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Sri Lanka Joins OLPC

February 14th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

The Sunday Times Online (of Sri Lanka) announces Sri Lanka will join the OLPC project and distribute 2 million XOs to its school children.

To my knowledge, this is the biggest roll-out to date. Further, it is being organized as a collaboration between the Sri Lankan government, world institutions, and private entities.  From the article:

“This is being launched by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a US based organisation in collaboration with the Education Department and several local and foreign financial, technological and academic institutions… Director OLPC Europe, Middle East and Asia Matt Keller, in an interview with The Sunday Times FT, said the World Bank has stepped in to fund a pilot project to introduce laptops as an educational tool in nine provinces in the island.”

Groklaw: “EU Commission Investigating Microsoft’s MSOOXML Push”

February 13th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

Thankfully, the EU’s antitrust office functions much more effectively than does the US DOJ’s!

Groklaw reports on a new investigation the EU has begun into Microsoft’s tactics in promoting its MSOOXML file format, in EU Commission Investigating Microsoft’s MSOOXML Push. Beyond that, Groklaw has collected a large number of resources following the ODF vs MSOOXML contest:

“Now that it’s making headlines in the mainstream press that the EU Commission is investigating Microsoft’s behavior in trying to get MSOOXML accepted as an ISO “standard”, I want to simply remind the world that Groklaw has a permanent ODF/MSOOXML page, including a chronology, where all the events can be tracked, month by month, since the Massachusetts events began in January of 2005.”

Groklaw links to Andy Updegrove’s detailed article of a similar title, EU Initiates Investigation Against Microsoft OOXML Push. When companies try to corrupt and interfere with government bodies, as Microsoft did to Sweden during the initial MSOOXML standardization attempt last year, it’s clear the EU will come to their defense.

Ars Technica: IBM Calls MSOOXML Inferior

February 12th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

IBM is a staunch defender of open standards in IT these days, and has been one of the big supports of ODF (OpenDocument Format), the XML-based specification that should do for “office” documents what HTML has done for the web: make it totally agnostic to the software you use to create and consume data. ODF could break up another monopoly and bring a new wave of innovation to the realm of desktop and net-based computing.

Ars Technica reports on IBM’s announcement that ODF is superior to Microsoft’s MSOOXML:

“As governments around the world begin to establish IT procurement policies that favor open standards, the stakes in the document format dispute are rising. The trend towards mandatory standards adoption in government IT has led some to speculate that government agencies and companies that work closely with the public sector will begin to turn away from Microsoft’s deeply entrenched office offerings, instead adopting alternatives like IBM’s Lotus Notes, Sun’s StarOffice, or which use the OpenDocument Format (ODF). Microsoft has been seeking ISO approval for its own OOXML format in order to ensure that its software remains competitive.”

The strategic and market reasons are clear why an open standard (ODF) is better for customers than a closed standard, even one that masquerades as open (MSOOXML). But the issue is greater than that. The open standard, in this case, is also the technologically more advanced of the two.

“Citing technical and intellectual property issues, a growing number of critics believe that Microsoft’s standards are flawed, restrictive, not adequately aligned with existing standards, or not conducive to broad third-party support. They argue that Microsoft should adopt ODF rather than fragmenting the office document space with its own alternative.”

After years of dragging their heels, Microsoft has slowly moved toward supporting standard HTML, so we should demand the same with ODF. It’s best for customers, and any business that wants to thrive should do right by its customers.

“Open Source Rising” in India

February 11th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

Express Computer reports on “Open Source Rising” in India. Author Prashant Rao begins, “Things are looking good for the proponents of Open Source software on all fronts.”

India is a bellwether for FOSS adoption. While still a developing country, it has a very strong IT sector. Together, this is a perfect storm for the implementation of open source! Rao catalogs the growth of FOSS on servers, but then comes to the really interesting territory, end-user desktops. Of particular interest to me is the rapid adoption of OpenOffice within Indian IT enterprises:

“Coming to Open Source on the desktop, while desktop Linux remains kludgy, is doing just fine. Various estimates put it at anything between 10% and 20% of the market. I think that usage is higher. In India, at least, many large organizations have put the bulk of their users on OpenOffice restricting Microsoft Office to a handful of people who interact with the outside world.”

We see news about some of the high-profile corporate migrations to in India. Along with others around the world, we try to keep track of these on the Major Deployments page on the project wiki.

OLPC XO and Asus Eee Pictorial Comparison

February 8th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

There are at least two revolutionary new portable computers on the market, each of which has the potential to sell several million units, and because each ships with Linux and an open source software stack, together they may change the personal computing landscape more than we have seen in decades.

Groklaw provides a photo gallery comparing the XO and Asus Eee (and some other ordinary computers to give scale).

“One of the happy buyers of a One Laptop Per Child XO laptop is Groklaw member Jerry van Baren. He asked me if it would be useful to show a comparison between the screen sizes and keyboards of the XO and the Asus Eee PC. I thought that was a grand idea.”

The new form factor they share is ultra-portability, and along with it, their success can be attributed to their extremely affordable pricing (each machine is cheaper than Windows or Microsoft Office by itself). As predicted by the theory of The Innovator’s Dilemma, a traditional market is once again being upset by cheaper competition from below. These machines, and others that will follow, are providing a strong beachhead for open source on the normal end user’s personal computer. This trend is only going to accelerate from here.

Mac Update

February 7th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

The Mac OS X Aqua port of OpenOffice has been making rapid progress after the addition of several fulltime developers to the team. There’s still a long way to go, but with OOo 3.0 scheduled for this year, OS X will finally be an equally-supported platform. It makes sense to invest in the Mac now, as OS X’s US web usage share reached nearly 8% in December 2007, and continues to increase rapidly.

