Thursday, April 23, 2009

Open source up; locked in down

I was recently passed this really interesting survey Forrester Consulting has carried out. It found that 81% of enterprises have already deployed open source desktop/productivity software or are planning to with 12 months.
See the full report here.

Another report caught my eye, this one noting:
  • More than 72 percent of those surveyed are either actively evaluating or have already decided to increase their adoption of Linux on the server in 2009, with more than 68 percent making the same claim for the desktop;
  • The recession is forcing many IT buyers to re-evaluate purchasing strategies in order to save costs, with open source increasingly getting the nod. IDC found that the recession is driving even more adoption of Linux, and new Forrester data suggests that cost savings will help open source well beyond Linux."
See the full report here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Koha and SCIS

Funny how things work: at almost the same time as Mason James finished work on our Koha/SCIS integration, I noticed this on the website:

In a boon to Australian and New Zealand schools considering the Koha open source integrated library management system, CALYX information essentials recently demonstrated the seamless upload of bibliographic records from SCIS to Koha.

...which is preciesly what Mason has just done for us. Great minds think alike I guess. The Calyx site also has a great explanation of why Koha is such a create ILS:

Why Koha?

Koha is a full featured integrated library system (ILS). In use worldwide in libraries of all sizes, Koha is a true enterprise-class ILS with comprehensive functionality including basic or advanced options. Koha includes modules for circulation, cataloguing, acquisitions, serials, reserves, patron management, branch relationships, and more. For a comprehensive overview of features visit the Koha feature map.


  • Friendly and intuitive web-based catalogue searching
  • Accessible from any web enabled computer
  • Powerful self-service tools for patrons
  • Circulation, borrower and fees management
  • Acquisitions, cataloguing, authority control, serials
  • Koha 3.0 is OAI-PMH compatible
  • FRBR-style results display
  • True n-tier architecture
  • Granular permissions in the administration module
  • Branch flexibility and control
  • Easily create records from scratch or download records from free sources
  • Customize record types and locations to match your needs
  • Web-based search engine integrates with your existing intranet
  • Can easily integrate with existing member’s database
  • Manage digital objects
  • Reading-level, abstracts, thumbnail cover images
  • Full utilization of record metadata
  • Incorporate digital resources directly into the catalog results
  • Integrated federated searches for databases and other external resources
  • Library standards compliance (MARC, Z39.50)
  • A powerful full-featured search engine
  • Scalability from a thousand to tens of millions of records
  • Multiple record formats (MARC, XML, etc.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Return on Investment has a great calculator for assessing the investment made into open source projects. It takes a project and analyses its code, then works out how much it would cost to pay a developer (at $55,000k/yr) to produce an equivalent project. Some of the projects took even me by surprise: got a spare US$150m? You could commission an Office suite. If your fortunes have waned a little in the recessionary times and you only US$15m sitting round, you can buy yourself a graphic manipulation project similar to Photoshop. It makes Firefox seem like a bargain at only US$840,000!!
Some of my other favourite projects are listed below:

Open Office:




However you look at it, these numbers are a ringing endorsement of the open source model. Individuals, groups and organisations contributing a few hours (or dollars) here and there can pull together teams that dwarf most software development companies, simply by harnessing the power of community. But the great thing is that for the end user, it's all free.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Open Source School in print

We've just been featured in an article in the Education Gazette, the most widely read school publication in New Zealand. This is really exciting for us, because from the outset we've wanted to spread the word about how good Open Source software is and what is possible with it. Here's an extract from the article:

"We wanted to offer our students a wide range of powerful tools without being crippled by excessive software licencing costs. To provide the range of software tools we wanted, we would need to pay several thousand dollars per computer, which would be on top of the purchase price of the hardware. We also value openness, transparency, and the learning community, but compelling potential collaborators to purchase software before they could work with us seemed to run contrary to our values. With proprietary software, information is locked up inside a case (or file format). Others must have the right application in order to unlock that file and decipher the information it contains. It's not open, not transparent and not egalitarian. If the information is contained in a Photoshop document, it costs the other person $1200 for the privilege of unlocking that document and to begin collaborating with me."

The full article is available online here.

Library 2.0, tagging and the Tenenbaums

I've got a good sized DVD collection. My top 5 DVDs change all the time but there are a few with which I couldn't live without: The Royal Tenenbaums, Citizen Kane, Rushmore. My collection stretches to about 80 carefully selected items, all arranged alphabetically by title -a bit obsessive I know, but I used to work in a library. Alphabetically by title makes perfect sense to me, but depending on who you are, you might nit like my method of cataloging items- you might choose to group actors together, or use genre, or Director, or... or...
My point is that any system of organising things only works if it makes sense to you. Which is where tagging comes in. Using tags is a good way of letting users bring their own method or organisation to a collection of items: they can label things with their own keywords. These keywords can be gathered together across all users and displayed in the form of a cloud.
Our library management system Koha allows patrons to add their own tags to items from either the search results or details page. It's true library 2.0 but it has the benefit of allowing patrons to use a taxonomy or a folksonomy.

Gimp is great but I wish they'd change the name

Manipulated graphic images are so ubiquitous these days. Photoshop has played such a role in popularising this kind of artform that it has even managed to become synonymous with it. At ASHS we wanted our students to learn how to create these kinds of images, but we didn't want to pay tens of thousands of dollars, and nor did we want to only allow a privileged few to develop these skills. Enter GIMP. Gimp can do just about everything Photoshop can do: resizing and cropping photos, altering colors, combining multiple images, removing unwanted image components, and converting between different image formats, but it's open source and it's free.
So this is GIMP: great App; pity about the name:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Let me tell you about our school

Albany Senior High School (ASHS) opened on February 3 2009 with 242 year 11 students. It's NZ's first state-funded senior high school and has some rather cool features. As you may have seen, we're an open-source school, but we also have flexible learning communities (no shoebox classrooms here), and a curriculum for the 21st century that includes student-directed, project-based learning and dedicated tutorial time. Our permanent campus site is a flurry of activity as our building (below) is constructed, ready for us to move into in February 2009.

New features in Ubuntu 9

At Albany Senior High School, we've got 100 student desktop and 24 staff laptop computers running Ubuntu Linux. So when I saw that v9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) was only 8 days away I had a good look at the new features. The cloud computing and turnkey mail server look quite good, and the support for external monitors looks useful as well. It feels pretty good to know that while I'm sitting on my chuff these fantastic developers are beavering away producing new features for me to use without sending me the bill.
But which new features deserve to see the light of day? If you swing by you can see some of these new features and even participate in their development. Community members propose new features and other community member vote them either up or down. Crowdsourcing the selection process means you tap into a committed developer community full of great ideas. And somehow I trust the community to come up with better ideas than a focus group or a group of coders sitting around a table with a kushball. Swing by the brainstorm and vote for a few ideas. You never know- they may turn up in the next release!

Koha and 5 star ratings

Our developer Mason James has just finished a prototype for a 5-star rating system for our Koha installation. At the moment it's only available on the testing site but it's looking really good. Patrons can log in, search for an item, rate it (on the search results or details page) and share those ratings with others.
I'm thinking that if we can get students to log in to rate an item, we're close to getting them to log in and write reviews, renew books, tag items etc. There's also a deeper goal here: if students see other students rating and making reading recommendations, it's the ultimate way to create a culture that promotes literacy and reading.

Edit: this feature is being contributed to Koha 3.2 along with our reading recommendation engine.