Friday, December 3, 2010

NZ Open Source Awards

We had some great news last month: our school picked up the award for the best open source project in education at the NZ Open Source Awards. It was a real honour to accept the award on behalf of everyone who has been part of the project.

My keynote address from the awards ceremony has been getting a bit of press at the moment so I thought I would link to the video of the speech so others can hear it for themselves:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Google Demo Slam

Here are a few cool videos. Google has set up the 'Demo Slam' to try to encourage people to share what their technology is capable of. Take something interesting your phone or browser can do, make an interesting video and try to beat others.
Fooling Google Goggles into thinking your head is Mt Rushmore:

..and playing Chubby Bunny with Google Voice search and marshmallows:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sintel: a tale of dragons and freedom

I've just downloaded and watched a copy of the animated short film Sintel. It's a cool little story with an even cooler back-story: it was made by the Durian Open Movie Project using open source 3D modelling application Blender 3D. There's a YouTube copy below, but if you can, download an HD version (legally) using BitTorrent; put it through a good stereo (or plug in your headphones) and enjoy. It's 3D animation like you have never seen before. Best of all, it's released under a Creative Commons licence, so feel free to share it with your friends.
BitTorrent downloads here:

Sintel - Third Open Movie by Blender Foundation

Friday, October 29, 2010

Great interview with the creator of Moodle

The original designer of Moodle. He's a genius.

"When designing Moodle, I wanted a set of values that could act as a compass:

  • everyone should be a teacher as well as a learner
  • if you understand the context of a person, you are able to teach them better.
  • a learning environment should be flexible; as you learn more about the people in it, you're able to change it
  • learn by doing and constructing and learn by engagement"

It's so refreshing to hear such solid learning theory from a software developer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Starting over

I'm in Christchurch for the ULearn10 conference, and if you haven't heard about it, this region of New Zealand suffered a serious earthquake a month ago. The damage was severe, with a large number of buildings being demolished. It was really heartening to hear that one response to this catastrophic event has been the convening of a group of architects getting together to make the most of the new opportunities
It got me thinking about the Global Financial Crisis and what we as educators are doing in response to this catastrophic event. The budget cuts are pretty severe across the board and one thing is clear: we couldn't afford our e-learning spending before the GFC, and we can certainly afford it less now. Here's the problem we have: we want our students to have better, faster, more powerful software and systems, and there's less and less money to buy them. So what will we do about it? We either give up on the dream or we do things differently. What are you doing differently?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

ULearn 2010 kicks off

I'm in Christchurch for Ulearn10, catching up with a lot of people and having my brain stretched in new and interesting ways. Here's a pic from the opening keynote showing how wonderfully diverse the audience is. Can you see the three screens in this shot? There's Ubuntu Linux, Windows XP and iOS on an iPad. (Size is relative to level of coolness ;-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Another open source school

Here's a great story: The Open High School of Utah. Not only do they using open source software, they also use open courseware. All of their courses are released as Moodle packages under a creative commons licence at the end of each year, covering both sides of the free tools and free content equation. One of the drivers behind this project is David Wiley whose TEDx talk is inspirational. One of the teachers at this school says "I can't imagine going back to copyrighted material after using open source". I know what she means.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Free software for kids

I've just been talking to an educator in the United States about free software for younger primary/elementary aged students. I fired off this list of projects that others might find useful:
  • A project to develop free software for younger children. Office suite, paint programme, learning the alphabet, quizzes and games, story writing and animations etc.
  • Sugar is the operating system that has emerged out of Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child program. It's free software and runs really well on old/low spec computers. Two notable things about it: i) a graphical operating system designed around the needs of young learners and learners with low levels of literacy (you can learn the fundamentals of computer programming without being able to read for instance), and ii) the applications are called 'activities' and are designed for students to play with. There is a huge range of software available.
  • A version of Ubuntu aimed specifically for schools.
  • Open Office for kids.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cool tricks with Openshot video

I've known about Openshotvideo for a while, but for some reason, I hadn't really put it through its paces. I don't know why, but I didn't think it was very full featured. How wrong I was!!! I spent a couple of hours in the weekend playing with Openshot and found it very intuitive and full-featured: titles, effects, transitions, even chroma keying is easy to use straight out of the box. I've put the video below together from footage of my little son William. Note the 'four square' layout that allows picture in picture. I'd love to say that was really difficult and beginners shouldn't really try it, but actually, all you have to do is right click on a clip and choose 'top left' or 'bottom right'. Easy as pie. Something I didn't put into this video was animations; if you want a clip to slide across the screen and out the other side, there's a preset for that too. Clips zooming in and out? One click. In fact, the only thing lacking from Openshotvideo is support for free video codecs (ogv in particular). It was a bit of a shame that using open software, my own footage and Creative Commons licenced music, I had to export to a proprietary video format. But hey, I'm not complaining: Openshot video is my new best friend.

