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Call for Asia to Adopt ODF

August 24th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

ZDNet Asia reports U.N. official Sunil Abraham has called for governments in the Asia-Pacific region to “seriously consider” adopting the OpenDocument Format (ODF):

“Last month, Malaysia became one of the first Asian countries to propose the use of ODF as a national standard for office documents. Hasannudin Saidin, a member of Sirim, the country’s standards development agency, said on his blog last month that the proposal will now undergo approval from a higher-level committee within Sirim.”

“In the Philippines, there is no official policy on the adoption of ODF in the country, according to Peter Antonio Banzon, division chief of the Philippines’ Advanced Science & Technology Institute, although the government agency has already standardized its internal documents on the ODF.”

In Singapore, the government has not yet made a migration decision, and continues to use Microsoft Office. However, one of its agencies is well ahead of the rest:

“The island-state’s Ministry of Defense (Mindef), however, has gone ahead on its own to adopt the ODF after it made the decision to roll out OpenOffice in 2004.

According to Mindef CIO Cheok Beng Teck, ODF offers Mindef “true” ownership of its intellectual property. “We now know [how] the XML (extensible markup language) format [is implemented in] our documents, and have the freedom to manipulate it in whatever way we want,” he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview. “We are no longer tied down by the proprietary standards of a vendor.”

“New York School Districts Select Linux Desktops”

August 23rd, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Sys-Con’s Linux magazine reports New York School Districts Select Linux Desktops:

“Students in upstate New York have moved one step closer to having a computer at every desk thanks to a pilot program using Linux desktops from Novell on Intel-based computers. Designed to increase student engagement and awareness among students that they are part of a connected global community, the pilot program is aimed at delivering an Internet-connected computer to every student.

This new program will significantly increase computing resources at school while still controlling costs. Ultimately, some 80,000 students in the Rome City School District and other schools supported by the Madison Oneida Regional Information Center could benefit. As a result, students will gain technology skills and a new research tool that will improve their learning experience…

As part of the pilot, the school will make available to students Intel processor-based laptops running Linux desktops from Novell, which include the OpenOffice 2.0 productivity suite for word processing, presentations and spreadsheets…

“Linux on the desktop offers compelling value for schools, which face permanent budget challenges,” said Susan Heystee, president of Novell Americas. “With the Linux desktop from Novell, students get all the tools they need to do their work and the IT staff get a solid, secure, easy-to-manage platform — all at a fraction of the cost of the alternatives. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing increasing interest in the education sector in Linux on the desktop.”

Desktop Linux and are getting closer and closer to me here in New York City! I am looking forward to the day when the City government and school system make the migration (and of course I’ll be glad to help in any way).

Massachusetts’ Plug-in Strategy for ODF

August 22nd, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Computerworld reports on Massachusetts’ strategy to start its ODF implementation with a plugin for Microsoft Office.

From what I recall, the original plan was to move to ODF for document storage, and it did not specifically seek to change the applications used in the state. However, now there is an intention to start replacing Microsoft Office with in a measured rollout. It’s not being phrased that way now, perhaps as a “concession” to opponents:

“During a meeting today with state officials and advocates for people with disabilities, Louis Gutierrez, CIO of Massachusetts’ IT Division (ITD), said the state will postpone a Jan. 1 deadline to roll out open-source office applications that can save files in the OpenDocument Format (ODF). Instead, the state will on a near-term basis adopt a plug-in strategy to fulfill its policy calling for executive-branch agencies to make use of ODF.”

However, it looks like using Microsoft Office with a plugin to create ODF files is just an intermediate step. If the state is creating ODFs anyway, they ought to go all the way to using a native suite that also cuts licensing costs by 100% over the current tool! And the hints are that they will:
“The emergence of plug-ins that can be used to save documents in ODF prompted Gutierrez to issue a request for information on the technology. Now ITD will be following through with testing of the ODF plug-ins in preparation for a phased rollout, expected to begin later this year, according to sources at yesterday’s meeting.

Winske said that Gutierrez told the group there would be no mass migration to open-source office applications until they are proven to be accessible. But Gutierrez reaffirmed ITD’s commitment to its ODF policy, in keeping with its goal of moving away from proprietary formats for the long-term preservation of documents, according to Winske.”

Once accessibility reaches the state’s expectations, a migration to seems to be the next step. Massachusetts taxpayers will be among those to benefit here! Congratulations!

Election Commission of India Moves to

August 21st, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Kolkata Newsline reports EC opens window to free software.

“EC” refers to the Election Commission of India, “the largest government organisation to have opted for free software and stepped into the open-source environment.”

While the article does not specify how many computers are involved in this migration, it does not seem like an enormous number:

“Chief Electoral Officer Debashis Sen said: “We decided to replace the Office suite of Microsoft with OpenOffice at a meeting on August 7 and 8, and cost was one of the reasons (for the change).”

According to officials, the cost of MS Office suite is approximately Rs 15,000 per licensed copy and Microsoft generally gives a 10 per cent discount to institutional sales.

For Microsoft, the switch would mean loss of substantial revenue. In West Bengal alone, the EC has 100 computers in 65 sub divisions.”

