Sunday, September 18, 2011

Foss And Education, a presentation delivered on Software freedom Day 2011

Foss And Education, a presentation delivered on Software freedom Day 2011
PUP Quezon City

Foss and Education

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Introducing the Wiki Concept

There are lots of online collaboration tools and document management systems. Wikis, however, remain a simple way of creating large, shared information repositories.
DokuWiki to be specific, but it’s more the idea and use of wikis in general .
Regular readers will know that I’m the first to jump up in support of Wikipedia (as long as it’s tempered by a critical eye and thoughtful users). And I’ve used wikis more generally, whether in class or in various jobs for document management and collaboration.Hosted wikis like those offered by Wikispaces, wikis embedded in tools like Moodle, and have stood up small wikis for special projects. All good stuff.
More recently, though, personally I’ve turned to, Google Sites and Google Docs to manage most of my documentation needs. Used together, they make for a pretty robust solution that lends itself to collaboration.
Sure, Google Docs and Sites could handle this, but this felt like a job for a wiki.Classes that require collaboration on an extensive document or that will be used for longer-term reference or guidance (as this particular set of documents will also be). Needs wiki.
Having a look at  the open source DokuWiki, for a few reasons.
  1. It’s free
  2. It’s incredibly simple to set up. All you need is FTP access (with write privileges) to a single folder on a web server. The DokuWiki folder and subfolders get copied to the server and the rest of the install happens via an install.php file that is accessible via any browser.
  3. It’s fully text-based; there are no databases to install or access and files are stored as text making them readable outside the wiki and easily transported to other wiki instances.
  4. It’s incredibly fast.
  5. It’s very well-documented.
  6. It’s customizable with templates and easily installed plugins.
  7. The default installation uses a wiki markup syntax, but a WYSIWYG editor can be installed for novice users.
  8. It takes a while to get the hang of creating namespaces (essentially directories) and pages for people used to a non-wiki interface, but once understood becomes quite simple for all users to extend the wiki and clearly organize files.
  9. It has basic authentication, roles, and access control lists built in, but can easily be connected to a database or LDAP server for more sophisticated authentication needs
  10. It scales very easily.
DokuWiki isn’t perfect, of course. Without a bit of thought, the paths that it displays to each document can be cumbersome and navigation isn’t as intuitive as it should be. However, in the brief time that it took me to set it up and have people (even those new to wikis) working together and building our documents, I was able to ensure pretty immediate utility. We can refine later; the goal was to start collaborating fast on a space that could live and be used by a growing group for months to come and we achieved that goal in a day.

Taking a Look at some educational tools available combining use with gmail:

Taking a Look at some educational tools available combining use with gmail:

Exchange 2010 - When combined with a Microsoft Desktop, the eCAL, and the extreme discounts afforded to education, there simply was no better combination.

Zimbra - Close second, but to get something that competed with Exchange you had to go with Zimbra Pro (I think it was called Enterprise before VMware purchased it). But the education discounts were not very good to be perfectly honest and the collaboration part would have cost just as much as our end to end Microsoft platform.

Google - Tied with Microsoft Live@EDU. I have a love/hate relationship with Google. They are becoming the new Microsoft from 15 years ago which is dissappointing. I like their tools, but increasingly to get the full google experience you need all things google which essentially means Chrome. I feel like shortly they will start making things only work on ChromeOS or Android forcing people to move away from Microsoft and Apple. The two biggest issues we had though was the poor integration with Active Directory (and the moving "student data" into the cloud), and at the time we were doing the evaluation google had experienced several large scale public outages.

Microsoft Live@EDU - Essentially this reduced to hosted exchange. We might actually still move out students into this in some sort of co-hosted (staff in house, students in the cloud) model, but there was no significant cost savings. There still isn't much cost savings to move out students to the cloud because administration would still be the same, and only a tiny incremental portion of hardware would be saved.

One must as a rule in the Tech department to get Chrome out as as standard, or at least a dual standard. There are now active directory extensions so it can be managed almost as well as IE8/9, and with a competent tech group there are not many applications that must run in IE (some activeX sites still require it). There is little reason to not run two browsers *if* you can educate your end users. Right now we run Firefox and IE, but we are about to stop supporting Firefox and swap it with Chrome. Our education push happens later this fall.