William aged 1-6 mths from Mark Osborne on Vimeo.

...and sometimes good teaching doesn't need much technology

A wonderful video about how inspiring teachers can change young lives:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Exciting Mahara news

Out this week from the Mahara community: two new features that should prove extremely popular with e-portfolio users:
  • Collections: a handy way of grouping a number of pages together and providing a way of navigating through them. Think of having three separate pages for the different phases of a project: proposal, progress and product. Or of having a different view for each subject you are learning. Collections are also a way to give the same access to a number of views at once.
  • Plans: "Plans are essentially task lists that allow you to formulate a goal (the plan) and spell out the individual steps (the tasks) you need to take – optionally by a certain date – to reach your goal."
Both of these features our school could start using tomorrow- really exciting news. Well done the Mahara community, and thanks to Birmingham City University for sponsoring the work.

Friday, August 13, 2010

...and now Oracle's doing it.

News today that Oracle is suing Google over its use of Java in the Android operating system. Possibly something to do with the fact that Google has surpassed Apple in phone os market share. You might have guessed that I'm pretty cynical about this: software patents are simply another revenue stream.
The interweb's running hot with some pretty angry anti-Oracle feeling at the moment...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Apple patents the work of others

A cautionary tale: Ortwin Gentz is a software developer whose company Futuretap has been extremely successful building apps for iPhone and iPad. Imagine Ortwin's surprise when he discovered that the company that has allowed him to earn a living has actually patented part of his work. A screenshot of Ortwin's 'Whereto' app actually features in Apple's patent claim.

It strikes me that there are two bad things here: i) software patents in themselves, and ii) any one company controlling a lot of the technology we use. If this were ever to happen on the Android platform, consumers would be free to go elsewhere. Not so with Apple.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Big Blue Button- free webinar platform

Hat tip to Don Christie for bringing this to my attention:
The big blue button is a collection of 14 different open source tools that allow teachers and learners to collaborate in online classes. It features video and audio conferencing, application sharing and chat. From what I've seen, it's absolutely amazing. I'll get some of our students to install it so we can have a play.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The iPad launches today in NZ

This just in: Apple unveils a new feature in its stores: The Friend Bar.

New Apple Friend Bar Gives Customers Someone To Talk At About Mac Products

While a lot of people are buzzing about this device being the next big thing, I'm a bit more hesitant. As Tim Lee says, moving to more of a closed, locked down operating system, seems to go against the current trends in computing. (RMS calls it the iBad).
I still prefer the Dell Streak for the fact that it runs Android.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Moodle 2.0 - conditional activities

Moodle 2.0 has been a long time coming: it's been two years in development, 70% of the code has been re-written and some great new features have been added.
One of the most transformational is what they're calling 'conditional activities'. There has been a bit of debate over whether conditional activities should be added to Moodle because some believe that every student should have access to all learning activities at all times (a viewpoint that has considerable merit) but I'm in favour of conditional activities because it gives educators the ability to reconfigure the learning management system depending on the needs of the learner. In short: Moodle becomes a personalised learning environment.
Image a situation whereby a student gets 100% in the diagnostic assessment at the start of a unit of work, while another gets 20%. These two students need dramatically different pathways through the topic ahead, but traditionally they have had the same materials available to them from this point on. Using conditional activities, a teacher could say "If a student receives 80% or higher in this quiz, then reveal to them these further activities, but if a student receives 20% or lower, allow them to see these activities..." Teachers can set any criteria they like around turning these activities on or off, but used well, this has the power to put the right learning activity in front of the right learner at just the right time. I can't wait to start using them with my students...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Stop motion animation with Luciole

A couple of students came to me recently to explain that they needed help with (what appeared to be) a really complicated process for creating stop-motion animations. They were doing something in Photoshop with some proprietary plugin that could only run on a particular computer, and were unable to bring that computer to school. It got me thinking: the process of creating stop-motion animation is not complicated, so surely there must be some easy-to-use software out there for creating animations. The short answer is: there is.
I installed Luciole from the Ubuntu repository (took me 30 seconds to download and install) and it turned my laptop into Peter Jackson's studio. Thankfully it was wet last weekend, so I turned the kitchen table into a brickfilms stage. My first effort was far from interesting (my wife just frowned and shook her head when she saw it) but now I can't wait until my son is old enough to make films with. I'm sure, however, that in the tradition of train sets and meccano, the grown-up will have more fun than the child.
And if that isn't enough to encourage you to try it out, would break dancing plasticine men convince you?

