Hi-tech business, low-tech broadband

image of fibre optic cableIn the UK, it’s not just rural areas like Wiltshire that suffer from poor broadband connectivity (news passim).

London’s much heralded Old Street technology start-ups (in the area known as Silicon Roundabout or Tech City. Ed.) are struggling to expand their businesses because of poor internet connectivity, according to today’s Guardian.

Some companies have left the area completely, while others complain of lengthy delays when moving to new premises.

For instance, the Guardian piece highlights the case of affiliate marketers Skimlinks, who had to wait five months for fibre broadband to be reconnected after the company moved offices. The firm’s CTO Richard Johnson stated: ““Five months without fibre for an internet-based organisation is difficult to swallow. Our old office was vacated and demolished in the time it took to get fibre connected.”

Companies have blamed ISPs such as BT and Virgin Media for the lack of provision, whilst the ISPs themselves have failed to inform customers of the significant costs and logistical challenges of installing broadband in a heavily built-up area.

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LibreOffice 4.3 ready for download

Via its blog, The Document Foundation has announced the release of LibreOffice 4.3; this is the 8th major release of the free and open source office suite since the birth of the project in September 2010.

LibreOffice banner

LibreOffice 4.3 offers a large number of improvements and new features, including:

  • Document interoperability: support for MS’ OOXML Strict, OOXML graphics improvements (DrawingML, theme fonts, preservation of drawing styles and attributes), embedding OOXML files inside another OOXML file, support for 30 new Excel formulas, support for MS Works spreadsheets and databases, as well as Mac legacy file formats such as ClarisWorks, ClarisResolve, MacWorks, SuperPaint and more.
  • Comment management: comments can now be printed in the document margin, formatted in a better way, and imported and exported – including nested comments – in ODF, DOC, OOXML and RTF documents, for improved productivity and better collaboration.
  • Intuitive spreadsheet handling: Calc now allows several tasks to be carried out more intuitively, thanks to the smarter highlighting of formulas in cells, the display of the number of selected rows and columns in the status bar, the ability to start editing a cell with the content of the cell above it and the user being fully able to select text conversion models.
  • 3D models in Impress: support of animated 3D models in the new open glTF format, plus initial support for Collada and kmz files that are found in Google Warehouse, in order to add a fresh new look and animations to keynotes (support for this feature is currently on Windows and Linux versions only).

LibreOffice 4.3 also supports “monster” paragraphs exceeding 65,000 characters in length. This is an example of an 11 years old bug solved thanks to the modernization of the old OpenOffice source code. In addition, the accessibility technology on Windows has become a standard feature, thanks to the improvements based on IBM’s IAccessible2 framework.

The full list of new features and improvements of LibreOffice 4.3 is available on the wiki.

According to the Coverity Scan service, the quality of LibreOffice source code has improved dramatically during the last two years, with a reduction of the defect density per 1,000 lines of code from an above the average 1.11 to an industry leading 0.08. Read Coverity’s report for more information.

LibreOffice 4.3 and LibreOffice 4.2.6 – which will be released on Friday – are available for download from the following link: http://www.libreoffice.org/download/. Extensions and templates to enhance the software’s functionality and add specific features can be found at http://extensions.libreoffice.org/.

Reposted from the chief scribe’s blog.

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Congratulations from FSF to UK government

ODF logoWriting yesterday on the Free Software Foundation (FSF) blog, Libby Reinish states that UK citizens will soon be able to fill out government paperwork with their freedoms intact. The British government announced last week (news passim) that Open Document Format (ODF), HTML and PDF will be the official file formats used by all government agencies.

In particular, the FSF post states:

The Free Software Foundation applauds the British government’s decision to make ODF its official file format. We are especially happy that the decision excludes use of Microsoft’s OOXML format, which is not fully free and would prevent the goal of interoperability. Now British citizens can use free software like LibreOffice without worrying that they’ll have trouble applying for a passport, reading court documents, or getting their pensions.

The British government’s adoption of ODF will make it harder for laggards to ignore the standard file format, and could inspire other governments to make the switch. After all, it’s unethical to spend public funds on proprietary software that hinders interoperability and forces citizens to use the same software or miss out on access to vital government documents.

