Archive for the ‘Publication’ Category

November

29

by Kaj Kandler

There is a new magazine on the electronic newsstand. It is called o3 magazine and published by Spliced Networks.

The magazine reports on news in the open source world and is distributed as PDF document. The complete magazine is produced using open source tools, namely Open Office for writing articles, Scribus for page layout and Gimp for image production.

I read the recent #9: Open Source Publishing and found it rather unimpressive. The black and white design schema looks rather morbid and the overall layout is not very consistent. My pet peeve is gray text on black background for the table of content. Why make it hard instead of easier for readers to find what is in the magazine?

As to the content, it did not strike me as impressive. One article about publishing images with Gimp, and another one using Scribus, and two articles about OpenOffice, the very same tools that are used in the production of the magazine. The two articles about using OpenOffice are about writing a newsletter and about collaborative writing with the Open Office word processor Writer. Both articles lack a vivid writing style and any usable detail. What I learned from it was “Open Office can do both, collaborative writing and publish a newsletter”, no more. I didn’t learn anything how particular good OOo is at performing the task or how bad, how I actually do it, what steps to take, what pitfalls to avoid or where the programs limits are. Both articles did not even contain one screenshot to dazzle me with a marvelously appealing result.

November

08

by Kaj Kandler

While Everex started selling its low cost PC for <$200 at WalMart, it now offers the motherboard, CPU and OS bundled for $60. Add some memory and a hard drive ($40) and salvage an old computer case, power supply, keyboard and mouse ($0) and your are up and running for $100 and a little sweat equity. LinuxDevices.com has an in depth report about Everex’s plans for its Linux and Google applications based $200 PC. LinuxDevices reports that Everex hopes to sell 50,000 to 60,000 PC’s through WalMart. The main concern for profitability are the support costs, which Everex hopes to keep under $30 per sale.

The developer board comes with the CPU and a DVD containing the ready to install gOS Operating System. According to the article, gOS is an Ubuntu based Linux distribution with the Enlightenment Window manager for the low cost PC is called gOS like in Google OS for its inclusion of all Google online tools available and pre installed. The vision is to use online Google tools for Search, E-Mail, Calendar, Bookmarks, Text Documents, Spreadsheets, and more. If needed local applications, such as the office suite OpenOffice.org are included as well. gOS is also open source and available for download, but it appears the version delivered with the board or the PC is pre configured to the hardware and adds programs for multimedia (playing mp3, DVD, etc.). You can’t expect an abundance of performance from the Via C7 processor, however, it does a good job with web browsing and running basic applications and multi media playback.

October

02

by Kaj Kandler

While it emerges slowly that Lotus Symphony, a distribution of OpenOffice is meant to be a beta software and based on three+ year old code, Mathew Newton at PCWorld finds hope in the fact that the IBM engineers did manage to overhaul successfully the user interface and make OpenOffice a copy of Office 2003 rather than Office 97.

I’m not sure if this is the kind of achievemnt I’m looking for? I’d rather have serious functional improvements, stability and performance, than just a nother copy of some proprietary user interface. Not that I wouldn’t welcome a better user interface for OpenOffice.org or even one that is less riddled with bugs. But coming out with an unstable beta of an outdated application with an user interface copied from a program that is about to be replaced with a new version is not the kind of thing I’d celebrate. Especially if the more modern user interface is the main selling point and the version update of the product that has been copied is mostly about the user interface.

September

19

by Kaj Kandler

Matt Asay asks the question “What to do when open source is not good enough?” in his CNET blog.

He argues that he sometimes encounters cases where his choice of open source software does not fulfill his desired feature set and so he resorts to proprietary, closed source, binary only applications. For example, Asay switches from Adium to iChat when he needs video chat capability and from OpenOffice.org Impress to MS PowerPoint, when he needs video embedding. He concludes it is o.k. to use binary only applications in these cases and I would not disagree.

However, I’m not quite sure if Asay asks the right question or answers the question he asks.

Open Source is there so you can improve on the software you got, as opposed to a binary license that does prevent you from even pin pointing (debugging) a problem. The core freedom of open source is being able to add/modify/fix what is “your itch”. That the software is it also “free as in beer” is more of a side effect.

