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UbuCon 2007 on Friday

February 19th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

On Friday I attended UbuCon 2007, an “unconference” held at Google’s offices in Manhattan.

Joey Stanford posted some pictures and his summary on his blog. (I took no photos; it’s not permitted anywhere in Google’s office except the lobby.)

Besides learning more about my favorite Linux distro, I also saw a number of attendees carrying Nokia N800s (there were three in the morning, and then someone returned from lunch with a freshly-purchased one in a box that he opened), Mako Hill brought a prototype of the OLPC project’s XO computer, and we had a quick tutorial on using GIMP, Inkscape and Blender.

A fun and informative conference, and my first visit to the inside of a Google office complex.

Eight Countries to Receive 2,500 OLPC Test Machines

February 15th, 2007 Benjamin Horst reports that eight countries will receive a share of the initial 2,500 OLPC machines in February.

“The experiment is a prelude to mass production of the kid-friendly, lime-green-and-white laptops scheduled to begin in July, when 5 million will be built.

State educators in Brazil, Uruguay, Libya, Rwanda, Pakistan, Thailand and possibly Ethiopia and the West Bank will receive the first of the machines in February’s pilot before a wider rollout to Indonesia and a handful of other countries.”

With a goal of 150 million delivered by 2010, OLPC will alter the landscape of computing around the world. Further, it could help Linux marketshare reach 20% or more globally, entirely as a side effect of the project’s primary purpose. No wonder Bill Gates can’t stop trying to critique it!

175,000 FOSS USB Flash Drives in Paris

February 14th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Yahoo News reports that 175,000 USB Flash Drives loaded with open source programs will be distributed to Parisian high school students next school year (fall 2007).

The drives will contain Firefox 2, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, an IM client and audio and video players. (Based on the explanation, it sounds like they will be the portable versions of these applications.)

“The sticks will give the students, aged 15 and 16, the freedom to access their e-mail, browser bookmarks and other documents on computers at school, home, a friend’s house or in an Internet café — but at a much lower cost than providing notebook computers for all, a spokesman for the Greater Paris Regional Council said Friday.”

Slashdot also discussed the story in its usual energetic way.

Sun Releases ODF Plugin

February 13th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

The Standards Blog reports that Sun has released an MSO to ODF plugin, to save Microsoft Office-generated documents in the open standard ODF format.

Sun’s plugin page offers more info and a placeholder for the download, which will be available soon: “The converter is easy to setup and use, the conversion happens transparently and the additional memory footprint is minimal. Microsoft Office users now have seamless two-way conversion of Microsoft Office documents to ODF.”

This plugin is already being used by Massachusetts to meet its new ODF requirement, without migrating all of its existing legacy MS Office systems to or other ODF-compatible applications (yet).

Microsoft has also sponsored a plugin of its own; however, the Microsoft plugin only functions with MS Office 2007, which is not very useful! Sun’s plugin works with Office 2003 (and possibly earlier versions), which means there’s no need to buy new software licenses to use it. Obviously, that’s going to be the better choice for users.

Vassar Misc Reviews OpenOffice

February 12th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Vassar College’s Miscellany News has just published Microsoft Office gets a free replacement with open-source.

Matthew Leung introduces to the paper’s audience of Vassar College (my alma mater) students, faculty and staff.

He writes, “Upon opening Writer, I was immediately surprised by how similar to Word it appeared. Many toolbars and formatting options are almost identical between the two programs. Even some advanced options are found in the same menus. Writer and other applications are able to open all the Office documents without distorting formatting or layout. Even though OOo applications save files in their own format called the OpenDocument Format (ODF), they can also save files in all Office formats, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint…

In addition, OOo applications have some extra features. All of its applications can export documents to Adobe’s Portable Document Format (PDF). For PC users this is a boon, since Windows does not offer an in-house option to export documents to the PDF format.”

It’s great to see OpenOffice getting more exposure on college campuses for an audience that truly stands to benefit from its free cost, broad compatibility, and ability to run on the OS that users choose, whether Mac, Linux or Windows.

Review of Word Processors

February 12th, 2007 Benjamin Horst has just published the first part of a three-part review of word processors. Part one covers the three “major word processors” in detail ( / StarOffice, Microsoft Word 2007, and Corel WordPerfect X3).

