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U.S. Dept of Ed Sponsors OpenOffice Training Materials

January 10th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

In Pictures launched a line of free computer application tutorials, prominently featuring

The press release announces, “The tutorials were developed as part of a U.S. Department of Education study, to make it easier for people with learning disabilities to learn computer subjects. When the study was completed in 2006, it showed that the illustration-based tutorials worked well for everyone, not just those with special needs.”

The free tutorials are supported by ads on each page, and the collection is intended to be the equivalent to a complete software guide book.

This new training product is another valuable addition to the collection of products and materials being developed around the platform of As its community of users continues to grow, we’ll see more and more services and tools provided to complement OOo. That this startup would feature OOo as prominently as MSO is a sign of its increasing importance to the education, government, and business worlds. (And that the screenshots were taken in Linspire also shows the growing importance of Linux, as well.)

Tamil Nadu State in India to Adopt FOSS

January 10th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Tamil Nadu, an Indian state with a population of 62 million, will be deploying over 32,000 state computers running and Linux.

“We have already dispatched 6,500 Linux systems to village panchayats and another 6,100 Acer desktop systems with Suse Linux operating systems are on their way. We are procuring 20,000 desktop systems for schools, which will run only on Suse Linux…” Mr Umashankar told this newspaper. He said all the ELCOT servers were on Redhat Linux and the government IT company’s 28-seat software development wing was fully on Suse Linux.”

Microsoft offered to cut its operating system prices by 90%, but they still could not match the cost of Linux-based systems, even before the cost of applications (MS Office vs. was considered. And, lack of compatibility with ODF was another major strike against Microsoft Office’s suitability for Tamil Nadu’s needs.

In addition to all the technical and economic merits, politicians are providing high-level political support to the open source migration as well. It looks like a “perfect storm” of open source is hitting Tamil Nadu!

“Opportunity Knocks,” an ODF and FOSS Blog

January 9th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

I just discovered Opportunity Knocks, a blog covering ODF, free and open source software, and government interest in open standards and open source.

I plan to link to several of Walt’s recent posts individually, since I’ve found many of them to be very interesting.

Yesterday, Walt posted a list of desktop and online applications that can read and write ODF files, for people who may not yet know what ODF is or how to create and use ODFs.

Nokia’s 770 Successor is the N800

January 8th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Late last week Nokia announced its update to the 770, the new, more powerful N800.

Significant memory increases, a processor upgrade, digital camera and better expansion options on the hardware side are coupled with the new OS2007 on the software side.

Check John Tokash’s blog to see his video report from CES.

Many applications are available for Maemo. I’m especially looking forward to using FBReader for reading ebooks from Project Gutenberg.

NeoOffice Mac Marketshare Hits 40%?

January 7th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

The NeoOffice project reports downloads of 500,000 copies per month.

Meanwhile, Apple announces there are 15 million active users of Mac OS X.

Roughly calculating from these two figures, it appears that 40% of OS X users have downloaded NeoOffice in the past year. (Ed, one of the NeoOffice developers, has a significantly lower estimate. But neither he nor I have hard evidence to say which figure is more likely to be correct. For the sake of argument, I’ll continue with the higher number.)

The real point of the article linked above is not the number of downloads NeoOffice has counted, but rather that a new version to be released in the first three months of 2007 will be able to read and write Microsoft’s OOXML format, at least six months before Microsoft Office for Mac will be able to read the company’s own format! (MS has suggested the last few months of 2007 for its product release.)

Existing momentum plus this new blockbuster announcement could put NeoOffice over the top — it may overtake Microsoft Office on the Mac this year; a major victory for open source!

Perception can be more important than reality in software adoption, hence the effectiveness of FUD over the years. But FUD can work against Microsoft, just as it has worked for Microsoft so many times in the past.

To see OpenOffice and its derivatives push the mighty Microsoft Office from its dominant perch on Mac OS X will resound through the world of software. Users’ faith in Microsoft’s core products will be shaken by this, and it will affect more than just the market for office productivity software on the smaller Mac platform. It will propel OOo’s growth on Windows too, as those users see the mavens and connectors (who mostly run OS X and Linux), have begun to migrate to OpenOffice and NeoOffice. (The same way the iPod and iTMS grew to dominance by starting on Macs.)

On the other hand, Microsoft seems to be slowly pulling back from writing software for the Mac. It has already given up on VirtualPC, Media Player, and Internet Explorer (in each case, because a better competitor emerged). Microsoft is less committed to the Mac than to its own Windows platform, perhaps planning on strategic retreats as competition grows on all fronts.

But, because of perception, this will be a major mistake. When Microsoft Office disappears from OS X, the resulting press attention will be different than it would have been several years ago. Instead of focusing on the damage this would inflict on OS X, the press will actually question Microsoft’s strength and market staying power.

One of Microsoft’s two flagship products defeated in one of only two places it once thrived. The media will ask, “If NeoOffice can rout Microsoft Office on Mac OS X, can OpenOffice rout it on Windows, too?” Microsoft will be seen to be weakened, and its reach cut back. It will also have been thrown on the defensive, meaning that existing competitors will step up their efforts at the same time, only furthering its troubles.

