Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Will inlcusion of WINE make the Ubuntu flavour better?

One of the keepers of the Ubuntu software respositories (called MOTUs, or Masters of the Universe) has proposed a mainstream inclusion of Wine with Ubuntu. For any of you unfamiliar with Wine, it is a body of software that allows Linux users to run a variety of Windows applications. WineHQ summarizes:

Wine is a translation layer (a program loader) capable of running Windows applications on Linux and other POSIX compatible operating systems. Windows programs running in Wine act as native programs would, running without the performance or memory usage penalties of an emulator, with a similar look and feel to other applications on your desktop.

Wine allows applications ranging from Accelerated Reader to Examview to Logger Pro to run on a Linux box. A complete list of Windows educational applications enabled with Wine is available here.

Obviously, making Wine easily-accessible to Linux users would bring down a significant barrier to its adoption.

According to Neowin.net,

This does not mean the Wine would be installed by default but instead that, on clicking an executable file, the user would be prompted if they want to install Wine. An automatic install would follow, similar to what is already done for codecs in Ubuntu.

The proposed inclusion of Wine certainly makes sense for Ubuntu, largely considered the mainstream Windows alternative of choice (next to OS X). It also means that users of netbooks won’t necessarily have to run Windows XP Home to access educational applications. Instead, as Wine continues to mature and see increased adoption and integration with Ubuntu, Linux netbooks become far more realistic. So, in fact, do DIY labs, saving licensing fees on operating systems, even if the fees can’t be saved on some proprietary software used in your school system.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Microsoft revising 'us vs. them' attitude toward open source

Microsoft is changing its previous "us vs. them" attitude toward open-source software.

When Microsoft completed its acquisition of San Francisco-based startup Powerset in July, it acquired more than just search-engine technology. In the HBase component of Powerset's product, Microsoft also acquired open-source code that is actively being redistributed back into the Apache Software Foundation's Hadoop project.

The scenario of having open-source technology in a product is a first for Microsoft, which to date has had only proprietary technology in its software, said Robert Duffner, a senior director in Microsoft's Platform Strategy Group.

Letting the acquired technology exist as it is, and letting the former Powerset employees continue to contribute code to Hadoop, represents a shift in mindset and strategy at the company to be more friendly toward open-source technology and realize that "innovation occurs across a wide variety of technologies," he said.

In addition to the Powerset code, Microsoft also for the first time in 2008 began contributing other code to open-source projects. In July, Microsoft began providing code to a PHP project called ADOdb. PHP is an open-source, freely available scripting language that developers widely use for Web development.

Duffner's group, under the direction of Microsoft Senior Director Sam Ramji, is driving this movement to not only accept open-source software as a technology with which Microsoft's software has to interoperate effectively, but also to see it as beneficial to both Microsoft's own business goals and the industry as a whole.

Having long positioned Windows and other proprietary software against open source as "us versus them," Microsoft is now trying to convince customers that the two technologies are not mutually exclusive and in fact can even be complementary at times.

Part of the duty of the Platform Strategy Group, formed a little over a year ago, is also to reverse the message of Microsoft's previous and infamous "Get the Facts" campaign, which aggressively tried to show customers the value proposition of deploying a Windows environment instead of Linux.

This new attitude also is a far cry from the Microsoft of only a year-and-a-half ago, when CEO Steve Ballmer claimed that Linux violates 235 patents Microsoft holds and said the company was considering seeking patent royalties from open-source distributors.

"It's been quite a while since we've heard very much saber-rattling [from Microsoft] on open source," said Jay Lyman, open-source analyst with The 451 Group. "It's indicative that there is true change going on over there."

However, even members of the Platform Strategy Group team admit that turning the entire Microsoft ship to accept this new attitude is no easy task, and it's a process that is still evolving across the company.

"There are some groups within Microsoft [where] it's taking longer for the message to filter down," said Peter Galli, senior open-source community manager of the Platform Strategy Group.

Microsoft hired Galli, a former journalist who covered both Microsoft and Linux, several months ago as a "change agent" to help spread the new open-source message across the company, Duffner said.

An example of how old habits die hard came just last week, when Microsoft's public relations team posted a case study on its PressPass Web site highlighting how a U.K. company called Speedy Hire expects to save US$1.48 million in five years after switching from Linux to Windows. The interview, which Microsoft's public relations team pointed out to journalists through an e-mail campaign, had no apparent news value and seemed out of context, as the Speedy Hire case study was a year old.

Blatant open-source bashing like this is what the Platform Strategy Group is trying to change, Galli said.

However, Microsoft still believes that running a Windows Server environment has a better total cost of ownership than a Red Hat Enterprise Linux environment, something that many customers still don't quite understand because some still believe open source means free of charge.

This message is especially important during the current recession in the U.S., when many companies are looking to cut costs, Duffner said.

He stressed that Microsoft by no means wants to promote the use of open-source software to its customers, and still thinks its own software is superior. However, embracing open source is about giving customers and developers the chance to make their own decisions about which software to buy, and making sure both Microsoft and open-source software can be part of the same buying decision, Duffner said.

The 451 Group's Lyman concurred that Microsoft's interest in open source is "its own self-interest." "They want open source on Windows to be just as good as open source on Linux," he said.