The next part will cover a crop of good word processor alternatives that aren’t as well-known, and the third part of the series will cover the new category of online word processors that are getting a lot of attention now.

For today’s part, author Zaine Ridling sums up:

“Throughout 2006, I worked directly with a dozen businesses who tested Office 2007. Not a single one said they would upgrade to it. Does that surprise you? The general feeling was that Word 2007 had become a desktop publishing app, with so many features that they found their people wasting a lot of time with the new interface, unable to find their familiar features, despite what Microsoft has marketed to them about the new user interface (UI). Five of those twelve businesses made plans to switch to over the next year, while the remainder will stick with their current version of Microsoft Office (2000-2003 versions). There are more than enough reasons to use Microsoft Word, but fortunately, there are more than several great choices among word processors now.

Thus this review won’t champion a “winner,” because most of the word processors reviewed were either good or very good. With so many good choices in the word processor category, it’s impossible to say someone shouldn’t use something like TextMaker or Atlantis if they like it, are productive with it, and it suits their needs. And debates between Word and often come down to cost and control in the end for businesses; personal preference for individuals.”

Glyn Moody on the State of ODF

February 9th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Glyn Moody writes Let There Be Light: Promoting with Sun, which covers the current strength of ODF acceptance and contrasts its chief competitor’s struggle to interest customers in its new products.

Moody begins: “The OpenDocument Format (ODF) just keeps on getting stronger. It is now an official ISO standard; there are numerous applications that support it, with varying degrees of fidelity, including Google’s online word processor and spreadsheet; there’s an official Microsoft-funded plug-in for Microsoft Office that allows it to open and save ODF files, and a program that converts between ODF and the Chinese UOF XML office format; and the ODF community has largely sorted out issues of accessibility that threatened to de-rail its adoption by Massachusetts.”

He discusses the great opportunity OpenOffice has right now to increase its market share while its competition stumbles, and how Sun looks set to alter its marketing strategy to help move things forward faster. 2007 is going to be a big year for OpenOffice!

Open Format Bill Filed in Texas

February 8th, 2007 Benjamin Horst’s Standards Blog reports that an open format bill has been filed in Texas. Following Massachusetts and Minnesota, the Texas government seems headed for ODF.

The bill would require state government agencies to store their data in open document formats, and defines what it means by “open document formats.” Its definition matches Minnesota’s, and it seems clear that OpenDocument meets the criteria while MSOOXML does not.

Updegrove discusses how Massachusetts’ pioneering work has helped open the trail for other states to follow: “It will be very interesting indeed to see how this bill fares. On the plus side, the IT department of Texas will be spared the wrenching experience that the IT managers of Massachusetts suffered when they sought to put such a policy in place. Too, debate over the bill will occur in public. But on the negative, the legislators of Texas may be surprised at the magnitude of effort that lobbyists may expend on “educating” them on the issues at hand.”

Texas is the second most-populous state, and an important technology center, so the scale of this development is very significant.

LinuxWorld Australia also covers the story, and Sam Hiser analyzes it in detail.

Inpics Helps South African School Adopt Linux

February 7th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Our friends at In Pictures have helped a school in Durban, South Africa, set up a computer lab running Linux Terminal Server with Ubuntu and OpenOffice.

Inpics’ role was to provide a local installation of its online tutorial for student use, while a local group, eTux, found the recycled hardware, set up the machines as thin clients, networked the systems and installed the OS and applications.

“Craig Adams, the leader of eTux, wanted to use the free online OpenOffice tutorials at, but the lab had no Internet access. He contacted In Pictures, who provided the tutorials to him as a download. He then installed them on the lab’s server.”

CS Monitor on the OLPC XO, the “$100 Laptop”

February 6th, 2007 Benjamin Horst

Gregory M. Lamb of the Christian Science Monitor has reviewed the concept and prototype of OLPC’s XO, the “$100 Laptop”.

The next step in turning this techno-dream into a reality begins in February when prototypes of the XO laptop go out to be kid tested in a dozen or so countries from Brazil to Rwanda, Libya to Pakistan.”

Mesh networking, extremely low power consumption, and water- and dirt-resistant construction are some of the interesting and important hardware features being pioneered by the XO machine. However, the distribution and usage models are where the most unique innovations will occur.