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Try out Ubuntu using your browser!

Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution, has developed a web page for testing the distro, according to Le Monde Informatique. Written entirely in HTML, this page allows potential Ubuntu users to discover and work with the Unity interface, which has received hefty criticism from users of more traditional desktops.

Ubuntu's Unity desktop browser mock-up
Ubuntu's online tour in action. Click on the image for the full-sized version.

As some people are afraid of trying Linux, Canonical has found a means of allowing them to test Ubuntu without installing it. It has created a web page which can be launched in the user’s browser of choice. All one has to do is to follow the link to to be in the Unity workspace environment used by Ubuntu. The user can then navigate and click on the various icons show, launching a file browser, word processor, spreadsheet, a presentation package or messenging client. When leaving the page, visitors are asked if they would like to download the latest version of Ubuntu.

rms writes: measures governments can use to promote free software

Richard StallmanRichard Stallman (pictured), also known as rms, the originator of the free software movement, has posted an article suggesting policies for a strong and firm effort to promote free software within the state, and to lead the rest of the country towards software freedom.

Richard’s article makes some very pertinent points in respect of the state’s own use of software. Here’s one that should be read very carefully by UK central and local government bodies concerning their own use of IT:

The state needs to insist on free software in its own computing for the sake of its computational sovereignty (the state’s control over its own computing). All users deserve control over their computing, but the state has a responsibility to the people to maintain control over the computing it does on their behalf. Most government activities now depend on computing, and its control over those activities depends on its control over that computing. Losing this control in an agency whose mission is critical undermines national security.

Moving state agencies to free software can also provide secondary benefits, such as saving money and encouraging local software support businesses.

A further critical is made by rms concerning the use of software in education:

Educational activities, or at least those of state entities, must teach only free software (thus, they should never lead students to use a non-free program), and should teach the civic reasons for insisting on free software. To teach a non-free program is to teach dependence, which is contrary to the mission of the school.

On this point, we’re please to note that Education Secretary Michael Gove recently made changes to the schools ICT curriculum (news passim).

Further points of note are the use by state bodies of file formats that are free and open and that any software developed by state agencies with public money should be released as free software, as well as advice on intellectual property matters.

Since rms is probably light years ahead of most bureaucrats and politicians in his thinking, we strongly recommend they read rms’ original article in full. 🙂

Another call for the public sector to get involved in open source associations

OSI logoSimon Phipps, director of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), has joined the calls for public sector organisations using open source software to get involved in open source associations (news passim).

Speaking at the recent World Open Source Conference, Phipps is reported to have said: “It is nice to have a policy, but if you don’t join the community, you don’t have a vote.”

Phipps argues that in order to gain influence on the development of open source software, public sector organisations should maintain close ties with the relevant communities. Joining all groups that work on specific tools used by the public sector organisation itself may be too much, but they could at least join well-connected associations such as OSI.

The OSI director recommends that public sector bodies using either OpenOffice or LibreOffice or one of the other free and open source office suites should at least join the groups involved in developing them, warning that: “Otherwise, the software will not progress.”

Wise words indeed.

European campaign to measure broadband speeds

We first became aware of this campaign via a Tweet from EU Vice-President Neelie Croes:

We’re hiring! More volunteers needed to measure #EU #broadband speeds w @samknows

SamKnows WhiteboxThe European Commission and SamKnows are together aimin to provide Europe with reliable and accurate statistics of broadband performance across Europe.

They are currently recruiting volunteers who will receive a purpose-built broadband measurement unit (aka the SamKnows Whitebox – pictured) which can be plugged into the existing modem/router.

If you’re interested in taking part, you can sign up here. However, it is worth reading the requirements first.

Bristol’s Cabot Circus to introduce free wifi

glassy wifi symbolWe learn today from Bristol 24/7 that the city’s Cabot Circus shopping centre (Bristol’s out of town shopping centre at the city centre end of the M32. Ed. 😉 ) is to become the first shopping centre in the South West of England to offer free wifi to its visitors.

This is due, we are told, to the increasing number of people using smartphones to check prices online while out shopping in meatspace or asking their friends’ opinions via social media.

image of Bristol's Cabot Circus shopping centre
Bristol's Cabot Circus shopping centre. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Consequently, the management of Cabot Circus have concluded a deal for wifi provision with The Cloud to provide connectivity throughout Cabot Circus and Quakers Friars. The Cloud manage more than 6,500 wifi hotspots throughout the United Kingdom, including The Knights Templar, the monthly meeting place of the Bristol & Bath LUG.

(You can stop now; you’ve beaten the Bristol Evening Post with the story! Ed.)

France launches its open data portal –

France has released the beta version of its open government data website,, Joinup reports. aims to foster collaboration and innovation and to increase government transparency by facilitating access to and the re-use of public sector information. The portal brings together data from many public agencies, including the French institute for statistics INSEE, most government ministries and several state-owned companies (e.g. French railway company SNCF).

screenshot of French government open data site
Screenshot of French government open data site. Click on image for the full version.