Bristol Wireless welcomes this statement, particularly the assertion that spending public funds on proprietary software being unethical. We’d sooner see that money spent on serving the public. :)

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goTenna, the personal antenna which takes over in network outages

New York-based start-up goTenna is making available a portable antenna which can take over communications networks in the event of mobile services outages, French IT news site Le Monde Informatique reports. the portable antenna is connected to a smartphone via a Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) connection. All users then have to do is open a dedicated application on Android or iOS to send SMS messages wirelessly. The addressee of the text must also have a goTenna to receive the messages, which is why the product is sold in pairs.

The device uses the 151MHz-154MHz radio frequency range. The communications range depends on the geographical location of the users. In a city, for example, whose urban density is very high, the range may be less than 1.5 km. However, in more open spaces it may extend as far as 80 km. The antenna, which is powered off a USB socket, stores the messages and retains them until the Bluetooth Low Energy connection with the addressee has been established.

goTenna how it works image

Encrypted conversations over up to 80 kilometres

Some companies use emergency communications systems, whether these are long range satellite telephones or walkie-talkies for speaking over shorter distances. goTenna could replace walkie-talkies with some advantages. For example, messages are encrypted and private: there is no need to have another communications terminal; and users can use their smartphone’s interface. goTenna can also send out a message to all the antenna’s users who have broadcasting switched on. “With a goTenna, the user is totally independent of conventional networks. This means that in several situations it can acts as an emergency solution for another emergency solution,” stated goTenna CEO Daniela Perdomo.

According to Daniela Perdomo, the antenna can act as as emergency communication tool, but not just for that: she thinks the system could be used very well for communications while enjoying the great outdoors, while travelling or in situations where it is important to maintain communications confidentiality. The antenne operates with a lithium-ion battery which can last two to three days in normal use – or about thirty hours if it is constantly switched on. goTenna’s CEO pointed out that it was the outages that occurred during hurricane 2012 which gave rise to the search for a way of getting smartphones to communicate directly with one another without using conventional mobile networks. goTenna will be available at the end of autumn, but it is possible to pre-order the product. goTenna costs US $150 per pair excluding taxes.

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UK government adopts open standards

ODF logoGreat news for all lovers of open standards! It’s goodbye to the ubiquitous use of MS Office formats in Whitehall; and what’s more, the government has decided not to sanction the use of Microsoft’s OOXML ‘standard’ despite lobbying by the US software giant and its supporters.

The open standards selected for sharing and viewing government documents have been announced today by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude.

The standards set out the document file formats that are expected to be used by all government bodies. Central government will begin using open formats to ensure that the general public and civil servants can use the applications that best meet their needs when viewing or collaborating on documents.

The selected standards, which are compatible with commonly used document applications, are:

When government departments have adopted these open standards:

  • the general public, businesses and voluntary organisations will no longer need specialist software to open or work with government documents;
  • civil servants will be able to share and work with documents in the same format, reducing problems when shifting between formats;
  • government organisations will be able to choose the most suitable and cost-effective applications, knowing their documents will work for people both within and outside government (does this mean Whitehall will be moving towards using LibreOffice or OpenOffice, both of which are free of charge? Ed.).

The adoption of open standards comes in the wake of a consultation on open standards (news passim) which attracted over 500 contributions, as well as by talking directly to users.

The new standards will come into effect straight away for all new procurements subject to the HMG’s Open Standards Principles. The Government Digital Service will work with Whitehall departments to publish guidance and implementation plans.

This post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog.

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Hackday in Bristol on Saturday

We’ve gleaned from our friends at Connecting Bristol that online takeaway meals ordering outfit Just Eat is sponsoring a hackday this coming Saturday, 26th July at the Engine Shed in Bristol from 8.00 am to 9.00 pm.

The programme of events is:

  • 8.00am – 8.30am: Breakfast
  • 8.30am – 9.30am: Team formation and pitching
  • 9.30am – 5.30pm: Hacking (with pizzas for lunch)!
  • 5.30pm – 7.00pm: Demonstrations, judging & prizes
  • 7.00pm – 9.00pm: Dinner and drinks

The top prize for participating teams is a Parrot AR.Drone.

Participants will need to sign up on the event’s Meetup page to attend.

