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Recession Helps Drive Open Source Growth

March 31st, 2009 Benjamin Horst

It’s long been common sense that economic downturns aid some businesses, even while harming most others. Beneficiaries tend to include discount retailers, as shoppers shift downmarket, as well as similar cost-conscious products and services that can replace more expensive alternatives.

Because of its price benefits, open source is now benefiting in this way, writes Eweek, in Why Recession Is Causing Enterprises to Rethink Open-Source Strategy.

Author Chris Preimesberger writes:

Budget limitations and continued improvement in software and associated services are making open-source software alternatives such as MySQL, SUSE Linux, and plenty of others look mighty good to IT managers and CFOs.

Interviewing Matt Asay from Alfresco, the article asserts that open source is starting to be seen as the safe, default option that will save a manager’s job, whereas in the past it was often considered new, untested and risky.

Is this evidence of an arriving tipping point?

Use Stimulus to Boost FOSS in Schools

March 23rd, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Matt Hartley, writing for, suggests to the country Let’s Use Stimulus to Boost Open Source in Schools.

His argument, in summary, is that the stimulus funds to be delivered to schools gives those schools the perfect opportunity to address the upfront costs of switching to Linux and an open source software stack. Then, for years and years after, the schools will benefit from the lower cost and longer lifespan of hardware and software running the open source stack.

This stimulus bill may be the only shot of fresh federal funds education is going to get for a very long time. This means whatever approach US education opts for regarding technology, it had better be something that can be sustained when the stimulus funds run out. This is where I see open source software and Linux stepping up to the challenge in a way that’s not practical for Windows.

Hartley also points out that at least two states have already made significant investments in open source, paving the way for others to follow: Indiana and Ohio.

Indiana installed 22,000 computers with Linux and open source in 2006 in a program to cut costs per machine so it can work toward a one-to-one student to computer ratio. In 2007, an Ohio school district began migrating all of its computer systems to Linux and open source as well.

France’s Gendarmerie Saves Millions with Open Source

March 19th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Several years ago, the French Gendarmerie police force began its migration to open source for the 90,000 desktop computers used by its 105,000 police officers. In a recent followup (Gendarmerie Saves Millions With Open Desktop and Web Applications), finds the Gendarmerie continues to succeed with its open source strategy:

The French Gendarmerie’s gradual migration to a complete open source desktop and web applications has saved millions of euro, says Lieutenant-Colonel Xavier Guimard. “This year the IT budget will be reduced by 70 percent. This will not affect our IT systems.”

The migration still continues now, as new systems are bought to replace older machines. In this way, change is managed as a gradual process, while the general rule against buying new software licenses (using legacy licenses until they are replaced with open source) means that money is being saved immediately.

“If one of us wants a new PC, it comes with Ubuntu. This encourages our users to migrate.” Guimard estimates Gendarmerie since 2004 has saved 50 million euro on licences for standard office applications, hardware and maintenance.

The decision in 2004 to move to open source, was raised by one of the Gendarmerie’s accountants. “Microsoft was forcing us to buy new software licences. This annoyed our accountant, who tried OpenOffice.” According to Guimard the proprietary software maker then started lobbying the Gendarmerie, which is how the general manager found out about the experiments. “When he saw OpenOffice worked just as well and was available for free, it was he that decided it should be installed on all 90,000 desktops.”

After sampling open source with OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird, the Gendarmerie took another step and migrated to Linux as well.

In 2007 the Gendarmerie decided to replace even the desktop operating system. Guimard: “Moving from Microsoft XP to Vista would not have brought us many advantages and Microsoft said it would require training of users. Moving from XP to Ubuntu, however, proved very easy. The two biggest differences are the icons and the games. Games are not our priority.”

More Notes on Open Source Netbooks

March 16th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

In the fast-growing world of open source netbooks, Laptop Magazine reports One Third of Dell Inspiron Mini 9s Sold Run Linux, which counters some recent reports that Linux was losing ground to XP.

Dell attributes part of the Linux growth to competitive pricing on the Ubuntu SKUs. “When you look at the sweet spot for this category it is price sensitivity, and Linux enabled us to offer a lower price entry point,” added Dell senior product manager John New.

