSS. Whilst I and others completely buy into the philosoph(ies) behind it, with the increasing availability of free (as in beer) software undermines the appeal of OSS.

Conclusion

I am not advocating that people ignore OSS in favour of proprietary products. Far from it. What I am pointing out here is that the landscape is changing and OSS advocates need to change their approach. My recommendations:

  • Much more emphasis placed on the ‘four freedoms’
  • The building of an OSS ecosystem
  • An app store for OSS (seriously)

What do YOU think? Have you been using less or more OSS recently? Why? :-p

Things I Learned This Week – #13

Image CC BY Pink Sherbert Photography

This week I returned from the UAE only to head down to London and then immediately back up to Doncaster for the Open Source Schools Think Tank (#osschools) and TeachMeet Yorkshire & Humber 2010 (#tmyh2010), respectively. They were both great events and I was very kindly put up by Dughall McCormick (@dughall) on Friday night, allowing me to attend the TeachMeet. 😀

http://delicious.com/dajbelshaw/TILTW13
(43 bookmarks)

I’m delighted to have seen references on other blogs to this series of weekly posts and I’m glad people find them so useful!

Tech.

  • I don’t often disagree with the conclusions Lifehacker comes to, but saying that “[Google] Chrome for OS X is still much too young for full-time adoption” whereas Firefox is great is not true in my opinion. One of the reasons I switched to Chrome (whilst still in Alpha!) was not only because of its speed but because Firefox was crashing several times a day, despite reinstalling, etc.
  • Want to jazz-up the ‘new tab’ page in Google Chrome? Try Incredible Start Page:

Productivity & Inspiration

Education & Academic

  • Using video game-style ‘experience points’ instead of grades in school? <strokes beard> Interesting…
  • Need stories for deaf students or those with partial hearing? Try Signed Stories!
  • Want a (very) simply guide to getting started with Google Apps Education Edition? Try here. And then you may want some ideas on how to use it:

Data, Design & Infographics

  • According to a 1984 paper cited by Nathan Yau at FlowingData, scatter charts are the easiest to decode in terms of representations of quantitative data. Bar charts and pie charts come next. Although probably not 3D ones produced by M$ PowerPoint… 😉
  • It turns out, somewhat unsurprisingly, that if you’re a kid you don’t want the misfortune to have been born in Afghanistan. It kind of affects your life chances:

Misc.

Quotations

It is easier to stay out than get out. (Mark Twain)

It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation. (Dr. Rob Gilbert)

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. (Henry Ford)

A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down… (Arnold H. Glasow)

It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. (Charles Darwin)

The problem with free stuff.

divieto?
Image: ‘divieto?

Background:

I like free stuff. I also like Open Source (OSS) stuff. I especially like FLOSS. OSS has a model that works:

In his 1997 essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar, open source evangelist Eric S. Raymond suggests a model for developing OSS known as the bazaar model. Raymond likens the development of software by traditional methodologies to building a cathedral, “carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation”. He suggests that all software should be developed using the bazaar style, which he described as “a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.” (Wikipedia)

The trouble is, the only real ‘model’ that non-OSS developers have for making software freely available is freemium: making basic services free whilst charging for more advanced features.

The problem:

Educators get upset when services they’ve been using (for free) get shut down. That’s understandable.

Why are educators using these free, online tools? Because those that are provided for them don’t cut the mustard. Why aren’t they paying for the more advanced (premium) features? Because they would have to pay for them personally.

Solutions:

  1. Encourage/dictate that staff and students use only Open Source software (if a developer leaves, the software is still there and you can find/pay someone to develop it further)
  2. Give staff (and students?) a budget to spend on software/web apps (a bit like a personal version of the ill-fated eLearning Credits system in the UK)
  3. Have a backup plan (what other services could you migrate to if the worst came to the worst?)

Conclusion:

If you don’t pay for it (or, if ad-supported, click on the ads) don’t grumble if it’s not there tomorrow.