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Wiltshire: rural broadband roll out denounced as a scam

image of fibre optic cableOur friends at the Western Daily Press yesterday published a less than favourable account of the inadequacy of the roll-out of so-called “super fast” rural broadband, as managed by British Telecom. In a deal between Wiltshire and South Gloucester Councils, B.T. were to receive £35.6 million of government grants (our taxes) to provide 91% coverage at a minimum of 2 Mbps; however there is a dawning realisation that these targets will not be met, such that Hankerton and the villages of the Dun valley have decided to go it alone and use other contractors to provide broadband. Wiltshire Council is considering not to go ahead with the second part of the contract which would see the remaining 9% connected.

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Companies House takes open data route

Yesterday, while David Cameron was rearranging his Cabinet, one significant piece of news (apart from the DRIP Bill. Ed.) seems to have escaped the personality-obsessed British media.

image of open data stickersThe news was the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that Companies House is to make all of its digital data available free of charge. It has hitherto charged users for anything but the most basic company information on its website.

This will make the UK the first country to establish a truly open register of business information.

As a result, it will be easier for members of the public and businesses to research and scrutinise the activities and ownership of companies and their directors. Last year (2013/14), users searching the Companies House website spent £8.7 million accessing company information on the register.

The release of company information as open data will also provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ways of using the information.

This change will come into effect from the second quarter of 2015 (April – June).

This is an re-edited version of a post from the chief scribe’s blog.

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EU Commission: we support vendor lock-in

EU flag with MS Windows logo inside circle of starsThe European Commission has recently renewed its commitment to a proprietary desktop and secret file formats, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) writes. The Commission is refusing to make a serious effort to break free from vendor lock-in and is ignoring all available alternatives. In doing so, the EU’s civil service fails to practice what it preaches.

In April, the Commission signed two contracts with Microsoft: firstly, an agreement for “high-level services” worth €44 million and secondly a framework agreement on software licensing conditions. The actual licences are provided by Hewlett-Packard under a separate contract from 2012 that itself is worth €50 million. The contracts cover the Commission itself and 54 other EU organisations.

“We are extremely disappointed about the lack of progress here,” says FSFE president Karsten Gerloff. “The Commission has not even looked for viable alternatives. Its lazy approach to software procurement leaves the Commission open to allegations of inertia and worse.”

The Commission recently admitted publicly for the first time (PDF) that it is in “effective captivity” to Microsoft. Documents obtained by the FSFE reveal that the Commission has made no serious effort to find solutions based on open standards. As a consequence, a large part of Europe’s IT sector is essentially prevented from doing business with the Commission.

In a strategy paper (PDF) which the Commission released in response to official questions from Amelia Andersdotter MEP, the EC lays out a three-track approach for its office automation platform for the coming years. This strategy will only deepen the Commission’s reliance on closed proprietary file formats and programs.

“The Commission should be setting a positive example for public administrations across Europe,” comments FSFE’s Gerloff. “Instead, it shirks its responsibility as a public administrations, and simply claims that such alternatives don’t exist. Even the most basic market analysis would have told the Commission that there’s a vibrant free software industry in Europe that it could have relied on.”

Many public sector organisations in Europe are successfully using free software and implementing open standards. Examples include the German city of Munich with its internationally recognised Limux project and (believe it or not! Ed.) the UK government, which has made great strides in using free software and open standards to obtain better value for money in IT procurement.

However, the FSFE says it will continue to work with the Commission in spite of this setback and will help it to improve its software the way it buys software, such as by relying on specifications and standards rather than brand names, by using open invitations to tender instead of talking to a single vendor and by incorporating future exit costs into the price of any new solution. These practices are fast becoming the norm across Europe’s public sector. The EC should practice what it preaches and adopt these practices for its own IT procurement.

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Bristol open data initiative launched

image of open data stickersBristol City Council is working with the Future Cities Catapult and the Connected Digital Economy Catapult on a new open data initiative that will help Bristolians improve their city with the help of local authority data.

The partners are working together to release Bristol civic data sets such as traffic management and land use databases to citizens. The collaboration will support developers to use the data to create new products and services to improve how the city of Bristol works, making it easier to get around, reduce waste, save energy or improve the city’s air quality.

Once the data sets are made available online in late summer, citizens and businesses will be invited to explore around one hundred data sets, supported by a series of Catapult-run events and competitions. Bristolians will be supported in testing, prototyping and commercialising their ideas.

Following a successful initial data release, the Catapults and the Council will then create a schedule to release further useful city data sets in consultation with the developer community. The programme’s outcomes will be shared with local authorities, developers and organisations in other UK cities to spread the benefits to the citizens of other cities.

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