The better answer to Asay’s question is “If open source is not good enough, then improve it.” Sure not everybody is a programmer, but everybody can hire someone to do the job.

That is where it becomes clear that the “free as in beer” is only for making a copy of the software. If you really want to get the best out of it and solve your specific issue, then you have to invest like in anything else. You don’t even have to share (publish) the fruits of your investment. Only when you want to give it to someone else (for money or for free) you have to give that person the same rights you got (under the GPL at least).

So now it is your decision if you want to invest your money/talent/time into proprietary software that does not give you these freedoms or in open source that does. I’m not saying OSS is the only solution, but I’m saying it is equivalent to closed source and even better in some cases.

Ask yourself how would you answer the question “What to do when closed source software is not good enough?” I’ll think you’ll come to the same answer, use a competing application that does do what you want. Now in case of proprietary binary only software, you are at the mercy of “the market.” If you can’t find the app with the features you need, you are out of options and have to start from scratch to build the software you need. In case of open source you can take the package that comes the closest to your needs and add/modify/fix.

It’s all about options, you choose yours.

August

25

by Kaj Kandler

Jim Rapoza makes in interesting argument at eWeek, saying that the ODF Alliance focuses too much on convincing governments to adopt Open Document Format (ODF also known as ISO 26300). Jim argues that he didn’t see a real adoption of ODF before Google did support it with its Docs and Spreadsheet applications. He procalims that states are usually behind the curve of technologies and the ODF Alliance would be better spend their resources in finding more compelling uses for ODF.

I think Jim, a self confessed Open Office user, repeats sterotypes, such as a government is behind the curve of technology adoption. I think there is no real basis for the assumption that government agencies do not to use leading technology. As a matter of fact, some of the most advanced technology is developed for or by the government, weather it is for military purposes or for medical and health purposes, minting coins or printing money that is hard to counter fit.

I also think Jim has not given propper thought to why the state of Massachusetts did want to use ODF. It is not for the purpose of being hip and advanced. The state of Massachusetts did realize that it needs a reliable way to retrieve documents long after they have been created and archived and the formats they are stored in and the applications that created them, are out of favor and often not produced or supported anymore. This is an important function for a government to collect and archive material that has historical significance, such as protocols about procedings, deciscions, laws and documents that can proof guilt, innocence or ownership of property, family relationships, marriage or devorce. So, when the state’s IT people realized that a perfect digital copy of a document is not enough, they acted on their duty to find ways to archive documents in a way that they will be accessible in the foreseeable future. I think ODF was one of the few formats available that fulfilled the criteria required. In that respect the ODF alliance did help the state of Massachusetts and other governments rather than outright lobby them.

I’m not naive and do believe the ODF alliance does lobby governments for the use of their format and that the mostly companies behind it hope to gain with their applications. However, the history of Microsoft’s multiple steps to accomodate the real and vital requirements the state of Massachusetts layed out, shows that they didn’t just promote their competing format. They offered a better product that did fulfill a need that the widely used proprietary formats did not.

I would agree with Jim, that the ODF Alliance should spend more resources to explain to private organizations and individuals that this storage issue is not only relevant for government documents. It starts with every citizen’s interest of having access to the records of their government and it goes further with history as recorded in business contracts, news papers and correspodence. And it continues into our personal lives with e-mail, blogs, notes, contracts, letters, poems, and photographs or home videos.

Ask yourself which documents from your current live do you want to re-read when you are sitting in a nursing home and look back on your live, may be collecting the memories for a book for your grand children. You will understand how important it is you can still share them.

August

17

by Kaj Kandler

This morning I read an interesting scoop in Mass High Tech about the Boston Seaport Hotel planning to offer OpenOffice.org in 80 guest rooms.

The Seaport Hotel is part of the Boston Seaport World Trade Center and frequented mostly by business travelers. It’s rooms are equipped with a Flat screen an a wireless keyboard and mouse. These PC terminals allow guest to surf the internet, read e-mail and do phone complementary phone calls without having to have their laptop computer.