I chose to be a bit less ambitious with my first attempt:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Software patents coming to NZ

Further to my post last month, it appears the NZ government has done a u-turn on software patents and has decided, in the face of plenty of evidence to the contrary, we need them after all. What I found most surprising is the relative speed with which MP Simon Power did his flip flop. Going against a long and considered select committee process, Power was swayed by a guy who appears to be happy to admit that he doesn't know much about SW patents, and that, in fact, he is "not well informed on the software patents issue - he had his PA prepare his briefing on it."

Nice Linux ad

Wow. What a busy term. More posts to come, but in the meantime, here's some nice, open eye-candy:

The Origin... from Agustin Eguia on Vimeo.

(Thanks to cyberkiller.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Software patents

One of the biggest threats to free and open source software at the moment is the existence of software patents. News came out recently that not only is Apple suing HTC over its smartphones, but Steve Jobs also has his eyes on the brilliant open source video format Ogg Theora. Essentially what companies like Apple want is for everyone in the computing world to use the product they developed and to pay them a royalty for the privilege of using them. Clearly community-owned assets like open source software gets in the way of this kind of monopoly. Software patents are anti-competitive and unethical for a number of reasons, including:
  • They are designed to protect an individual's or an individual company's 'intellectual property'. It's not designed to protect public ownership of things.
  • They are designed to protect incumbents. Companies with good lawyers and deep pockets are collecting patents on just about everything to do with computing at the moment. If young, innovative companies want to make any progress in this kind of market, they have to sell their soul to incumbents before they begin.
  • They make lawyers wealthy at the expense of entrepreneurs.
...and if a company like Microsoft can patent something like the double click, we might as well all get out of computing before we all get sued.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jokosher: multi-track music composition

Now, I don't know the first thing about music composition, but I do know that even I could pull something passable together using software like this. Jokosher is only in 0.11 release, but already it's a very usable, powerful multi-track authoring studio. From
"Jokosher is a simple and powerful multi-track studio. Jokosher provides a complete application for recording, editing, mixing and exporting audio, and has been specifically designed with usability in mind. The developers behind Jokosher have re-thought audio production at every level, and created something devilishly simple to use."

For an overview of what it can do, check out these screenshots.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Who wants to be a millionaire?

One of the great things about being part of the community of Moodle users (that numbered 50 million last time I checked) is the wealth of third-party add-ons available. One module I think is great is the Game module. It takes any normal quiz, glossary or questions and turns it automatically into any one of 8 games, from hangman to sudoku to something similar to 'who wants to be a millionaire'. One of my great tricks is to get students to build a glossary of key words and definitions for a topic as we go. With the quiz module, you can then turn that student-developed resource into a game that everyone can play: it's like the students build their own interactive learning tools.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx is here

Christmas comes twice a year for Ubuntu fans. New releases come out on the 4th and 10th months of the year (hence the numbering 10.04 came out in 2010 on the 04th month. There are a number of really good new features which The Silent Number summarises here. Off the top of my head, here's what I'm thankful for this Christmas:
  • New design: the aubergine and orange theme is good. I was getting a bit sick of the yellow and brown anyway.
  • Ubuntu One is now core: 2gb of cloud-based file storage means the same files are available to me on my work laptop and desktop, home desktop and netbook. No more carrying files around on a USB stick.
  • Speed: the aim was to get a 10 second boot time. My old P4 doesn't quite get there, but it's nice to have an operating system get faster with each upgrade, not slower and more bloated.
  • Social: twitter/, IM and chat are all rolled up into the operating system so you can keep track of all your social networking in one place. (I'm loving Gwibber as an client too).
If you're not already running Ubuntu, download the LiveCD; it lets you load up and try Ubuntu on your existing PC without making any changes to your system. If you don't like it, pop out the CD and go back to your old system; if you do like it, double click 'Install'.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Yo Frankie!

