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Council’s new website live today

Bristol City Council logoAfter the recent spate of revelations about Bristol City Council’s IT problems (news passim), it’s good to be able report some positive IT news from the Counts Louse.

Drupal iconThe Council’s new website, built upon the open source Drupal content management system (CMS), went live today and first impressions are very favourable: the new site looks far cleaner and less cluttered than the old one.

We recommend you take a look:

17th September is Software Freedom Day

Saturday 17th September 2011 is Software Freedom Day (SFD). SFD is an event with hundreds of teams from all around the world running local events to help their communities understand Software Freedom. SFD is a worldwide celebration of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). The aim of SFD is to educate the general public about the benefits of using high quality FOSS in education, in government, at home, and in business – in short, everywhere! SFD is co-ordinated at global level by Software Freedom International, a non-profit organisation providing support, giveaways and a point of collaboration, but volunteer teams around the world organise the local SFD events for their own communities.

Software Freedom Day logo

Looking at the SFD events map, the nearest event to us in Bristol (unless we organise an event of our own; just an idea. Ed.), is in Hereford, where the Herefordshire LUG (HLUG) is organising its annual International Software Freedom Day event with space kindly donated by All Saints, Hereford and this will feature the launch at 2pm of HLUG’s new Open Source Schools Project which will be running through the autumn at a number of schools across the county.

It’s Bristol Dorkbot tonight

John Honniball has today written to the BBLUG list with a reminder about tonight’s Dorkbot, as follows:

A reminder for those who’d like to find out more about the goings-on at Dorkbot Bristol, that we’re meeting on Tuesday evening, 16th August, from 7pm, at the Pervasive Media Studio. This is above the Firehouse Pizzaria on Anchor Square, behind the Watershed. All welcome!

Meanwhile, announcing the same event, the Bristol Dorkbot site states: “Bring any project you’d like to show and tell, or just come along for the entertainment.”

Romania records criminal disregard of open source

According to the Romanian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MAI), domestic Romanian and European interoperability requirements are forcing it to ban the use of open source software in building a criminal records management system.

The explicit ban of software available under an open source licence is one of the requirements made by the ministry in the tender, which was published on 2 July. MAI is requesting an ‘Information System of Romanian Criminal Records (Rocris)’, for a budget equivalent to €2.85 million.

On page 64 of the ‘Specifications’, the ministry writes: “All versions of software that are part of the offer may not be published under a ‘free software license’ – GPL or similar.”

When asked to explain why open source software cannot be considered, the ministry replied: “Despite the fact the MAI administers GPL systems and encourages their use, for the time being all critical systems are implemented on Enterprise platforms, in order to be able to follow strict requirements for security and interoperability.”

“Because the present discussion is about implementing a critical national IT system, and given the necessity to remain interoperable with the other internal MAI and European IT systems, the new system must implement specific security requirements.”

This sounds like a cop-out to us… yet again (news passim).

For further reading, see the original OSOR post.

Copenhagen’s hospitals drop Microsoft Office in favour of LibreOffice

According to Computerworld Denmark, hospitals in Denmark’s Copenhagen region are switching from Microsoft Office to the open source LibreOffice suite. The switch will involve some 25,000 desktops.

Savings costs in the first year are estimated at DK 40 mn., equivalent to 5.3 mn. EUR or some £5 mn.

In addition to the costs savings, the greater speed of bug fixes with open source software are an additional reason for the switch. “There are several advantages of open source. Besides the financial incentive, we also find that the open source community is in many instances faster than proprietary vendors in fixing bugs,” says hospitals spokesman Vivian Thomas.

Once again, such a development further reinforces the UK’s position as an entrenched bastion of proprietary software in a sea of open source change in most of our EU partners. 🙁

Read the original Danish article.

Happy 30th birthday, PC

Yesterday, 12th August, marked the 30th anniversary of the birth of the personal computer (PC). On 12th August 1981, IBM announced the launch of its 5150, subsequently called the IBM PC.

IBM 5150
The IBM 5150 - 30 years old yesterday.

The 5150 was originally released with a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 CPU, 16 KB of RAM, 2 x 5¼ floppy drives and a 80 x 24 green on black display CRT. It’s also the machine upon which your correspondent learnt word processing using the long defunct Volkswriter.

As far as technology goes, the personal computer has had a good run for the last 3 decades, although The Register reports that, according to Mark Dean – one of the team responsible for the original PC – its days are now numbered.

For those that think the PC still has some life left, it only seems appropriate to mention that Bristol Wireless still has refurbished PCs for sale, albeit slightly more modern than the one shown above. 🙂

Bristol City Council & Computacenter – more details emerge

Bristol City Council logoYesterday we reported on the troubled history of Bristol City Council’s troubled efforts to implement its open source strategy with the ‘assistance’ of Computacenter, one of the country’s largest suppliers of proprietary Microsoft products (news passim).