Examples of the approximately 350,000 open data sets available on are a list of over 3,000 railway stations with geographical location, the geographical location of road accidents and a comprehensive list of books in Bibliothèque Nationale de France, France’s national library.

All data provided by the site may be freely used under the French Government’s Licence Ouverte/Open Licence.

Spain: Extremadura to migrate 40,000 public sector desktops to Debian

Debian logoSpain’s Publico recently reported (Spanish) that the autonomous regional government of Extremadura is planning to move all 40,000 of its desktops to Debian Linux.

In taking this step, Extremadura would be the leading Spanish public sector organisation for the use of free software, followed by Andalucia, País Valencià and Madrid.

It is hoped the migration will be completed by December this year. The swift migration will be possible because Extremadura will move to the open source desktop system that has been developed for and is currently used by the region’s public health services.

According to Extremadura’s CIO, Teodomiro Cayetano López, the Debian system will be rolled out first at the regional government’s headquarters in Mérida, followed by its offices in Badajoz and Cáceres.

Its size makes it Europe’s second largest open source desktop migration ranking it between the 90,000 of the French Gendarmerie Nationale (news passim) and the well-advanced 14,000 desktop migration plans of the German city of Munich (news passim).

Linux Desura game client released as open source Desurium

Desura game client logoUbuntu Vibes reports that the Desura game client has been open sourced. Progress on work to release the client as open source was slow as lead developer ‘lodle’ was taking a break.

However, all the necessary work has now been completed and Desura has been open sourced as Desurium, with the code available GPL v3. However, all the artwork and other assets are still owned by Desura.

Releasing the game client as open source is a great step forward and will not only improve the client itself but will also attract more developers, resulting in more games for Linux.

Next week Bath gets illuminated

Yesterday the lab was graced by a visit from Tarim of Bristol Hackspace. While he was here, Tarim told of about Illuminate Bath 2012.

Illuminate Bath 2012 imageIlluminate Bath runs from Wednesday 25th to Saturday 28th January 2012, bringing beautiful and engaging projected artworks to the city centre. Banishing the gloom of January’s long evenings, this ‘festival of light’ will include a number of original installations in public spaces, all of which will be completely free to explore.

Illuminate Bath forms part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and is organised by Bath Spa University and RELAYS (Regional Educational Legacy in Arts and Youth Sports), a London Olympics legacy project based in universities across south west England.

Tarim will be taking his interactive spotlight east to participate in Illuminate Bath. Why not pop along and say hello if you’re in the area?

Joining open source communities should be a requirement for public sector open source use

Picture of Karel De VriendtKarel De Vriendt, a recently retired European Commission official previously involved in the Commission’s policies and activities involving open source software, has recommended that public sector organisations using open source software should join the associated open source communities, or require that their IT service providers join on their behalf, Joinup reports.

Using open source does not automatically imply interoperability, nor is it a guaranteed way to avoid lock-in, warned De Vriendt last Thursday during a workshop on the public sector and open source communities, organised by the European Commission’s ISA program (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations). The workshop was part of the Open Source World Conference held in Granada, Spain.

De Vriendt stated that software lock-in and vendor lock-in infects all other parts of the infrastructure creates all kinds of legal and freedom problems.

Speaking about bespoke software specifically for the public sector, De Vriendt would like to see the public sector collaborating on, sharing and re-using this type of software: “Paying software companies many times over for the same software or almost the same software is not a good use of public money.”

The public sector and their IT service providers should set up communities around such software, optimising the use of public money and facilitating interoperability and standardisation. De Vriendt also argued that citizens should be able to check if, for example, the software made for a tax agency correctly implements the relevant legislation and software that implements legal and administrative procedures should be transparent. “Citizens should be free to study the code.”

The former EU-official warned public sector organisations to study their software contracts carefully. “Make sure the code is yours, if the software is made especially for you or is maintained by contractors.” Even when using existing open source software packages made by others, he urged them to build real ties to the communities of open source developers and not to be mere consumers, benefiting from other people’s work. The involvement in the relevant community could be one of the main criteria for selecting IT service providers when external assistance is needed to introduce, adapt or support software packages.

Bristol’s Trinity Community Arts joins SOPA & PIPA protest

Our friends at Trinity Community Arts today joined in with the protest being staged in the USA against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) (news passim).

Trinity supported the protest by adding the pop-up in the screenshot below, thus blocking access to their site.

screenshot of Bristol's Trinity Community Arts protest against SOPA
Bristol's Trinity Community Arts protests against SOPA. Click on the image for the full size version.

The text on the pop-up reads:

Imagine a world without free knowledge

The US government are currently considering legislation (SOPA/PIPA) that will give them almost absolute power over the internet and its content.