Download an Aqua OOo development snapshot here.

XO Laptop: It’s the Software

February 6th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

Wade Roush writes about the OLPC XO for in The XO Laptop: It’s the Software, Stupid.

“On YouTube, there is an 11-minute video of the veterinarian-assisted birth of a calf on a farm in Villa Cardal, Uruguay, a small town in a dairy-rich region four hours north of the capital, Montevideo… But what makes this particular video remarkable is that it was shot by a fourth-year student at Villa Cardal’s Public School 24, using the built-in camera and recording software on the student’s XO Laptop, within weeks of the machine’s arrival at the school last year.”

The OLPC project predicted students would use their XOs for numerous creative purposes and did not expect to know everything they would devise. This could be one of the first shining examples of how quickly the students will use their new tools to participate in the global cultural interchange on the internet.

It has been a key tenet that OLPC is a learning project, not a hardware project. “Almost every piece of software on the XO is designed to advance the constructivist belief that learning occurs most efficiently when it’s active, social, and exploratory, with constant feedback between instructors and learners and between learners themselves.”

Another tenet is the centrality of open source, in both hardware and software used by the project. “Virtually everything on the laptop, right down to the hardware drivers, is open-source–so that it can be shared and so that, ultimately, responsibility for maintaining the platform can be transferred from the foundation itself to the community of educators, students, and developers using the XO. “In open-source you strive to push everything upstream, because as soon as it’s upstream, it’s not your problem anymore, it’s the community’s problem,” says Bender. “That’s a great place to be. And we are trying to push as much upstream as possible, because we won’t be successful otherwise.”

In other words, they are not delivering a product, they are seeding the creation of a self-sustaining community of learners. This is the key to economic development just as it is to successful education. And it is going to have a huge cumulative impact on global well-being.

Highlighting KDE on Mac OS X

February 5th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

In KDE 4.0’s cross-platform strategy, Mac OS X plays a key role. The KDE TechBase keeps track of KDE on Mac OS X projects here.

While 4.1 will bring the final release for OS X, there are plenty of things to play with now. I’m particularly interested in KStars, the KDE PIM, and KOffice itself.

I’ve long been a proponent of OpenOffice, but I don’t see KOffice as a threat to OOo. Rather, I think the two are complementary, each with a different primary focus, and yet also helping each other by forming a strong argument for ODF. With ODF, there’s no need to fight for sole software hegemony, since we’ll still be compatible with everyone else regardless of our personal application preferences. As OOo and KOffice grow, they bring more users to the ODF file standard. And as ODF grows, it lets more people freely choose OOo, KOffice, or one of the many other compatible programs.

If a politician were discussing this issue, they’d call it “growing the pie,” not just changing the relative sizes of its slices. That’s good for all the communities involved!

gOS Catches The Economist’s Eye

February 4th, 2008 Benjamin Horst

The discusses using Linux to rehabilitate old computers for donating to students. The author has found many school students have no access to a computer at home: “A quarter of the children in your correspondent’s class had nothing at home to research their projects on–not even a parent’s or older sibling’s computer. And it showed in the classroom.”

And his suggestion is to wipe the Microsoft junk off your donation and replace it with a capable and lightweight operating system instead: Linux.

“Apart from being able to run easily on clunky old machines, the great thing about Linux is the way thousands of the world’s most professional programmers have volunteered their spare time to improving the breed–with nothing to gain save personal satisfaction and the respect of their peers. Thanks to their efforts, there’s recently been a flood of slick desktop versions of the rugged open-source operating system.”

After sampling several Linux distros, gOS catches the author’s eye:

“Spurred on by Everex, a PC maker in Fremont, California, the gOS distribution encases the rock-solid Ubuntu 7.10 in an exceptionally rich graphical shell known as E17 from an outfit called Enlightenment. For sheer beauty and intuitiveness, the gOS interface out-Macs even Apple’s superb OS X.

“But the real magic behind gOS is its use of Google Apps, the search company’s free online alternative to Microsoft Office. Computer pundits have talked endlessly about “software as a service”—using software applications that reside permanently on the internet rather than on your local hard-drive—but nothing much has come of it. Suddenly, out of the blue, gOS has made it a reality.

“Unquestionably, gOS is the operating system for the YouTube generation. Like the Mac, you just switch it on and start uploading videos, downloading tunes and doing other good things with the click of a mouse.”

For situations where online office applications are not ideal, the author matter-of-factly mentions OpenOffice as the pre-installed desktop office suite on gOS machines (casually expressing what many mainstream publications have not yet recognized: its complete suitability as a replacement for heavy, expensive MS Office). He doesn’t even explain, confident that everyone already knows what it is!

23,000 Linux Computers in Philippine Schools

February 1st, 2008 Benjamin Horst

Computerworld Australia reports on a rollout of 23,000 computers in schools in the Philippines.

“Providing high school students with PCs is seen as a first step to preparing them for a technology-literate future, but in the Philippines many schools cannot afford to provide computing facilities so after a successful deployment of 13,000 Fedora Linux systems from a government grant, plans are underway to roll out another 10,000 based on Ubuntu.”

Cost may be the primary reason for this migration, but just like France’s Gendarmerie, the Philippines will reap many other benefits from the adoption of Linux and open source.

“(IT Consultant) Gonzalez believes the project has helped begin a mindset revolution for accepting the power of free software: ‘People in the government now understand Linux can do so much for so little outlay,’ he said. ‘In a brand new computer 50 percent goes to the operating system and office suite, so how many people can afford that?'”

Adopting Linux at an early stage of its computer and internet growth will allow the Philippines a much easier migration path. Instead of replacing existing infrastructure, they will start fresh, using open source, and the population will be trained on it from the beginning.