Lyman added that it "makes sense" for Microsoft to differentiate between attacking other vendors like Red Hat and attacking open source as an ideology, which is what the company has done in the past and which has proven to be a battle that it can't win.

Google dumps Firefox from download bundle, swaps in Chrome

Mozilla's browser now an optional download with Chrome out of beta
Gregg Keizer 15/12/2008 08:15:00

Google Friday replaced Mozilla's Firefox with its own Chrome as the default browser in the English version of Google Pack, the search company's application bundle for Windows.

On Thursday Google dropped the "beta" label from Chrome, the browser it introduced three months ago, and issued the first production version for Windows XP and Vista.

Google Pack is a one-download collection of Google-made and third-party applications that includes Google Desktop, Google Earth, Picasa, Adobe Reader and Norton Security Scan.

Firefox remains on the list, but is not selected for download as part of Google Pack by default. Instead, the box beside it is left unchecked. That's a change from Thursday, according to an earlier version of Google Pack's download page cached by Google itself, which shows Firefox as the bundle's only browser.

Non-English versions of Google Pack, however, continue to offer Firefox, including the German- and French-language editions. Chrome is available in localized versions for about 40 different languages, German and French among them.

Mozilla has had a lucrative relationship with Google over the years. In 2007, for example, 88 percent of Mozilla's revenues , to the tune of about US$60 million, came from its deal with Google. The search company pays Mozilla for assigning it as the default search engine in Firefox, and for click-throughs on ads placed on the ensuing search results pages.

Mozilla renewed the deal with Google in August when the two inked a three-year contract that ends in November 2011.

Thursday, before Google swapped Chrome for Firefox, Mozilla's CEO welcomed the rival to the market.

"It's great to see them get to 1.0 and will mean more choices for users," said Mozilla chief executive John Lilly, in an e-mailed statement. Lilly also took the opportunity to plug his company's own browser. "Firefox 3 use has grown quickly over the last few months and we're excited to release 3.1 early next year ... competition is clearly creating better browsers than ever."

Mozilla did not immediately reply to questions Friday, including whether Lilly's take of Thursday still holds now that Google has dropped Firefox from the default download bundle.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What Does It take to switch to desktop Linux in Schools?

As a school Administrator, I always try to find ways to economize in a lot of things but not sacrificing quality, I came across my favourite Zdnet Blogger Christopher Dawson on “Just what does it take to switch to desktop Linux “ and I saw that indeed the article was worth reading and commenting. According to dawson the following are the parameters needed to be considered when considering on wWhat is required to switch teachers to Linux on his desktop?

Here’s Christopher Dawson's initial list.

  • Know how to access Windows shares on the network

  • Have a rudimentary understanding of the file system to ensure that he could copy, paste, and otherwise move around his files, including how to make backups

  • Understand how to save documents in PDF, ODF, and Office formats

  • Understand the differences in interface between OpenOffice and Office 2003 (the current system used in the superintendent’s office)

These are all free. In addition to these, Dawson also includes the following issues for users:

  1. Where are their files kept ?

  2. How does one access the budgeting software?

  3. How does one access the student information system (web-based)?

  4. How do one communicate (email and chat systems are currently web-based)?

Here are some additional important considerations. None of these seem to be deal breakers, but they certainly need to be part of a well-planned and successful conversion if schools at elementary and high school grades are to decide to head down that road:

  • Printing: Does all of the printers users access have Linux drivers? Although there is a trend of keeping files digitized and lessening the usage of paper to help the environment, the superintendents,administrator's and registrar’s office, perhaps more than any other administrative unit, must produce printed documents.

  • Backup: With Windows machines, one can redirect desktops and user folders to a regularly backed-up server; Vista does a particularly nice (if slow) job of dealing with offline file synchronization. There are plenty of ways to handle this in Linux, but as far as I know, there isn’t anything quite as slick as either group policies in Windows for the redirects or the similar functionality enabled in OS X server .

  • Replacing group policy and domain/enterprise levels of control in general: as noted above, while AD may have its share of issues, it makes pushing updates, enforcing policies, etc., really easy. Anyone have a good “Linux administration for dummies” link that covers good ways to handle policy for workstations across a network?

  • Remote access: There are plenty of remote access solutions that will work quite well with Linux, but any existing infrastructure needs to be tested for compatibility.

  • Complex Excel files: Compatibility between OpenOffice 3 and Microsoft Office is generally quite good. However, since the super’s office also handles budget administration, there are most likely some fairly complicated spreadsheets floating around. A period of testing should certainly go on with OO.org, but a more important consideration may actually be the impact on productivity for budget admins who are extremely proficient in Excel.

  • “Extracurricular crap”: (something like what the regular Joe's use to “enhance their productivity by making them relaxed) “Check out any extra curricular software they may have, iTunes, Skype, etc. Yes these are silly but if users are pissed off you took away music they’ll be more likely to resist and sabotage.” another power user comments that : “In my experience it’s not the mainstream applications that prevent a switch but rather the myriad of smaller programs which have no OSS replacements. Be sure to identify and factor these programs into any migration strategy.”

With these things in mind, I'd like to acknowledge the immense help accorded by Sir Chris to us non-techie school managers. Hope that his advice would also work well for you.

His full length article can be accessed at:

http://education.zdnet.com/?p=1976&tag=nl.e539 and


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