One of the most high-powered, full-featured open source applications is Blender 3D. It's an incredibly powerful 3D modelling application that has been used to make short films like Big Buck Bunny and Elephant's Dream. So what do all those 3D characters do after their film careers end? They get jobs in computer gaming. Using all of the models and landscapes from Big Buck Bunny, the blender community has created Yo Frankie!, a 3D game with very impressive graphics, that is free for anyone to download and play.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Ubuntu One Music Store is coming

I've been listening to Tommy and the Fallen Horses lately. They're well worth checking out. One review I read had their new album as the best kiwi album of the last decade.
But I had my patience tested trying to download that same album. First of all their website returned a 404 when I went to purchase the album for download. Thankfully that's fixed now, but is symptomatic of the problems faced by smaller bands who shouldn't ever have to maintain their own websites in order to put beer (or honey-flavoured smoothies) on the table. There should be a friendly third party out there could take away the stress of e-commerce- oh if only such a third party existed :-). So then, under some stress, I ended up using the iTunes store, redeeming a gift card a colleague had generously given me. My reservations were two-fold: 1) the iTunes store files are proprietary and full of DRM rubbish that restrict my purchase so much that it's really no longer a purchase, more of a loan, and 2) only a measly 10% of the purchase price makes it to Tommy and his horses. The rest goes to Apple and their lawyers.
That's why I think it's brilliant that Canonical are launching the Ubuntu One Music Store: DRM-free music for the people, by the people. It's criminal that not only is Apple getting 90% of the purchase price of a DRM single, they want to cut it to 4%. I know where I'll be buying my music from.
Oh, and if you see Tommy any time soon, buy him a honey-flavoured smoothie from me. Just don't tell him I gave all his money to Steve Jobs.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Kollaborative Video Editing

When I first heard about Kaltura, I refused to believe my ears. I remember thinking "There is no way that someone can make an online video editor that lets different people upload different pieces of footage into a single project and edit it asynchronously. Impossible." thankfully my curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the link and had a play around. It's literally what is says on the box: if you've got some footage and I've got some footage we can both upload it to the same project and edit it into something greater than the sum of our parts. The editing process is just like the wiki process: pendulum swings that eventually arrive at a middle ground: if you think we should chop the first 10 seconds off and I think we should keep it in, we discuss it on the discussion page of the wiki and eventually agree to a compromise. You can add titles, audio, transitions and still clips like any decent video editor. It's quite amazing technology and it's really easy to set up on a range of different platforms; it has plugins for Wordpress, Joomla, Moodle, Drupal and Mediawiki so it's ready to drop into your site.
A project the Head of Maths at Albany Senior High and I are working on is a living textbook for maths that allows students to film and upload different ways of solving equations using Kaltura. Here's a very rough working prototype of what we've got in mind. (See if you can spot the LaTeX on the page; something Wikieducator handles perfectly.)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Expand your mind

I've been looking around at open source mind mapping tools lately just to see if there is anything that takes Freemind a step further. There is still no open alternative to the cool web-based tools like Mind42 or Mindmeister, but desktop apps have come a long way. Three I've been playing with are VYM, Vue and Xmind.
  • VYM (View Your Mind): very close to the Tony Buzan idea of mind mapping that uses colour and the relative width of the branches to communicate relationships. Has icon and image support too.
  • Vue (Visual Understanding Environment): works like a mind mapping tool should, but this offers the ability to create and lay back 'paths'. "The Playback tool launches VUE into full-screen presentation mode. Presenters can use the mouse, arrow keys or space bar to move through a presentation."
  • XMind: this one looks like the best of the bunch to me. It has smoe really nice features like a presentation mode and the ability to work with Gantt charts too. I'll be adding it to the student desktop image next month. (Although there is an XMind 'Pro' which requires a subscription. I haven't signed up for that.)
Free your mind; use free software.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday, March 19, 2010

Social bookmarking for the nation

An impact project that several of my students are currently working focuses on social bookmarking: the ability to save and share useful websites. Incredibly there is no central place for students and teachers from schools up and down the country to share websites that are useful for learning. Think about this: students doing a year 10 project on ponds finds a really nice website that has animations and definitions that helps her to complete the project. Not only should she be able to save the site for herself for future reference, but she should also be able to share it with her friends, who should then be able to give her feedback on whether it is useful or not. Thumbs up or thumbs down would be enough. Sites like or exist for the world to be able to do this, but sites for learning present a couple of different challenges: i) the need for cyber safety and security around online stranger-danger, and ii) the need for classification around curriculum and NCEA levels.
We want this to be a project that other schools can hook into, so some kind of federated identity and access management is required (we don't want to be issuing people with yet another username and password; their school credentials should be enough) and, of course, it needs to be open source. The short-list for solutions boils down to two at this stage: Pligg and Drigg both of which support OpenID as an authentication method.