Already UK citizens can be extradited to the US for activities that are not illegal in the UK, because the US controls some of the technical infrastructure of the internet.

Today we are joining thousands of websites across the internet that are going on strike to protest against unwarranted US government control of the internet, and to raise awareness around this issue.

You can find out more here or here, or by checking out Wikipedia



SOPA & PIPA – the evil twins?

In the USA thousands of websites are currently involved in a protest against 2 bills known as SOPA and PIPA by blacking out their websites for 24 hours starting at midnight (local time) on 18th January 2012. A screenshot of Wikipedia’s blacked out site is shown below.

Wikipedia's blacked out website in protest against SOPA & PIPA
Wikipedia's blacked out website in protest against SOPA & PIPA. Click on the image for the full-sized version

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) ( What does violent crime on the high seas – aka piracy – have to do with copyright infringement? I think we should be told. Ed), also known as House Bill 3261 or H.R. 3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on 26th October 26, 2011, by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar S. Smith, a Republican from Texas, and a bi-partisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors. If made law, would allegedly increase the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. The Bill’s proponents claim it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against non-U.S. websites. It would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites and requiring ISPs to block access to such sites. Moreover, it would make unauthorised streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. Opponents of the Bill include such internet big guns as Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, LinkedIn, eBay, the Mozilla Corporation, Roblox, Reddit, the Wikimedia Foundation and human rights organisations such as Reporters Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU and Human Rights Watch.

The PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 or PIPA), also known as Senate Bill 968 or S. 968, is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the U.S. government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. (PIPA sounds remarkably similar in its scope and aims to SOPA. Have legislators on the other side of the Atlantic ever heard of “duplication of effort”? Ed.)

SOPA and PIPA are both badly drafted legislative bills that will be ineffective in achieving their stated goal (i.e. stopping copyright infringement) and will cause serious harm to a free and open internet. They put the burden on website owners to police material contributed by their users and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Another concern is that big U.S. media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. Finally, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

As such, both bills sound remarkably similar to the UK’s Digital Economy Act (news passim). This was passed with very little debate in the ‘wash-up’ prior to the 2010 General Election. The Digital Economy Act’s impetus is believed to have stemmed from a holiday spent by the then Culture Secretary Peter Mandelson on the yacht of U.S. media mogul David Geffen. The Digital Economy Act, like SOPA and PIPA, introduced draconian copyright protection/infringement measures in the interests of big media companies.

Another similarity between the US and UK legislatures, besides their tendency for draconian measures, is their total lack of comprehension of modern technology. Those that make the laws just don’t “get” modern technology in general and the internet in particular. A recent comment seen by your correspondent encapsulated this ignorance perfectly, suggesting that legislators should not be allowed to interfere with the internet until they fully understand the workings of DNS.

The internet has been a fact of life for some 2 decades now. That means big content – the major film, music and entertainment companies – have had 20 years to adapt and evolve their business model to take account of a new distribution opportunity presented by the internet. Have they done so? Not really. The dinosaurs became extinct due to their inability to adapt to a changed environment. However, unlike today’s dinosaurs, there were no friendly legislators for Tyrannosaurus Rex and his mates to lobby to seek protection from oblivion.

Computer classes at Kebele

keyboardOur friends at Easton’s Kebele Community Cooperative have asked us to let our readers know that they’re running a computer class starting this Friday 20th January 2012 from 6 pm to 7 pm in the Kebele Library (map).

According to the Kebele website, the tuition comprises:

Basic computer information and getting to know some of the nifty things your box of tricks can do. From managing documents and photos to emails and video calls and from creating spreadsheets and backing up data to trouble shooting and virus prevention, this class will help you lose the fear of the machine!

And now here’s the best bit: the class will be conducted on Linux machines! 🙂

Hat tip: Radio Kebele

Ben NanoNote – small is beautiful

Courtesy of OMG Ubuntu and OpenSure, news reaches the lab of the Ben NanoNote, the world’s smallest Linux laptop.

Small but perfectly formed - and it runs Linux

From manufacturers Qi Hardware, we learn that the NanoNote “is an ultra small form factor computing device. The device sports a 336 MHz processor, 2GB of flash memory, microSD slot, head phone jack, USB device and 850mAh Li-ion battery. It boots Linux out of the box and also boots over USB. It’s targeted squarely at developers who see the promise of open hardware and want to roll their own end user experience. It’s the perfect companion for open content.

It sounds great fun. Are they available yet in the UK?

Education round-up

Tux graduateIt’s not very often we look at education on this blog in spite of our previous involvements with LTSP (news passim) and open source use petitions (news passim), but the past couple of days have provided a couple of interesting stories that deserve examination.