According to Dell, the return rate of Ubuntu running Mini 9s are comparable to the XP rate, which we are told is “very low.” “Our focus has been making sure that before the order is taken, the customer knows what he is getting,” New added.

On a similar note, Macworld publishes Why Netbooks are Killing Microsoft, which focuses on the changes to the competitive landscape that ultra-low cost netbooks and open source operating systems and software are creating. Specifically, they seem to be affecting Microsoft’s revenues in a very real way:

Microsoft said that its revenue had increased an anemic 1.6 percent in the quarter that ended Dec. 31 compared to the same quarter a year earlier. But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Windows took the biggest hit, while systems for servers and related tools had hefty increases in sales. Windows sales were down an eye-popping 8 percent; server and related revenue grew 15 percent.

Microsoft clearly blames netbooks for the drop in Windows sales. Here’s what it said in its statement: “Client revenue declined 8% as a result of PC market weakness and a continued shift to lower priced netbooks.”

With about 30% of netbooks shipping with Linux, and users of even the Windows netbooks unlikely to purchase Microsoft Office (it would cost more than half again the cost of the entire machine), the company is in a difficult situation that is only going to get tougher.

But on the other hand, consumers are benefitting from low cost machines that fill their needs quite well, and that is cause to celebrate.

$200 Netbooks on the Horizon?

March 12th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Wired’s blog reports that Freescale is developing ARM-based netbooks with planned retail prices of about $200:

Freescale is racing to get netbooks out this summer, featuring the company’s chips, that would offer up to eight hours of battery life, be significantly thinner than existing designs and priced under $200.

“We are taking dead aim at the netbook space,” says Glen Burchers, marketing director at Freescale.”The value proposition that Freescale brings is dramatically lower power consumption and even lower prices.”

The price and features should attract great interest from consumers. Even more interesting in terms of computing paradigms is the fact that Windows cannot run on ARM chips, while Linux and Google Android will be perfectly suited for the platform.

Linux is already growing quickly due to pre-installation on netbooks, but Freescale machines will further accelerate its rise, since the temptation to install Windows won’t exist at all due to these technical limitations.

Open Source in India Today

March 11th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Alolita Sharma publishes an overview titled Open Source in India Today on the FOSSBazaar blog.

The current position of FOSS in India is strong:

Over the past decade open source software has become popular with technology users in India. The benefits of open source – affordability, availability of source code and freedom of choice – have made open source a preferred platform for many innovative Indian organizations and individuals…

The government of India has been involved as well, setting up a National Resource Center for Free and Open Source Software (NRCFOSS) in 2005, and the Institute for Open Technologies and Applications (IOTA) in 2007.

IOTA’s mandate is to promote open source software in government and academia. IOTA provides information on open source software and open standards to organizations looking to understand how open source can fit into their IT infrastructure. IOTA also offers training on Linux and OpenOffice.

Federal and state goverments are leveraging open source to provide services to their citizens as well as run their offices at a lower cost. Numerous organizations promote open source in India for these gains in efficiency and in the reach of providing government services to a larger part of the population.

356,800 FOSS Desktops For Brazil’s Schools

February 20th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Canadian company Userful and Brazilian company ThinNetworks have partnered to deliver 356,800 Linux-based desktop systems to Brazilian schools, according to a their recent press release, Userful and ThinNetworks Announce the World’s Largest Desktop Virtualization Deployment – 356,800 Green Workstations.

Userful’s key innovation is to harness the excess power of current PC hardware and the multi-user nature of Linux operating systems. Multiple monitors, keyboards and mice are connected to one computer, giving each user separate but complete simultaneous access to his or her computing environment.

In the exuberant style of press releases, the two companies announce:

It is a historical achievement, being: the world’s largest ever virtual desktop deployment; the world’s largest ever desktop Linux deployment, and a new record low-cost for PCs with the PC sharing hardware and software costing less than $50 per seat. The decision to deploy Userful and ThinNetworks’ low-cost and environmentally friendly desktop virtualization solution establishes the Brazilian Ministry of Education as a global leader in computer education and provides other governments and institutions worldwide with a proven model for improving student to computer ratios while rolling out large numbers of desktops with minimal cost and environmental impact.

To my knowledge, all of their statements are factually correct, and the news is quite exciting, which makes it easy for me to overlook the typical annoyance of marketing speak.