Today Mark Ballard of Computer Weekly has published a new post on the affair, which highlights, inter alia, the shabby treatment by Computacenter of Sirius, one of the UK’s leading open source suppliers, as well as providing details of events preceding the involvement of Computacenter.

The post opens with some damning statements, as follows:

Bristol City Council’s failure to deliver on its open source strategy is beginning to make the coalition government’s manifesto commitment on open source look incontinent.

The council’s own open source strategy is looking ineffectual. Bristol Council cabinet committed to an open source infrastructure a year ago – as long as it was doable. It ordered a pilot but that was discredited by an allegation that it had been fixed. Now the council has refused to release the suspect pilot reports under Freedom of Information, it is time to look at those allegations in full.

Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius, told MPs in May how, left to establishment suppliers Capgemini and Computacenter, the open source strategy got caught in a thicket of indifference and vested interests.

We recommend you read the post in full to find out how the major IT suppliers to the public sector fix things to ensure the cash you pay in local and central government taxes end up in their pockets and Microsoft’s coffers in spite of the existence of cheaper, equivalent (or better! Ed.) open source alternatives.

Girl Geeks vs Wikimeet in Bristol next week

Some weeks ago we gave advance notice of the forthcoming Bristol Girl Geek Dinners and Wikipedia event on Thursday 18th August (news passim).

Further details have now emerged. It’s being held at the Merchant Venturers Building, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UB (map) and starts at 7.00 pm.

The main aim of the event is – as was outlined in Jimmy Wales’ Bristol talk in January (news passim) – to attempt to address the woeful gender imbalance in Wikipedia contributors (87% male, a mere 13% female).

Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but it takes a bit of practice and understanding of the basic protocols and principles to get started. A Wikimeet is a general gathering of Wiki geeks who like to get together and chat informally about Wiki things, so Bristol Girl Geeks decided to combine forces and put on this event to enlighten, inform and inspire more women to become involved.

As usual, men are welcome to the event as long as they are invited by one of the female participants (your ‘umble scribe has received an invitation and will report back in due course. Ed.). Bristol Girl Geeks also want to invite non-geeky females who might simply be interested in editing or writing for Wikipedia – so if you know one of those please bring her along! Wikipedia are providing a buffet and a Wikipedia cake!

To quote from the event publicity:

Fiona Apps
Fiona Apps, guest speaker at Bristol GGD #8

Our speaker is the trailblazing female Wikipedian Fiona Apps; Fiona is an administrator on the English Wikipedia and a member of Wikimedia’s Volunteer Response Team. She first began editing in 2007, fixing spelling errors and adding small trivia to articles, but now works with articles that appear on the front page. She has also assisted Wikimedia, the charity behind Wikipedia, with their 2010 fundraiser; connecting with users and the public through social media. When not improving Wikipedia online, she helps with University Outreach for Wikimedia UK and has helped to create the first Wikipedia Society at Imperial College, London. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College in New York and is currently building her writing career.

Please bring your laptops to the event as we will be holding a hands-on Wikipedia editing session as part of the evening – with lots of Wikipedians on hand to help.

The event is free. Please register before Wednesday 17th of August.

Brazilian government to contribute to OpenOffice and LibreOffice development

OSOR reports that the Brazilian Government signed a letter of intent last month to work with both The Document Foundation and the Apache community to develop the office suites maintained by both communities.

OpenOffice logoThe letter states that the Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) standard is already a guarantee of interoperability within the Government. As Brazil is one of the biggest users of both LibreOffice and OpenOffice, with an estimated million public computers running the free/open source office suites, the Government aims to make its contribution to the projects more effective.

The letter (ODT, English) was signed during the International Free Software Forum (FISL) in Porto Alegre, Brazil by Marcos Mazoni of the Brazilian Government’s Free Software Implementation Committee (CISL), Sady Jacques for, Jomar Silva for the Apache community and Oliver Hallor for the LibreOffice community.

Simon Phipps, Open Source Initiative (OSI) board member and co-presenter of a session about the at the FISL event, welcomed the announcement on his blog: “This growth in the developer base seems to be exactly the sort of news we all need at the moment.”

Computacenter gags Bristol City Council over open source report

Bristol City Council logoIn recent weeks we’ve reported several times on developments at Bristol City Council (news passim), but it seems the software wars between open source and proprietary are still going on down the Counts Louse.

