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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?

Sun Report Builder Guidebook Released

February 12th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Dmitri Popov, frequent author on open source and topics, has released a new guide to using the Sun Report Builder extension for OOo.

Called Sun Report Builder Guidebook, it’s released under the GNU FDL license and available as a free PDF download, as well as a paperback from

Popov introduces his text thus:

Sun Report Builder gives you powerful tools to make sense of the data stored in a Base database by presenting them in a variety of ways. True, you can create a simple report with Sun Report Builder in a matter of minutes, but if you want to make the most out of this extension, you have to understand its more advanced features. And this is where this guidebook comes into the picture. It will help you get to grips with basic Sun Report Builder features as well as master the extension’s more advanced functionality.

Miro 2.0 Released

February 11th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

Yesterday the open source and free culture video player Miro 2.0 was released to the world.

Miro also includes a BitTorrent client, HD video support, and easy connection to major video sharing and streaming sites.

According to the release email, major new features in 2.0 include:

A beautiful, all-new interface
Browse while you watch– pop out any video to an external window (our number one requested feature)
Miro is now faster, more responsive, uses less memory
You can add streaming sites like Hulu to your sidebar
You can add download sites like or to your sidebar and download to Miro with a single click
Improved playlists
New compact, sortable list view
Better audio support

Visit the Miro Guide for a directory of great video podcasts you may want to watch in Miro.

RedOffice Offers OOo User Interface Ideas

February 9th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

RedOffice is one of the “distros” of, along with Go-OOo, Lotus Symphony, OxygenOffice, NeoOffice, EuroOffice, and probably some others.

RedOffice is developed by a company in Beijing and specifically addresses the Chinese-language market.

More than just translating and cloning OOo, however, RedOffice has introduced a well-designed new user interface for their version of the suite.

Johannes Eva analyzes RedOffice’s user interface innovations on his blog. Its biggest departure from the standard OOo is (no, not that it only comes in Chinese, but) its persistent tool palette column on the left side of the document window. Eva calls this a “vertical ribbon,” but since I do not like the MS Office 2007 ribbon, I’ll stick with the older term “tool palette” instead.

He’s impressed also by the included templates which are displayed in the palette, and the live preview of each template when you mouse over each one’s icon.

Eva concludes his review impressed and inspired by the application:

RedOffice 4.0 beta new UI is really intuitive and useful. The “Live Preview” function is great and should definitively be adopted in OOo after 3.0. Though slower than OOo 3.0 beta, RedOffice runs at an acceptable speed on my old hardware.

I have to agree with his analysis. To see more of it, and all the screenshots he took of RedOffice, hop on over to the original RedOffice UI post.

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.

Lotus Symphony Wiki

February 5th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

IBM has been a significant promoter of two of my major interests: wikis (specifically for corporate intranet content management) and (specifically, IBM’s “distro” of it called Lotus Symphony).

One place where the two converge is in the Lotus Symphony Wiki, developed as a collaborative space for Symphony-related information.

IBM’s wiki engine has a very strong design architecture and user interface, so I’d like to learn more about it. (I have not seen it in use elsewhere, so I wonder if it’s in-house, or expensive, or targeted only to big enterprises…) Likewise, Symphony itself has been a great citizen of the OpenOffice ecosystem, introducing creative new user interface concepts that I think could be adopted by OOo itself (especially document window tabs and a tools sidebar).

One approach I think Symphony could take that OOo itself has struggled with, is to achieve pre-installation on new computers from OEMs. IBM’s relationship with Lenovo should help convince them to offer Symphony instead of Microsoft Works, at the very least. OEM installations would help introduce Symphony and the ODF format to many new users, helping to further expand its global userbase.

ODF Alliance Newsletter, January 2009

February 4th, 2009 Benjamin Horst

The ODF Alliance‘s monthly newsletter has been released for January 2009. (The newsletter is distributed as a PDF, but Boycott Novell’s website shares an HTML version for in-browser reading.)

It was a newsworthy month and year–the 2008 annual report is cited several times, including:

Government adoptions… grew steadily and now include 16 national and 8 provincial governments that have formally recommended or required the use of ODF; a dramatic improvement in both the quality of existing applications support and its expansion into new areas with the emergence of ODF-supporting mobile device and web conferencing applications, document management systems, wiki editors, viewers, converters, accessibility tools (ODT-To-DAISY Digital Talking Book), database software, and programming libraries; public procurement gains; and feature enhancements in ODF v 1.2, which is expected to be considered for approval shortly as an OASIS standard.

Among those governments adopting ODF, a December 3 press release mentions Germany, one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies.

The ODF Alliance welcomed the decision by the Federal Government of Germany to implement use of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) by federal agencies beginning in 2010… According to the plan, German federal agencies will be able to receive, read, send and edit ODF documents beginning no later than 2010. State Secretary Dr. Hans Bernhard Beus, federal government IT officer and chairman of the IT Council, described the decision regarding ODF as “a major step to increase competition among software vendors, promote IT security, and improve interoperability.”

Is OpenOffice a Suitable Alternative for Schools?

February 3rd, 2009 Benjamin Horst

In the handy discussion forums at Open Source Schools (UK), a poster asks, “Is OpenOffice a suitable alternative to the use of Microsoft Office in schools?

Members of the site are a mix of open source community members, computer-savvy teachers, and people with both skillsets.

Respondents to the original inquiry wrote things like, “I had no trouble moving to as it has at least 90% of the functionality of MS Office (the instant PDF adds another 5% for me) so most people can just start using it,” and “I have installed it on all our school machines (saving an absolute fortune) and (sneakily) removed the various versions of Microsoft Office. For the children there is absolutely no problem at all.” My favorite, however, is this: “We have used OpenOffice at Brewers Hill Middle School for the past 3 months. Half the kids did not notice the difference.” Either these kids are really smart, or OpenOffice is really good, or perhaps both…

As might be expected, some people pointed out the social difficulty of convincing teachers to change to a new product they may not have used before. Social change, not technological capability is, indeed, the toughest part of any software migration. Anyone whose job involves making shifts like the migration from MSO to OOo should be sure to focus sufficient energy on this aspect of the project. But as more and more schools and offices begin to adopt OpenOffice, the task will get progressively easier for each group that subsequently migrates.