As for using IE with gmail, We have not found any problems at all. Disabling compatibility view pretty much resolves any issues at all, and make sure your flash and java are current is all that should be required. I have found that some VLC plugins have recently been causing me grief with Chrome indirectly causing Flash to crash, but I don't quite understand why. I can repeat this with tools like uStream on demand,,, removing VLC resolves it.

Finally, people should  considered the actual Gmail tips? They have some pretty good stuff on there, not to mention the icons for the ninja make people smile every time. :)

Something else:

Has anyone looked at Karoshi Linux, Moodle or Joomla recently?

Karoshi Linux (now the Linux Schools Project) has been around for quite a while, comes with a rather full & integrated suite of features, driven by LDAP, with a Samba PDC to support Windows clients, It sports Moodle, Joomla and standard e-mail. Moodle has all manner of integration modules written for it. Is this not groupware-ish enough for a stand-alone school, or even a small school district?

Now, I'm curious what features Exchange and Zimbra provide that add value to the process flow of an edu organization besides the functional equivalent of email & scheduling. Are the needs pretty basic, or is it the drive for customization that leads bigger schools to big packages with big support?

Also.... at what scale is this discussion? If we're talking an entire school district, then Microsoft pretty much has the school district market sewn up with their discounting & the typical IT budgets of a municipal school district.

For smaller- to-mid-sized individual, independent schools, it used to not be cost effecting to become a Microsoft shop (w/ the lack of per-seat discounts afforded the district-scale organizations).  MS changed their site & district pricing to accommodate smaller districts and/or independent schools.
There's so much that could and should be done, but the sad state of primary & secondary education IT is stuck in a short-sighted quagmire. The small schools can't afford the help to drive innovation, the bigger schools just throw money at the problem.

Friday, May 20, 2011

LibreOffice Release Out

The Document Foundation’s LibreOffice, the OpenOffice office suite fork, is on a winning streak. No sooner than Ubuntu lets the world know that LibreOffice is its office suite of choice, than the next day the first full, shipping version of the program, LibreOffice 3.3, is released.

LibreOffice 3.3 includes numerous new features when compared to its OpenOffice parent. To my mind, the most important of these for modern office workers is that it has much better import and export tools for Microsoft Office 2007 and above OpenXML formats. Love them or hate them–I hate them myself–more and more businesses are using these formats and being able to work with them is becoming a business-critical feature. In addition, LibreOffice can also now import Adobe PDF, Microsoft Works, and Lotus Word Pro documents and has better WordPerfect document import facilities.

Screenshots: New features from LibreOffice 3.3

According to The Document Foundation, “LibreOffice 3.3 also incorporates all the new features of 3.3, such as new custom properties handling; embedding of standard PDF fonts in PDF documents; new Liberation Narrow font; increased document protection in Writer and Calc; auto decimals digits for ‘General’ format in Calc; 1 million rows in a spreadsheet; new options for CSV import in Calc; insert drawing objects in Charts; hierarchical axis labels for Charts; improved slide layout handling in Impress; new easier to use print interface; more options for Changing case; and colored sheet Tabs in Calc.”

The Document Foundation also states that it will add new features faster than OpenOffice because its “community of developers has been able to build their own and independent process, and stand on their feet in a very short time (in relation to the size of the code and the ambitions of the project).” Indeed, this in part why the fork happened. Regardless of how one sees Oracle’s management of Sun’s former open-source projects, OpenOffice was long known for being very slow to update compared to more agile open-source projects.

As Michael Meeks, Novell Distinguished Engineer and Document Foundation community member told me, “The growth and output of this community, in just a short period of time, underscores the need for and importance of a truly open project dedicated to creating the best office suite available–period. Now that we have gotten started we only expect the project to pick up steam and there is still plenty of work to do for everyone from developers to artists to translators. With new contributors joining every day, LibreOffice will continue to deliver the innovative features and functionality that users want. ”

Looking ahead, Caolan McNamara, Red Hat’s Desktop Engineer in charge of and now LibreOffice, said in a statement, “We are excited: this is our very first stable release, and therefore we are eager to get user feedback, which will be integrated immediately in the code and released very soon. After February, we will be moving to a real time based, predictable, transparent and public release schedule, according to the desire of the Engineering Steering Committee and the requests of the users”. For further details, see the LibreOffice development roadmap.