Computer Weekly now reports that systems integrator Computacenter has prevented Bristol City Council from publishing details of a consulting project that has been overshadowed by allegations of anti-open source bias concerning the choice of infrastructure to support the council’s 7,000 PCs and the allocation of more than £8m of public money.

Computer Weekly had requested details about the pilot project under the Freedom of Information Act, but was informed by Stephen McNamara, the Council’s head of legal services, that Computacenter had refused to give the council permission to release the information.

Needless to say, this has caused a great deal of consternation online. Some commentators have wondered why the report cannot be released to the public as public money has paid for it (let’s face it, a report into the deployment of open source software in an English local authority is hardly a matter of national security. Ed.), whilst the reaction of Glyn Moody, the well-respected IT author and journalist, on Twitter pulled no punches:

shame on #computacenter – if they have something to hide, they should clearly be banned from future public contracts

Read the original Computer Weekly report.

Update: midday 11/08/11: Since this post was published first thing this morning, Glyn Moody has now expanded his tweet above into a full-length post on Computer World UK entitled ‘Why Does Computacenter Fear Openness?’. Glyn’s piece highlights the difference between Computacenter’s attitude as outlined above and the words of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude at a press conference on open data at the end of last year:

I want the public hold us to account for what we do and, by publishing this data today, taxpayers will be able to see exactly how we spend their money. This will not always be easy but we expect the public to hold our feet to the fire and make sure that not a penny of their money is wasted.

Raspberry Pi – the $25 Linux box – enters alpha production

According to the Raspberry Pi blog, the alpha boards for this ARM-chipped Linux device are now in production.

This board is intended to be identical to the final device, with the resulting units being used to validate the schematic design and serving as Raspberry Pi’s interim software development platform.

Key differences between the alpha and final boards are:

  • The alpha board is roughly 20% larger than the credit-card-sized final board. As you can see, our size is already dominated by the area of the various connectors.
  • The alpha board has six layers rather than four and uses a variety of expensive HDI features (blind and buried vias, via-in-pad) which Raspberry Pi wishes to eliminate from the final board.
  • The alpha board has various test and debug features which will not be present on the final board.

The ICs used in the design are an ARM-based application processor (centre) and an SMSC LAN9512 USB 2.0 hub and 10/100 Ethernet controller (right and down from centre). The SDRAM is mounted on top of the application processor in a PoP configuration.

Following the example of the BBC Micro, Raspberry Pi intends to launch both a Model A device (lacking the LAN9512 and with 128MB of RAM) at $25 and a Model B device (including the LAN9512, and with 256MB of RAM) for an additional $5-10. These models should be available before the end of 2011.

LTSP in Notts

This weekend the Bristol Wireless mobile LTSP suite made a trip to the Woodcraft Folk’s International Co-operation Camp in Nottinghamshire (news passim).

Luckily our friend Sean was on hand to provide documentary evidence once it had been set up in the site’s shooting range and was in use (fortunately with no firearms in use. Ed.)

Bristol Wireless mobile LTSP suite at the Woodcraft Folk Co-operation Camp. Picture courtesy of Sean Kenny

The laptops used for building the suite came from Bristol’s Cotham School, so many thanks are due to them for their generosity. 🙂

Happy sysadmin day

Yes, you did read that correctly; today, Friday 29th July is System Administrator Appreciation Day, the 12th since its inception.

For 364 days of the year sysadmins toil away unappreciated, their arcane skills only really being noticed when a problem needs sorting out (and nobody can do any work at all until the sysadmin’s done her or his stuff). And we all rely on them these days – some too much, as is evident from the Description section of the relevant sysadmin man page:

sysadmin takes care of everything, is generally harangued, must be supplied with coffee, chocolate, and alcohol in order to function properly, cannot be exposed to direct sunlight and must not be allowed to have a life.

If you think you are a sysadmin, you might like to try this little Sysadmin Purity Test (a mere 555 questions).

As I write our own admins here are busy preparing a mobile LTSP suite for a jaunt to Walesby in Nottinghamshire for the Woodcraft Folk annual gathering. In our case this involves tweaking the LTSP server configuration in a final fine-tuning before it goes on its way in an hour or so’s time.

So thank you sysadmins everywhere. It’s nearly beer o’clock and I’ll buy you a drink in gratitude for your services… if you happen to be at my watering hole at the time.

France Telecom pulls down shutters on Minitel

France Telecom is planning to shut down its Minitel service on 30th June 2012.

Minitel1 terminal. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Minitel is a Videotex online service accessible through the telephone lines, and is considered one of the world’s most successful pre-World Wide Web online services. It was started in 1982 by PTT, the publicly-owned forerunner of France Telecom. At the time of its launch the internet as we know it today was still basically available only to researchers and US defence organizations. However in la belle France Minitel users could use the terminals to gain access to telephone directories, order train or airline tickets, participate in message boards, get weather forecasts, order goods by mail-order and process banking transactions.