Open Source Schools curriculum meeting

I spent yesterday afternoon with a like-minded group of educators who are part of the Becta-funded Open Source Schools project. We spent four hours (!) discussing the ins-and-outs of what educators  want and need from us. We were joined virtually by a number of educators from the FlashMeeting  (see replay). In the spirit of being open and sharing, here’s an overview of what was discussed! 😀

  • We’re concerned with not replicating what is already available elsewhere in the Open Source community. Our focus should, and is, on pedagogical application of Open Source Software (OSS).
  • Starting with the half-term after Easter, we shall have a ‘push’ in a given subject area. This will not be at the expense of providing resources, links and discussion for other subject areas. We have a number of historians who are part of the project (including myself), and so will be kicking things off with either History or Design and Technology, where teachers have also expressed a strong interest.
  • The idea of ‘having a competition’ was raised at various points at the meeting. Usually it was in an attempt to get students engaged. I had misgivings about this, especially after Clarence Fisher’s excellent recent post.
  • As would be expected, there was much discussion of Moodle. I’m not against it, I’m just not a huge fan. The problem is with Moodle is that there’s a fair learning curve, and it’s best deployed as a whole-school learning platform. I’m more concerned with getting teachers, students and parents using OSS they can install easily and locally. :-p
  • I floated the idea of having posters that could be downloaded from the site and printed off by educators who want to promote OSS and the Open Source Schools website. We discussed getting professional designers to come up with these, but eventually decided that user-generated ones (after exemplars) would be  more in keeping with the community spirit.
  • I mentioned that a good way to get parents engaged might be to show ways in which they can control their children’s access to the Internet at home. We need to explore this more as existing OSS solutions we could think of are difficult to deploy on a single machine. I suggested OpenDNS, but it turns out that this is free, but not Open Source. 🙁
  • We discussed how to get teachers started with OSS. I pointed out the fact that our unique selling point is pedagogical use of OSS, not just being a one-stop shop for everything Open Source! To this end, we’re not going to be providing step-by-step guides on how to download and install programs (unless we’re specifically asked to, of course…)
  • It was agreed that video is a powerful medium, and that 5-minute TeachersTV-style examples of OSS being used in an educational context would be useful. This could take the form of screencasts (created using Wink, for example) or videos recorded and uploaded to Archive.org. These would be created by educators on a voluntary basis (after being seeded with some examples) instead of being of broadcast-quality by film crews parachuted into schools!

If you’d like to get involved in the Open Source Schools project, please head over to the website. We’re keen for as many people to get involved as possible and it’s far from an exclusive club.

See you over there! 😀

BETT 2009 and EdTechRoundup

TeachMeet09 @ BETTI’m off to BETT 2009 on Friday, one of the largest educational technology-related trade fairs in the world. This year I’m speaking about my use of Linux-powered netbooks as part of a Becta-funded Open Source Schools project of which I’ve been part. Last year, if you remember, I spoke with Futurelab about barriers and enablers with regard to the adoption of educational technology, and in particular Web 2.0 tools, in schools.

If you’d like to see me and others from the project in action, come to the seminar on Saturday 17 January at 10.45am in the Club Room!

I’ve been granted cover for my one ICT group on Friday afternoon, meaning I’ll be able to get from Doncaster to London in time for the TeachMeet. Last year’s was great and I not only got the chance to do a 2-minute nanopresentation about EdTechRoundup (thus officially launching it), but met lots of great people for the first time. I can remember Lisa Stevens and Jo Rhys-Jones accosting me and talking as if they’d known me for years because they read my blog! I can remember meeting José Picardo for the first time at the ‘TeachEat’ meal at Pizza Express afterwards, and having a debate with Ian Grove-Stephensen about the future of schools. In fact, I met so many people there for the first time that I feel like I’ve known for years! 😀

This year, if I get a chance to do another nanopresentation at TeachMeet (people are randomly selected using the ‘fruit machine’ from ClassTools.net) I’m going to give an update as to how far we’ve come with EdTechRoundup and hopefully recruit even more regulars. :-p

If you’re heading to BETT 2009 on Friday or Saturday and want to say hello in person, please get in touch via Twitter (@dajbelshaw) or the contact form.

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What does it take to build a community?

I spent today down in London with some great educators and those involved in the Open Source community. We were part of an advisory group for a Becta-funded project allied to the website opensourceschools.org.uk. Part of the discussion naturally focused on starting a community of educators interested in using Open Source Software (OSS) in their schools. The question we were tasked with was: how do we get started?

AlphaPlus, the consultancy firm employed by Becta to run the project haven’t had a great deal of experience in Open Source, although they’ve done a decent job so far. What was great was that there were some ‘big hitters’ there to get things moving along. At the meeting, apart from myself, were:

In the morning session we discussed who we were aiming the website at. It was agreed that there already exist some excellent ‘technical’ website for network administrators and the like, but that more was needed for ‘beginners’ and those new to OSS. At the moment, opensourceschools.org.uk is a framework to build the community upon. We were concerned with how to go from eager early adopters using the site to gaining mainstream traction.