Permanent change will have been wrought: OpenOffice/NeoOffice will have two strongholds–Linux and OS X–both populated with loyal, influential and connected people to use and promote it. Microsoft Office will have no further ground to give, and pressure from outside and in will threaten it will possible extinction even on its strongly-defended home turf.

Microsoft’s Document “Standard” Isn’t

January 5th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

It’s not a standard, argues Rob Weir, because it is carefully designed to favor Microsoft Office to the exclusion of other programs.

MSOOXML, the company’s new office document format, was created to deliberately confuse the marketplace that is starting to gravitate toward OpenDocument Format, which is a true open file format. By calling their closed format “open,” Microsoft clearly hopes to siphon away support from ODF. And by MS’ pretending it is open, those who don’t watch closely (most everybody), will fall into the trap, where they’ll be locked into a new generation of expensive proprietary programs.

Weir spells it out: “This is a running criticism I have of Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML). It has been narrowly crafted to accommodate a single vendor’s applications. Its extreme length (over 6,000 pages) stems from it having detailed every wart of MS Office in an inextensible, inflexible manner. This is not a specification; this is a DNA sequence.”

The problem is that in many instances the spec for MSOOXML reads along the lines of “do this like Word 95 did it,” without explaining how Word 95 did it!

Weir writes, “So I’d argue that these legacy tags are some of the most important ones in the specification. But they remain undefined, and by this ruse Microsoft has arranged things so that their lock on legacy documents extends to even when those legacy documents are converted to OOXML. We are ruled by the dead hand of the past.”

The solution is straightforward–don’t use this fake standard, use ODF instead.

Amsterdam Mulls the Linux Desktop

January 4th, 2007 Benjamin Horst reports Amsterdam mulls the Linux Desktop:

“Amsterdam has decided to give the Linux desktop and OpenOffice a try. In late December, the city — previously a Microsoft-only operation — announced plans to spend 300,000 Euros (roughly $400,000) on testing Linux and other open-source software in its housing department and in the Zeeburg borough office in 2007.”

“The test is scheduled to run during the first half of 2007, and, if successful, all of Amsterdam’s government may start using open source software. The city, however, does not plan to abandon proprietary software completely. “It is the expectation that a new contract with Microsoft will be smaller,” added van Goethem. The contract comes up for renewal at the end of 2008.”

In the article’s conclusion, it suggests that a tipping point may be near for desktop Linux usage in governments. In Europe, this seems very likely, whereas the US may be a little further behind.

ODF Accessibility Test Tool

January 3rd, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Students at the University of Illinois are developing an ODF Accessibility Evaluator:

“The ODF Accessibility Analyzer is a tool to be employed by users of OpenDocument Format-compatible authoring tools to ensure that a document in this format, be it text, spreadsheet, presentation, etc., is accessible to people with disabilities. The Analyzer will adhere to the ODF specification, as put forth by the OASIS organization.”

Files can be uploaded to the page linked above for analysis.

Peter Korn of Sun analyzes the project and its potential impact:

“To the best of my knowledge, tools like this only exist for three types of files: HTML files, PDF files, and now ODF files. Perhaps that is because HTML, PDF/A, and ODF are open standards which contain a lot of accessibility features put there through the thoughtful evaluation of and feedback from a community of accessibility experts.”

Last year’s attacks on ODF for not being accessible enough (though it’s still debatable whether they were valid at all), have been turned from showcasing a weakness, to a strength for ODF.

An open standard can be quickly improved or supported by stakeholders or interested parties that might come from anywhere–if it had been Microsoft’s format being criticized in this way, there is no way that a third-party group of students could have helped solve the problem, because Microsoft’s own licensing would bar them from getting involved.

ODF’s accessibility features are improving so quickly due to community support, that they are going to blow away the options Microsoft offers. Soon the disabled community will be much better served by open source than their current tools, and I look forward to welcoming yet another group of allies to the open source and open standards camp!

BBC on OLPC ($100 Laptop Project)

January 2nd, 2007 Benjamin Horst

The One Laptop per Child project received positive coverage in the BBC news today.

More countries than I realized have joined the project, and they represent a wide geographic distribution: “The first countries to sign up to buying the machine include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Thailand.”

Project founder Nicholas Negroponte was quoted, saying “I have to laugh when people refer to XO as a weak or crippled machine and how kids should get a ‘real’ one,” Mr Negroponte told AP.

“Trust me, I will give up my real one very soon and use only XO. It will be far better, in many new and important ways.”

And, further:

“One of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint,” Mr Negroponte said.

“I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools.”

The XO’s operating system has abandoned the old UI paradigm of files and folders, instead moving to a wiki-like organizational structure based around the user’s “journal” in which all his or her data is stored. Having seen the trouble many users have with the computer folder metaphor, I am very interested in how the journal concept will fare, and I expect it to do well.