Skeptics might assume this is vaporware, but in fact the first phase has already been implemented with 18,750 workstations installed and functioning well in rural schools.

The scale of this project and the prior successes of Userful and ThinNetworks are extremely satisfying to see. This is a huge success story for Linux and open source, and with luck it will quickly inspire similar projects in the US, where I might be able to see it with my own eyes (and save my own tax dollars from being wasted on proprietary alternatives).

SnowWrite’s Top Five FOSS Projects

February 13th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

It’s always instructive to see what other open source fans consider their most useful FOSS applications. Generally, this tracks well with their occupation, where developers will choose text editors and Linux distros, designers will choose graphics applications and page design programs, while others will choose communication and media distribution programs.

I came across a blog post by SnowWrite titled, “In Open Source I Trust: Top 5 Projects for Daily Use.”

As a web designer and developer, she chooses the following:

  1. VirtualBox
  2. Plone
  3. Firefox (and the Web Developer Toolbar and Firebug Extension)
  4. TweetDeck
  5. Ubuntu

I agree that each one of these is a great and essential program (except TweetDeck, which I have not used myself and cannot comment on).

Her runners-up are GIMP, Amarok, and OpenOffice.

My own top five list would look pretty similar and include the following (but not in a particular order, and I listed seven or eight, depending on how you count):

OpenOffice (Useful every day, and important strategically as an introduction to FOSS for many users, as well as significant cost savings for students and small business owners.)

Firefox (The guardian of open web standards, and flat-out great as a browser.)

Miro (A vanguard in open media access and standards. If I had time to watch videos, I’d love it.)

Eclipse and Aptana (Text editors useful or optimized for website development.)

Drupal (My equivalent to SnowWrite’s choice of Plone. Both good CMSs, but I found installing Drupal on web hosts much easier to get me started.)

GIMP (Unique user interface, but very useful for lots of image editing tasks, and it can read Photoshop PSD files.)

Adium (Cross-network IM client.)

What are your top five open source apps for your personal use?

Open Source Schools at BETT 2009

February 6th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Volunteers from the Open Source Schools project presented on using open source software in schools at BETT 2009 (don’t know what the acronym means, but it’s a British educational technology conference in London).

Open Source Schools posted a BETT 2009 follow-up on their site:

The Open Source Schools presentation at BETT on Saturday 17th January was very well received, with good numbers joining the team in the Olympia’s Club Room, despite the early start. Miles Berry introduced the presentation, outlining what open source means as well as exploring some of the advantages which it offers to schools; he also spoke about Moodle and the Open Source Schools community. Michelle Walters talked about OpenOffice and some of the ways which teachers could get started with open source. José Picardo talked about the Audacity audio editor and Doug Belshaw discussed some of the many ways in which he’s using Linux powered netbooks in his school.

Open Source Observatory and Repository Europe also reported on the event with “UK: Open Source is Core to Education.”

It was also described, most extensively, on the Learn 4 Life blog in “Teachers are Heroes just for one day – Open Source Schools @ BETT 2009 – Why you must use Open Source Software.”

Every once in a while you see something that makes you think: ‘Yes this really is going to change education in this country’ and it makes you smile inside because you know what is going to happen further down the line and how revolutionary it will be; it will touch the lives of so many people and transform learning – making it more effective, more engaging, more personal and build a sense of community far beyond the initial event itself.

Each one of the presentations was recorded and can be viewed on Learn 4 Life’s blog linked above.

British Opposition Talks Up Open Source

January 31st, 2009 Benjamin Horst

The British opposition has become ever more aggressive in its support of open source software as a means to save money and, perhaps, increase the success rate of government IT projects.

George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, specifically discusses Linux and the open source philosophy as central to the new paradigms of the information age.

In an article for The Guardian, Osborne expands on the theme:

Looking at cost savings that have been achieved by companies and governments all over the world, it’s estimated that the UK government could reduce its annual IT bill by over £600m a year if more open source software was used as part of an effective procurement strategy. That’s enough to pay for 20,000 extra teachers or 100,000 hip operations.

Additional articles in ZDNet and ComputerWorld UK also discuss the growing calls for open source adoption in government IT projects and for government to model more of its processes on open source, distributed development models.

(Thanks to Alan Lord of the Open Learning Center, for providing these links.)