It's quite an exciting thing for a bunch of 15 and 16 year-olds to be building and gifting to the nation. I'll let you know how they get on. And of course, if you're interesting in signing your school up for it, let me know.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Public Address Radio: The Open Source School

Recently I had the pleasure of talking to Russell Brown on Public Address Radio about what we're doing at Albany Senior High School. The interview is here on the Public Address site.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Wikitasters for Wikieducator

I had the pleasure of running a Wikitaster session for Red Beach School this week: an introduction to Wikieducator. It covers the basics of what Wikieducator is and why it's useful to educators:
"The WikiEducator is an evolving community intended for the collaborative:
  • planning of education projects linked with the development of free content;
  • development of free content on Wikieducator for e-learning;
  • work on building open education resources (OERs) on how to create OERs.
  • networking on funding proposals developed as free content." (Link)
Perhaps the most transformative aspect of Wikieducator for both teachers and students is the fact that they are open and free: free for you to take, remix, reuse, transform and adapt. Everything in Wikieducator is released into the public domain through a creative commons licence, so we are no longer beholden to text book producers to package up our curriculum and sell it back to us. In my history class last year, the students wrote the textbook as the course progressed. Not only was it more co-constructed than a black and white textbook, it also had images, audio and video. Here are a couple of examples of what they achieved last year:
As with any collaborative, wiki-based project, these will continue to improve year by year and as more schools contribute to them.
And that's perhaps the best thing about Wikieducator: the collaborative opportunities that arise out of contributing to a global project. The sky's the limit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Open Street Map

This is a cool project: a wiki-based street map of the world to compete with Google's maps. It's quite amazing how dependent we are on Google to provide mapping mash-ups for the web: geocaching, real estate sales, finding our way to places, business directories etc. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a community-owned alternative that couldn't be turned into a revenue stream at a future date? Well, yes that would be nice. Oh wait.. there is one:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Create panoramic images

I stumbled across this application via the

"Goal: an easy to use cross-platform panoramic imaging toolchain based on Panorama Tools.

With Hugin you can assemble a mosaic of photographs into a complete immersive panorama, stitch any series of overlapping pictures and much more."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Summer reading...

When I'm not learning to be a father, I try to read as much as I can (which falls short of as much as I'd like to). One of Koha's cool features is the ability to create and share lists. Here's a quick list called 'Mark's Favourite Books' which I'll continue to update. Happy reading...

Two-minute Moodles

No it's not a typo, two-minute Moodles is a collection of screencast how-to videos put together by Tomaz Lasic. It's a really useful site for people who want a little bit of help, or who want to build their Moodle skills. Thanks Tabitha for the tip.

"What is Moodle" explained with Lego (full version) from Tomaz Lasic on Vimeo.

It's a shame these were recorded on a Windows computer (which means they can't be put into the public domain) but they're a fantastic help nevertheless. I'll be putting my staff onto them next week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

LCA2010: Antifeatures

One of the keynotes at LCA2010 was Ben Mako Hill. His presentation on 'Antifeatures' in software was very nicely put together and for me illustrates some of the madness that exists in proprietary software. An antifeature is something that the developer works hard to develop and include in a product that limits that product's abilities. Sometime considerable effort and expense goes into developing these antifeatures because the developers know that there will be a profit in it further down the track. The best illustration of a simple antifeature is unlisted numbers in the phonebook. Although it's much easier for a telephone company to exclude a number from a directory than include it, somehow it has transpired that in order to have your number left off the directory, it costs you money.
Mako has a long list of these antifeatures in products, and all of them were designed to exploit consumers through:
  • extract money from the user.
  • segmenting the market.
  • creating or extending monopolies.
  • protecting copyright.