LibreOffice 3.3 is now available for both direct and BitTorrent downloads. There are versions for Windows; 32 and 64-bits RPM package Linux distributions, such as Red Hat and Novell; 32 and 64-bit DEB package Linux distributions such as Debian and Ubuntu; and both PowerPC and Intel Macs.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Sabily : Looking at a Muslim-oriented Linux Distribution of Linux:

Sabily is an operating system, like 
MS Windows or Mac OS X. Without an operating system, a computer is unusable, and Windows is not the only OS available!

As Sabily is free,and already includes all software one needs in one's everyday tasks, and its customized specifically for Muslims. And though one doesnt buy licensed Windows (as is the case most of the time in the Philippines,One should not use pirated copies because then it means supporting Microsoft by adding to the impression it's the only OS available.
Where is Sabily Based?
Its dervied from the  
Ubuntu operating system as a groundwork. Ubuntu is a GNU/Linux distribution whose goal is to provide an easy-to-use, up-to-date, stable and free system, also for companies. Sabily customizes Ubuntu by removing, modifying and adding software, and also customizes the graphic design to make a system adapted to Muslims.
There might be a question as to if there is company like Microsoft which develops Sabily?
Since it was built by a community of voluntaries coming from all over the world (France, Tunisia, Egypt, Indonesia etc.). The maintenance of this software depends on this community, but one can as well participate, as a developer, a graphic designer, a tester or if simply just to share ideas.
What are the main features of Sabily?
The main software are: 
Zekr and Mus-haf Othman (Quran study tools), Minbar and Firefox-praytimes (prayer times applications), Monajat (application that popups prayers every predetermined time), Hijra (islamic calendar) and WebStrict (parental control tool). Arabic language is also well supported. And of course the graphic design is also customized (see screenshots).
What other software are included in Sabily?
OpenOffice (word processor, spreasheet, presentation), Firefox (web browser), Pidgin (instant messaging), F-spot (photos management), Gimp (image manipulation program) and other multimedia software (video/audio). All of this in included in the "small" version of Sabily, but the "full" version contains dozens of other software! (educational software, tools and entire Quran recitations.

One simply has to download the ISO file and to burn it on a DVD, then to start your computer from the DVD. You will have the choice to test or to install the system. In a first time it is advised to test it because it is safe for the computer, nothing will be written on the hard disk. Sabilycan be even tested directly from Windows, by using a Virtual Box image.
It used to be called Ubuntu Muslim Edition but the name was later changed perhaps due to the feedback of some of its users.

Here are some of the features available on its 10.04 series (following the standard *buntu release system:
F-Spot replaces the GIMP
PiTiVi video editor added
GNOME 2.30
New themes: Ambiance and Radiance
New wallpaper
Linux kernel 2.6.32
New nVidia hardware driver
Gwibber social media application
Faster boot time, with a different look and feel on the bootsplash screen
Ubuntu One adds contacts and bookmark sharing
Ubuntu One music store integrated into Rhythmbox
Ubuntu Software Center 2.0

For those who aren’t familiar with them, Zekr and Thawab are Quranic study tools. The parental controls use Gnome Nanny to filter the web, email, etc. Based on what I saw of it, Gnome Nanny looked like a reasonably good parental filter. Muslim parents will have to be the final judge of whether or not it’s really enough to make the Internet safe for Muslim children.

It stumbles a bit though when it doesn’t always provide native language translations of some of the Arabic content.
Since it’s based on Ubuntu, Sabily is fine for beginner, intermediate or advanced Linux users.
For Muslims who have computers and have children around, one definitely give Sabily a download.

Summary Table:
Name of distribution:
Ubuntu Muslim Edition (Sabily) 10.04
Web Site:
Excellent selection of software, including some very useful Islamic applications. Beautiful selection of screensavers, as well as attractive Islamic wallpaper.
Leans too heavily on the Arabic language and doesn’t always provide English translations in applications for those who don’t read or speak Arabic.
Suitable For:
Beginner, intermediate or advanced users.
Sabily 10.04 is a fine update for anyone looking for a Muslim version of Ubuntu. It takes all of Ubuntu 10.04′s new features and gives them an Islamic flavor.
Above average

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