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Top 5 Extensions

May 14th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Dmitri Popov writes Extending Must-have extensions. introduced extensions, inspired by Firefox, in OOo’s post-2.0 versions. As the community begins to grow, interesting extensions are being developed to extend the suite. Popov’s five favorites covered in this article are the Annotation Tool, SVG Import Filter, OxygenOffice Professional, Tabbed Windows, and OOo.HG, a set of tools for working with vector maps.

These extensions and others are tracked on the wiki’s Extensions Repository.

There you’ll find an extension that Popov himself is working on, called QuasiWiki, which adds basic wiki functionality to OpenOffice Writer.

Open Source Social Networking with Mugshot

May 11th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

A new project coming from Red Hat’s skunkworks is Mugshot, an open source social networking tool. reviews Mugshot and finds it an effective meta social networking tool with some interesting and unique characteristics.

“Mugshot provides a single entry point to popular social networking tools such as Flickr, Google Reader, Blogger, Digg,, Picasa, YouTube, and others. Your Mugshot account page allows you to easily add Web services for use with your Mugshot page; all you have to do is to provide your account information for each service. Your Mugshot user page then acts as a kind of aggregator that watches the configured services and provides notifications when they are updated. For example, if you specify the URL of your blog, Mugshot will automatically add the recent blog posts to your Mugshot page. Enable and configure your Flickr account, and Mugshot adds your photos to the Mugshot page and provides notifications when you add new photos. If you choose to enable the Digg and services, your Mugshot page will display the articles you dugg and recent bookmarks.”

ClaimID offers a similar service (in some ways), oriented toward consolidating all of your online identities in one place, with fewer of the social networking tools like Mugshot’s “swarm” feature.

Managing multiple social networking site profiles, and claiming and controlling the constellation of online content you’ve made, looks to be a new opportunity for companies to develop new web applications, tools, and services.

Wikis at Work: The Digital Tipping Point

May 9th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

This post is the first in a new series of “Wikis at Work,” in which I will highlight the real-world usage of wikis for community-building and project management websites.

The Digital Tipping Point is a documentary film project run by Christian Einfeldt. He is investigating the Tipping Point phenomenon (per Malcolm Gladwell) in the context of the ongoing shift from proprietary software and operating systems to open source software and operating systems.

The project makes heavy use of MediaWiki for online collaboration, including transcription, translation, video editing, and more. It is, to my knowledge, the first film made from a wiki.

Christian’s been working on this project for a few years now, putting in a lot of hours and much travel along the way. His hard work and spirit are the kind of traits that really make the open source community the success it is today.

OLPC at South Africa’s Digital Freedom Expo

May 8th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Morgan Collett, an Ubuntu specialist from South Africa, has posted his impressions of the OLPC XO, which he helped to demo at South Africa’s Digital Freedom Expo.

The hardware design must have been very well received, as Collett was asked whether it had been made by Apple! The videocamera really impressed the crowd (as it has impressed those students around the world who are currently testing units), and the software part of the user interface also seems to be very good.

Collett covers a few points regarding user interface innovations in the XO:

  • There are no menus. Functionality is generally implied pictorially by icons. The icons are culture-neutral to some extent – for example the camera is denoted by an eye, rather than a lens or picture of a camera.
  • There is no “save.” Work is saved on the fly, and can be accessed by a Journal activity. This means there is no worry about “where” you saved something or whether you remembered to save it at all. Tagging is implemented in the Journal to aid categorizing and finding things.
  • There is no “open.” You can resume an activity from the Journal, which acts like a type of version control, so you can go back in time and resume earlier versions of whatever you are working on.
  • While Internet is not assumed, the mesh network is always in operation. Most activities can be shared with the child’s group of friends, classmates, or others in the area. Most content, such as pictures, audio or video can be shared.

FON Migrates to Ubuntu

May 7th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

The founder and CEO of FON, a wireless networking company, has announced all company computers will migrate from Windows to Ubuntu.

“As of next week Fon will not buy any more Microsoft licenses, nor install, service any new Microsoft programs on any existing computers. All the software we use will be Open Source unless a certain package we need is not easily available in Open Source format.

“There are many reasons at Fon for dropping Microsoft. The first one and by far the most important is to save time… Ubuntu has the look and feel of Microsoft, but it’s like a Microsoft software that works fast, that turns on and off very quickly, that installs programs very easily, that lacks that atmosphere of paranoia that surrounds Microsoft and that is extremely easy to learn and use.”

When it comes down to it, a migration from Windows to Linux is simple. The boss says “do it,” and everybody learns fast. After a transition period, they’ll come to see that Linux is indeed a better platform, and that will be that.

TWiki for your Corporate Intranet

May 5th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Having run a company intranet during my days as GIS Analyst at the Chazen Companies in Poughkeepsie, NY, I ran into some of the problems inherent in a system that requires everything to go through one person: it’s hard to keep it all up-to-date, and it’s hard to keep the intranet in the forefront of people’s minds as a useful reference tool.

I believe the solution is to use a wiki, and for intranets, TWiki is an excellent choice.

In fact, that’s exactly what I am using today to manage the software specs I develop at my current job, which is indescribably better than the previous system of creating MS Word documents and FTPing them to a remote server. (No one remembers to download the latest version of the spec, so you’re all working from different information, and the files become huge and convoluted and impossible to maintain. Plus, we were using MS Word, and I much prefer OpenOffice Writer.) has a nice case study of Lost Boys, an internet design agency in Amsterdam, Europe, that has implemented a TWiki-based intranet with great success. They’ve only been using it for a month now, but it has already become indispensable.