Perhaps the most well-known example of the second kind of antifeature is the scam perpetrated by Microsoft around the Windows NT Workstation & Server editions. It was the same product, but by changing one digit in the registry, M$ could cripple the software so it couldn't act as a webserver.
Another good example is the Canon G7. All cameras (including the Cann G6) shoot RAW. It's simply the uncompressed 'raw' data from the camera's CCD. Canon decided that in order to push people who wanted RAW into the next price bracket, they would cripple the G7 so it would only produced compressed JPG images.
I love the word 'antifeatures'. It's a perfect label for some of the anti-consumer practices most companies engage in. Let's always remember that companies are designed to make money. Keeping customers happy is only a mean to that end. And let's take back a bit of consumer power- it's our money after all.

40 fast facts about Linux

This is a good little intro to the world of Linux. It contains some interesting facts that some people might not know, such as:
  • Linux powers 446 of the world's top 500 supercomputers.
  • Director James Cameron again chose Linux servers for box-office smash Avatar.
  • Google runs its web servers on Linux.
  • In 2009, Linux had 33.8% revenue marketshare of servers, compared to Microsoft's 7.3%

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Open Clip Art

If you're going to use Clip Art, you might as well make it open... "This project aims to create an archive of user contributed clip art that can be freely used. All graphics submitted to the project should be placed into the Public Domain according to the statement by the Creative Commons. If you'd like to help out, please join the mailing list, and review the archives. "

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


If you've ever tried to find the batch processing features in The Gimp, you'll probably have worked out that they don't exist. Phatch might be of use for you if you want to edit more than one image at a time. It's a photo batch processing application that could save you quite a bit of time. It includes:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Krita is a creative application for raster images. Whether you want to create from scratch or work with existing images, Krita is for you. You can work with photos, scanned images or start for a blank slate. Krita supports most graphics tablets out of the box.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Photos of the open source school

It's far from complete and lacking students for a few more days, but here are some photos of Albany Senior High School. People have been asking for photos of the server room, and there's one in the slideshow, but it's a bit of an anticlimax because it's mostly empty. If you look closely you can see less than half a rack of servers in the middle of the shot (4 physical plus a UPS) leaving three and a half racks set aside for servers empty. 2 for switching and 2 for security/CCTV/other stuff completes the array. We've been able to do this through KVM virtualisation and remote hosting of things like backups (we don't have a tape drive, we have a large VPS in a datacentre and back up across fibre every night). We also remotely host Moodle, Mahara, Koha, email, documents, calendar, video server and a few other bits and pieces meaning someone far more qualified looks after them. Anyway, now for the photos:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Free as in freedom, not as in beer.

Following a couple of presentations about our school at (here and here), there seems to have been an explosion of interesting in what we're doing in the open source space. Articles are being carried on CIO, Slashdot and Computerworld among others and the comments are running hot. A lot of people are interested in hardware, network, infrastructure, virtualisation, cost, return on investment and so on (which is fine) but I'd just like to make sure everyone understands why we're an open source school. And it has nothing to do with IT.

When the establishment leadership team sat down to design the information systems for the school we looked first at what we're trying to achieve; not the budget we had to achieve it. Our vision at ASHS is:

At Albany Senior High School
  • we nurture each other
  • we inspire each other
  • we empower each other

to achieve highly and become good citizens.

In addition to the vision, we have 11 values which include:

  • Families as part of our learning community.
  • Fairness, openess, honesty and trust.
  • Learning together and making decisions together.
  • Curiosity and enquiry, creativity and innovation.
  • Contributing to our local and global communities.
  • Diversity that enriches our learning community.
When we looked at this vision and these values and we thought about the free access to information, experts and tools that was required to achieve them, we quickly began thinking about whether proprietary software would help or hinder us. It's fine if we have site licences for software here at school, but if a student or their family can't afford licencing for all of the applications they need in order to learn, then their ability to use those tools ends when they walk out the school gate. If we use open source applications in our learning, then nothing stops them from installing those applications and using them to learn wherever they choose. A good example is design and photographystudents using Photoshop. We can get a site licence for the software for 5 figures, but if a student wants to continue their learning at home, they need to shell out $200. On their laptop ($200), the local library ($200), Grandma's computer ($200), at their friend's place ($200), Mum's work ($200) and so on. What happens more often is that students illegally copy their software and schools turn a blind eye because they want them to learn.
By the time the cost of this software licencing is applied to office suites, graphical manipulation, video editing, music composition, 3D modelling, space exploration, language learning, mind mapping, flashcards, vector graphics, animation, desktop publishing and programming software, we have a problem. The decision we faced as a school was to use proprietary software and impose a learning tax on our community or to use open source software and give everyone access to a full range of powerful, free learning tools. It's no surprise which way we went. If you're interested in the software we use, there's a summary here.