Unless they mean, 100 computers in each of these 65 subdivisions, which would be a substantial number… and how many states are there in India that might each have this many divisions? There is room for multiple interpretations of this article’s numbers.

Whatever the numbers in this specific case, it is clear that is really gaining momentum in India. Many goverment agencies have migrated, as have a number of large corporations, and Linux desktops are selling well by all accounts. I don’t know what the big picture is, but all these clues are hinting at something really important happening!

“OpenDocument is Bringing a Renaissance”

August 18th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Bob Sutor posits that “OpenDocument is bringing a renaissance of document creation and publishing.”

His arguments are quite clearsighted. The office suite has been a fixed product for a long time, when, from the perspective of its users, it should have morphed and mutated to fit dozens or hundreds of different specialized niches. The monolith is a dinosaur, the new mantra should be “smaller, faster, and specialized.”

“I know many of you will be thinking open source here, but the existence of commonly implemented open standards that are beyond a single vendor’s control means that there will be multiple, competitive implementations. This means better, more usable features, better security (because people will compete on this element), better performance, and lower cost. It is important to remember that ODF is just one example here. We’re going to see this repeated over and over again for other standards and in many industries…”

“What will also happen will be the development of high quality SDKs created for ODF and some standard things you want to do with it. For more than thirty years, UNIX users have used a string of filters to process, analyze, reshape, and format information. The binary formats used by WYSIWYG office applications dulled our senses to what we used to know how to do.

All of this will lead to a collapse of the office suite market, but we’ll still see the creation of even more documents that are more widely used and, fundamentally, just more useful.”

ODF Reader Firefox Extension

August 12th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

This is old news by now, but there’s an extension for Firefox that allows it to read ODF files.

“Currently it handles OpenDocument text files, in the future it will handle the other types too. It is released under the LGPL/GPL.”

Very handy!

Steve Hargadon: Two Open Source Interviews, K12OpenSource, Wikispaces

August 11th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Steve Hargadon interviews educators using open source in South Africa and Indiana (USA) today:

“I started very early in order to be able to catch Hilton Theunissen in South Africa, who has led the tuXlab project to install Linux thin-client in 200 schools. Then late in the day Mike Huffman and Laura Taylor provided insight into the Indiana Affordable Classroom Computers for Every Secondary Student (ACCESS) program.

These are both fascinating interviews, and along with the interview with the folks from Atlanta Public Schools last week, they are confirming a pattern that deserves some real exploration: high-priced, high-maintenance computers have led to relatively little actual student time in front of them (35 minutes a week per student in the case of Indiana, at a cost of $100 million a year!); low-cost computer solutions provide significantly more actual time in front of computers for students, and the result is dramatic engagement by students and teachers, and significant academic success…”

You can download the audio in MP3 or ogg format from his post linked above.

Steve also runs a really great website called K12OpenSource, in which he argues the merits of open source software for educational environments. (Of which I am a strong supporter.)

(K12OpenSource uses a nice hosted wiki service called Wikispaces.)

Mac OS Forge and Darwin Calendar Server

August 9th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Apple announced a new hosting site for open source Mac-related projects at

Of most interest to me at this moment are the Wiki Server project mentioned yesterday and the CalDAV-based Darwin Calendar Server. It’s touted as working with all standards-capable clients, like iCal, Mozilla Sunbird, Chandler, and more.

(Meanwhile, Apple has moved a number of its projects, including Darwin Calendar Server, to the Apache 2.0 license.)

Apple’s Leopard Wiki Server

August 8th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Apple is jumping into the world of wikis with its announced “Wiki Server” for Mac OS X Leopard (server version).

They’ve taken a step beyond most of the wikis available for intranet use now: “…the Wiki provides access to a shared calendar, mailing list and blog for communication and podcasting.” These features are very interesting!

Also, they seem to have made it entirely WYSIWYG: “No syntax or markup knowledge is required — the Wiki Server comes with full drag-and-drop support.”

To recap: “Once you create a Wiki website and give access to members of the workgroup, everyone will have the same capability to contribute to the site. And it’s not limited to just text and images — you can also access a group calendar to track meetings and deadlines or send messages to a mailing list to keep others informed. There is a blog feature that’s perfect for brainstorming or commenting on work. And there’s an option for subscribing to a podcast — so if anyone missed that important conference call they can catch up on the news.”

Mitch Kapor on Wiki Politics, and Hula Project Web and Calendar Server

August 7th, 2006 Benjamin Horst

Mitch Kapor spoke on The Case for Wikifying Politics at this year’s Wikimania Conference (which I missed). Andy Carvin transcribed Kapor’s talk on his blog. It’s fascinating and wonderful to read something progressive and optimistic in the world of political thought today.

Hula is an open source email and calendar server based on code donated by Novell. The project’s been running for a year and a half now, and has reached alpha-level code. I noticed new screenshots of the web interface which include some great ideas. They’re summed up in the dashboard view of the application, showing an overview of the user’s email and calendar events for the day. See the screenshots at Hula’s tour page.