Firstly, The Guardian has launched a digital literacy campaign. Whilst the main focus is on IT teaching in schools, its poor quality and the rumoured almost total emphasis of teaching on how to use one proprietary office suite to the exclusion of almost everything else, the paper’s campaign also points out that industry and employers are facing a shortage of workers with programming skills, fuelled by poor-quality training courses in universities and colleges.

We realised a few years ago from our involvements with matters ICT and academic that schools represent a goldmine for both software and hardware suppliers. On Sunday, the BBC’s education news carried a piece entitled “Schools kit scam ‘could cost schools millions’“. This report highlighted an investigation carried out by BBC Radio 5 Live investigation which discovered that schools across the UK are being charged up to 10 times too much for laptops and other IT equipment through mis-sold lease agreements with schools being chased for payment for hardware they initially believed was free. The worst case found by the investigators was Glemsford Primary in Suffolk, which now owes an estimated £500,000 to Clydesdale Bank after leasing equipment with a value of approximately £700,000.

What we cannot understand is why schools don’t try using LTSP and thin clients. There’s only one machine to go wrong and it would also fit in nicely with the green ethics which schools instil in their charges nowadays. See our dedicated LTSP page for details.

Update 11/01/12: Just one day after the original post was written, Education Secretary Michael Gove announces major changes to school ICT classes. In essence, the education secretary will say in a speech today that the existing curriculum in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has left children “bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers”.

He will instead create an “open source” (Is this an abuse of the term “open source”? Ed.) curriculum in computer science by giving schools the freedom to use teaching resources designed with input from leading employers and academics, in changes that will come into effect this September.

Read about Mr Gove’s proposed changes to school ICT in The Guardian.

Open document standards mandatory in Hungarian public sector

ODF logoOn 23 December government ministers agreed that, by default, the Hungarian public sector will use open document standards for their electronic documents, as of April 2012. In December 2011 Hungary’s government also decided to cancel the funding of proprietary office suite licences for all schools (if only the UK government would – or could – do likewise! Ed.).

According to Joinup, the ministers’ decision on open standards instructs public sector organisations to save their documents, spreadsheets and presentations only in standard formats that are accepted by international standard organisations (that means ODF. Ed.). Public sector organisations are also required to be able to receive and handle documents sent to them in an open standard format and all official documents must be made available in such a format too.

Except for the Defence Ministry, all government ministries must complete the transition to open standards before the end of March, according to the IT news site HWSW (Magyar). Vilmos Vályi-Nagy, Deputy State Secretary of IT, quoted by IT news site IT Café (Magyar), explained that the institutions had been told of the decision months before and that many were already preparing for the changes.

The Hungarian government is now recommending that public sector organisations switch to using open source office suites, such as LibreOffice or OpenOffice.

In December the government also decided not to renew a proprietary office software licence deal for all of the country’s schools. The current proprietary licence contract will run out on 1 March. The Ministry of Education states this measure is intended to boost competition in this area. “The ministry is convinced that the needs of the educational institutions can be satisfied by using free and open source software.”

Cancelling the funding of proprietary office licences had been discussed by the government when the contract ran out in March 2011. At that time the ministry decided to extend the licence deal for one more year.

30 years young: the Commodore 64

We learn from the pages of El Reg that the Commodore 64 was launched 30 years ago this week.

The Commodore 64 was an 8-bit home computer produced by the now defunct manufacturer Commodore International that made its debut at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in January 1982. Volume production of the Commodore 64 started in the spring 1982, with machines being released on the market in August of that year at a price of US $595. It was first marketed in the UK in autumn that year.

Commodore 64C system with 1541-II floppy drive and 1084S RGB monitor. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

During its lifetime, sales of the C64 totalled between 12.5 and 17 million units, making it the best-selling single personal computer model of all time. In addition, over 10,000 commercial software titles were made for the Commodore 64 including development tools, office productivity applications and games.

So if you still have some festive cheer liquid left, why not raise a glass and wish this venerable device many happy returns. 🙂

An interesting New Year’s resolution from the EFF: use more crypto!

It’s that time of year when good intentions abound in the form of New Year resolutions.

One of the most intriguing (don’t you mean nerdy? Ed.) that has come to light comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in the USA, which calls upon readers to use full disk encryption on every computer they own.

To quote briefly from the article:

The New Year is upon us, and you might be partaking in the tradition of making a resolution for the coming year. This year, why not make a resolution to protect your data privacy with one of the most powerful tools available? Commit to full disk encryption on each of your computers.

Many of us now have private information on our computers: personal records, business data, e-mails, web history, or information we have about our friends, family, or colleagues. Encryption is a great way to ensure that your data will remain safe when you travel or if your laptop is lost or stolen. Best of all, it’s free. So don’t put off taking security steps that can help protect your private data. Join EFF in resolving to encrypt your disks 2012.

Sounds plausible and worthwhile, doesn’t it? Read the original EFF post in full.