Sun to Support OOo Mac OS X Port

May 3rd, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Until now, the efforts to port to Mac OS X were entirely volunteer-driven projects, without any major corporate sponsorship or full-time developers, just interested and motivated programmers working in their free time.

NeoOffice and the Mac Porting Project have been working hard for years, but with official support from Sun just announced, there are now two full-time, paid developers dedicated to the project.

A lot of us Mac users have been waiting for this for a long time! And now Sun’s decided the time is right.

Philipp Lohmann, one of the two Sun developers, writes:

“Some may ask: Why is Sun joining the Mac porting project? If you look around at conferences and airport lounges, you will notice that more and more people are using Apple notebooks these days. Apple has a significant market share in the desktop space. We are supporting this port because of the interest and activity of the community wanting this port. The new invigorated effort in Mac/Aqua-porting (basically since CWS aquavcl01) is an obvious indicator. I think this is the right way to go to make OOo on Mac as good as or even better than the other ports. Add in the growing Mac community as a whole and suddenly from Sun’s point of view Mac has a higher value since our strategy is to be multi-platform capable.”

This is great news for everyone involved! It also lends support to my feeling that OpenOffice (and derivatives) will achieve majority market share on OS X someday soon.

“Critical Thinking about Word and .doc”

May 3rd, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Kairosnews, an education blog, posts a critique of the use of the .doc format in education.

To summarize, forcing students to use a closed format and an expensive software program they don’t strictly need, is poor educational practice. Even more importantly, use of any word processor, regardless of the brand, is frequently unnecessary and restricts the creativity and future problem-solving (lateral thinking) ability of the students who are taught this unquestioning attitude.

“Many of us teach cultural analysis and critical thinking in our writing classes. Our first year readers are full of cultural commentary, and we use these texts to teach our students to question the status quo and understand more deeply the implications of the choices they make in this consumer culture.

“Do writing teachers do the same when they tell students to submit their documents as .doc files or tell them they need to buy Word from the campus store? Have teachers questioned the assumptions behind their personal use of MS Word?

“Writing teachers have an obligation to explore the assumptions regarding the one tool we can’t do without in the teaching of writing, the word processor. The following will explore some of the common reasons I believe people continue to use and promote MS Office and its file formats, and I will challenge some of the assumptions behind those reasons and the consequences.”

The author discusses and counters the two primary arguments used by educators who continue to rely on Microsoft Word. The “lemming”-like perception that you must use it because “everyone else does,” and their familiarity with its featureset and user interface are dispelled as weaker arguments against its disadvantages of high cost, forced upgrades, barriers to competitors, and the lack of innovation inherent to monopolies.

His conclusion:

“Weigh the pedagogical benefits of using Word now against how you taught writing then [ten years ago] and the problems with using Word outlined here and others you can think of. Make an informed decision. Be willing to inform your students about the implications of using Word and .doc.

“If you decide to continue using Word, understand that people may choose not to use .doc for very good reasons. Be willing to install the ODF to MS Word file translator when working with friends and colleagues.

“At the very least, don’t tell students who have WordPerfect or MS Works on their computer that they need Word to create good .doc files in first year writing classes. Suggest that they download and install OpenOffice for free. Ask your institutions to offer OpenOffice in the labs so students can experiment with it and see that it is a viable alternative to Word.”

Microsoft Lobbies Against Open Data Formats

May 2nd, 2007 Benjamin Horst

It is no surprise that Microsoft is lobbying US state governments to block the gradual migration to open data formats, because of their fear of ODF.

ODF could trigger the erosion of Microsoft’s Office monopoly, because without the lock-in its binary file formats have provided for over 15 years, the company realizes it cannot compete (with its current enormous profit margins) against a broad range of other applications.

It has offered a competing file format, MSOOXML, which it claims is equally open and equally implemented by a range of competitors, but these claims are not true. No other software can currently work with MSOOXML, and it’s not clear if any will ever be able to implement it fully, aside from MS’ own products. By no “de facto” definition can this be considered open. In fact, most observers see it as a ruse intended to guarantee another decade of monopoly control, to the detriment of innovation and customers’ best interests.

Dow Jones’ MarketWatch tracks Microsoft’s exhaustive quest to head off ODF’s growth in state governments. Their assault is hitting Florida, Minnesota, Texas and California. (Too late for them in Massachusetts, and I’m not sure about Oregon.) Hopefully another round of states will take up the open data cause and force Microsoft to reshuffle their resources once again.

Meanwhile, Erwin Tenhumberg finds a similar situation with regard to German potatoes… It’s not just software markets that can be manipulated by unethical corporate behavior!

ODF is Two Years Old

May 1st, 2007 Benjamin Horst

ODF was approved as an OASIS standard in May 2005, kicking off two years of intense activity, and causing market giants to fear the loss of their monopoly in what may become a classic example of disruption.

Michael Brauer takes stock of two years’ worth of developments for ODF, including the major events and accomplishments that have been achieved in this short time.

Competition and innovation will be the lasting legacy of ODF, prices will fall and consumers will benefit greatly. The “office suite” will probably morph into something barely recognizable from its current incarnation. But unlike today, everyone will have equal access to the data it contains.