Now John Burke the VP of technology at the hotel has identified another need of his guests. He is installing OpenOffice.org as a low cost way for users to read, edit and save their office documents. Guests can save their documents from e-mail or use a USB device as source and destination of the documents. I guess this comes in handy with last minute changes to a presentation or a contract.

Security and privacy concerns are addresses, by resetting the whole system for each guest, so that documents and browsing trails are erased after each check-out.

June

27

by Kaj Kandler

According to the latest Consumer Reports Tech support Survey (subscription required), independent technical support is better than the offers by manufacturers.

While manufacturers’ free support on average were able to resolve only 53% of issues, the same organizations increased their hits to 59%, when paid. Notable exceptions where Apple (80%) and Lenovo (80%), the former IBM Consumer PCs. However the support services affiliated with major retail chains did solve 84% of issues and other independent tech support organizations solved 93% of tickets. Independent and paid services were also more responsive to pick up the phone and had more knowledgeable staff.

Lets speculate, this could be a phenomenon of “I get what I’m paying for” and users of paid services are more satisfied than if it is for free. On the other hand this could be a real observation that independent tech support is better and more qualified.

I guess there are multiple effects in play. First, an independent shop can’t point the finger to some culprit outside of their jurisdiction. It is so common that the hardware manufacturer blames the OS and the OS blames the application and the application blames the driver from the hardware manufacturer. If you are independent you need to focus on solutions and not on blame.

Also, if you are paid by incident, you need to pick up the phone before the customer walks away, resulting in faster response times. In addition, if the client needs to pay for every incident, he will only bring up the really important issues, cutting down on perceived issues that a customer might have. Some folks have the attitude, “lets ask, it doesn’t cost me any extra” and in reality they ask the impossible. It would be interesting to filter out from the survey the group of people that has used both, manufacturers and independent tech support. These answers would be the best to decide who is better. For the moment I’ll give independent the benefit of the doubt and the survey results. I guess if you need to compete for each incident, you got to deliver some value.

June

08

by Kaj Kandler

I just read that Full circle a new Ubuntu magazine is out with its first issue.

The first issue contains:

  • Install Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, step by step
  • Howtos:
    • Linux Directory Structure
    • MythTV Intro
    • Scribus (desktop publishing) Part I
    • Add/Remove Software
  • Review: GRAMPS geneaology software
  • Interview: Deluge BitTorrent Client developer
  • Standard Categories:
    • News
    • “Top 5”
    • Letters
    • Desktops
    • and much more

This magazine is 42 pages long, delivered only online as a PDF and meant to be printed. The layout should make a solid printed magazine, if you have that much color ink to spare. I guess if you mix it in to the stacks at a doctor’s waiting room, not many would notice its an online magazine. However that is also its downside. I find it hard to read online, because the pages are laid out two at a time and that makes either the font illegible on my old 19″ monitor or it does require a lot of dragging left to right (as opposed to scrolling with the wheel). I’d love if they could format a version for linear reading formats.

What peeked my curiosity is the tools it is produced with, Scribus, OpenOffice.org and Gimp. I’d like to hear more about how it is produced and what the role of each application is. Well that topic might come up in the next parts about Scribus. I look forward to it.

June

05

by Kaj Kandler

Computerworld writes abut the defeat of bills pro ODF in six states. The proposed legislation would have in one way or another mandated that state agencies in California, Florida, Texas,
Oregon, Connecticut, and Minnesota, need to use open standards for office documents. The only currently accepted open standard that is implemented by more than one vendor is ODF/ISO 26300.

However, lobbying by Microsoft kept legislators from demanding that electronic office documents are stored in non proprietary formats, so they can be accessed in many years to come. Interestingly, most legislative comments do not doubt that this is a worthy goal. However they do feel used by either side of the debate and their lobbying interests. So they squashed most bills without a vote. I guess the companies gathered in the ODF Alliance lost a battle, but they don’t declare the war over.

May

10

by Kaj Kandler

Dimitri Popov shows how to use OpenOffice.org and a little known tool JODConverter to do document conversion in batch format. Dimitri hows how to start the relevant processes and how to define the input and output formats.

His one page article comes handy when you want to convert a large number of documents into a new format, lets say some spreadsheets into PDF.