CiviCon comes to London

logo for Civicon London 2011Our friend Sean Kenny of Circle Interactive has contacted us today to let us know that CiviCon London is taking place on Monday August 22nd at SkillsMatter, 116-120 Goswell Road, London, EC1V 7DP (map). CiviCon is the international meeting of CiviCRM users, implementers and developers to share knowledge, experience and to discuss the future of the project.

The Civicon programme is still being worked out. A number of sessions have already been proposed, but there is still plenty of space for attendees to make their own suggestions.

Sessions will be 1 hour long but do not have to be any particular format. If people want to bring a laptop with slides or a demonstration, there will be projectors and a wifi connection available at the venue.

Register here for Civicon London.

More details are available on CiviCRM’s dedicated CiviCon London content.

Indian company launches solar-powered Linux desktop

Here at Bristol Wireless we’re keen advocates on green ICT and have many times experienced the delights of providing off-mains event ICT powered by renewables (news passim), so were overjoyed to hear of a recent development in India.

India’s Simmtronics Semiconductors recently announced the launch of a solar-powered desktop. What’s more, it’s running Linux, making it doubly pleasing.

The PC itself PC uses a Via C7 1.6GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD and comes with a 15.6-inch LED monitor.

Power is provided by a 74W solar panel and battery combination which is not only able to power the machine, but also store enough charge for the computer to run for three to four days without sunlight, meaning it can be used all year round and making it suitable for deployment in places with no electricity supply that would otherwise be on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The price for the PC and solar power pack (photovoltaics and battery) is Rs 29,999, currently equivalent to some £415.

Microsoft sends birthday video greetings to Linux

Earlier this year we reported that Linux is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year (news passim).

As part of the celebrations, the Linux Foundation invited video submissions to mark this milestone.

A birthday greetings video from Microsoft has now been received by the Foundation.

We hope you enjoy this submission from the ‘Beast of Redmond’ (even if the font used in the video looks suspiciously like Comic Sans. Ed.). 🙂

Coming soon – Arduino workshop

Our friends at Bristol Hackspace are organising a beginners’ Arduino programming workshop on Saturday and Sunday 30th/31st July 2011 at the Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio (map).

Arduino Rhythm Solenoids

By the end of the weekend participants should be able to:

  • Make LEDs light up in different colours and patterns;
  • Detect switches, light/dark, touch;
  • Make sounds drive motors and other mechanical devices;
  • Communicate between a computer and the Arduino;
  • Control lots of lights and make complex sounds.

Cost is £50 or £95 if you want an Arduino kit to keep after the course is over. Concessions are available on a case by case basis; if you would like one, then make an offer and say what great projects you’re going to get up to when you know how to program Arduinos 🙂

Register at Eventbrite.

For more details, please contact: matt (at)

Clear road ahead built on solid foundations with Linux

Question: when talking about Linux recently, who said the following?

“Linux gives us the flexibility and technology maturity we require to evolve… and… to address the expectations of our customers.”

The answer: Kenichi Murata, a project general manager with Toyota, upon Toyota’s joining The Linux Foundation.

Murata continued: “The Linux Foundation provides us with a neutral forum in which we can collaborate with the world’s leading technology companies on open innovation that accelerates that evolution.”

Read the original Linux Insider article here.

Australian government publishes version 2 of open source guide for public sector

Version 2 of the ‘Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies’ has become available following an online public consultation on the draft document which was initiated by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), according to OSOR.

In March 2011 Glenn Archer, AGIMO first assistant secretary, requested feedback via the dedicated blog on the draft ‘Guide to Open Source Software’. The ‘Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies’ was revised and finalised following public feedback. It provides an introduction to open source software (OSS), plus background information on the risks and benefits of using, distributing and developing OSS and guidance to assist agencies understand, analyse, plan for and deploy OSS.

Changes to the guide include the following:

  • clarifying the focus of the guide;
  • providing linkages, where appropriate, between AGIMO and other government documents as well as to other OSS products;
  • highlighting the ‘Guide to ICT Sourcing and the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines’ in the document as it contains Australian Government information on procurement processes.

Some of the feedback received related to the Open Source Software Policy. The policy was released in January 2011 and it has been reproduced in the guide for ease of reading. AGIMO will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the policy and update it as appropriate.

Ann Steward, Australian Government Chief Information Officer (CIO), commented on the AGIMO blog that she was very pleased with the public input.

When is the UK going to see a similar ‘crowdsourcing’ exercise by HM government? Don’t hold your breath! 😉