The key question of a previous blog post of mine (Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software) was used as a stimulus to discussion. The point was raised that actually we need to move one step back: why should teachers even care about software? From there we discussed recent Becta license agreements after which Josie mentioned that at present students are taught how to use specific software (usually Microsoft) instead of more generic skills.

Michelle shared with the group the policy at her school of giving Year 7 students a USB flash drive containing all the software they will need during their time at the school. It is all Open Source and the school computers all run Linux. As a result, teachers can be confident that students have access to the software they need at home as well as school. A representative from Becta built on this, talking about the complex license agreements for some companies mean dealing with OSS is a lot easier for schools.

This got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if the (eventual) community at opensourceschools.org.uk could discuss and agree on customised versions of the OSS available at portableapps.com? For example, a version of Firefox with useful plugins for students pre-installed, or OpenOffice with everything set up in a way students and teachers alike would find intuitive.

Josie then took over to do some scenario planning for the community we are planning to attract and build on the site. She asked us to split into groups and come up with two axes on a graph in order to think about the type of community we want to foster. our group wanted to steer a course between a place that was almost unbearingly positive and back-slapping and a forum that involved lots of flamewars. On the other axis we put ‘enablers’ and ‘reticent’. Obviously, there’s no point in ‘preaching to the choir’ and just setting out to attract those who already know and use OSS. Whilst those people are needed, we need to focus on those who are at present disinterested and do some evangelism. Other groups talked about having specific roles in the community and whether the site should operate largely as a repository or a community.

After lunch, we had more of a freeform discussion about the website and how we could go about building the community. Many agreed that whilst Drupal is a good example of Open Source Software, it perhaps isn’t best for the purpose in mind. One of the AlphaPlus team mentioned that they’d planned to have ‘roadshows’ in order to do some form of evangelism. I suggested that they may want to run some ‘unconference’ sessions in a spirit similar to that of TeachMeet. The short presentations could be filmed and form a set of rich-media case studies to go on the site. More importantly, however, people would be able to meet face-to-face and share advice and ideas.

The best bit of the day, for me, was meeting in person people I had only previously met online. It’s great to spend time with like-minded, positive people who care deeply about education. 😀

Check out opensourceschools.org.uk. What would YOU suggest? Are you interested in using OSS in education?

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Why as an educator you should care about Open Source Software

I’ve been invited to be part of a Becta project into Open Source Software (OSS). “What is OSS?” I hear you ask. A Google define: open source software search does a reasonable job, but for the layperson something a bit closer to home is needed.In a strange way, using OSS is a bit like buying Fairtrade products. Most people don’t see the direct results of their choice: they’re a water droplet in a beneficial deluge.

I’m sure you’re aware that creating software programs and web applications involves ‘programming’; programmers enter code in one of many programming languages. When this ‘source code’ is ready to be released, it is ‘compiled’ ready for Joe Public to be able to install it on their computers. Joe Public, however, can never read what was in the source code. Usually, that’s hidden and protected by copyright.

OSS, however, makes the source code readily available. This means that anyone with the requisite knowledge can make changes to the software. Note that even though OSS is usually free, nothing about the philosophy behind it says that the software can’t be sold for profit, just that the source code should be made available (under something called the GPL).

Strong communities often develop around popular OSS. You may have heard of an operating system called Linux. There are different ‘distributions’ (or versions) of this – perhaps the most popular being Ubuntu. The PCs in my classroom run Edubuntu, a derivative. You’d be amazed at what a community can put together and make available free of charge!

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where a program or web application you’ve relied upon has stopped being developed, but I certainly have. It’s frustrating and there’s nothing you can do about it. With OSS, however, good projects never die due to the community being able to access the code. Someone else can come along and continue developed the software.

Many people reading this post will be educators. Not only does ‘free’ usually sound good to schools, but the philosophy enshrined in OSS should appeal to. Students can contribute to these communities and projects, and real-world learning experiences can be had. Show them the alternative to capitalism. :-p

There’s a wealth of OSS for pretty much every need. Check out the following repositories:

If you want to know more about OSS and the Open Source movement in general, the Free Software Foundation is a great place to start! 😀

Do YOU use Open Source Software?

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