Open source software also supports the learning of our community (local and global) through an unbeatable business model. Any features we have developed for us, we contribute back to the community, meaning a dollar spent by us literally helps the whole world. If I pay a proprietary software developer to improve their product, they can then sell that to every customer they have, meaning a dollar spent by us can be used to extract another dollar from that company's other customers. They sell the feature we paid for to everyone else. It just doesn't make sense, and I think it's only a matter of time before the open source business model makes serious headway in software 'sales'.

Just to clarify this also: not all of our software is open source. We still use a couple of products that have no comparable open source equivalent (like Final Cut Pro) because the tool is the most important thing. We won't deny a student the ability to study and learn because of an ideology we have. Our ideology is to do the very best by our students, it just so happens that open source software does this most of the time.

A few posters on discussion forums have also focused on the amount of money the school has saved as a result of being open source. It's true that we save a six-figure sum each year in hardware and software costs, but this is just a handy spin-off from our decision to be open source, not the reason we did it.
It's free as in 'freedom' not free as in 'free beer'.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


First post from held in Wellington recently. This is a congregation of the biggest brains in the FOSS world in Australasia. All of the keynotes were extremely good and I was lucky enough to attend a number of extremely good sessions. One that I didn't attend but heard about from a colleague was about, which is an open source alternative to Twitter. It's 0.8 stable at the moment, but when v0.9 comes out with LDAP integration, I'll be installing it for our use in house. I'm a late arrival to micro-blogging (like Facebook), but I can see some benefit for this technology in a school, if it's an open source solution:
1) You can't be a free thinker until the you have control over the tools you use to think. Independence and a lack of partiality is quite useful in education.
2) Micro-blogging produces a useful record of instant thoughts, which, when compiled across time can show the development of a thought process, and
3) It's a great way to flick around to others, things you have found interesting: websites, people, research, documents, quotations, ideas.
Have a play at, which is driven by

Friday, January 22, 2010

Take Back the Web

Three things on Firefox today:
The first relates to security. It transpires that the security weaknesses in Internet Explorer that Chinese hackers apparently used to compromise Google are so bad that now entire countries are advising people not to use Internet Explorer. Incredibly, the security flaw affects IE6, 7 and 8 on Windows 7, Vista, XP, Server 2003 and Server 2008, which doesn't leave anywhere to hide really. There has never been a better time to switch to Firefox or Chrome. Or even to Linux for that matter...

The second is that reports are emerging of Firefox challenging IE's dominance, saying that in Europe, IE has 45 percent market share but "Firefox is a close second at 40 percent." Once we add in Chrome, the Mozilla-based browsers have already exceeded IE's market share in Europe. With France and Germany recommending users move away from IE and Mozilla calling Firefox 3.6 the best browser in the world, I'd watch the browser stats closely over coming months.

Thirdly, Firefox has been able to do full-screen video for a while now, but to have it native in the browser is another thing:
"Current Firefox 3.6 pre-beta 1 nightlies now feature a full screen option for videos embedded using the tag like the natively supported Theora encoders. Just right click on the video and select Full Screen. While on full screen, press Esc to return to the normal view."

Even better is the fact that the supported video filetype is OGV, the open video format and my format of choice. Exciting things on the roadmap for Firefox 4.0 as well, including two features from Google's Chrome ('tabs on top' and separate processes so one hung window doesn't crash your whole browser.) This is a good example of what is essentially a fork contributing back into the main project. Diversity makes us stronger folks.

Edit: Oh dear. "Researchers have created attack code that exploits a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) as well as in the newest IE8 -- even when Microsoft's recommended defensive measure is turned on." Link

Koha 3.2 : The next step

We're about to implement two exciting features in our library: RFID and self-check. It's not common for school libraries to use RFID, but as the cost comes down and there is more support for what it can do I'm sure it'll become increasingly popular. Once you make the transition from a 'dumb' tattle-tape security system to and RFID system, you can have a lot more fun with your items. One of the projects I'm hoping to get students involved in this year is to integrate an RFID reader, Koha and a touchscreen so students can walk up to a screen, place a book in front of it and have Koha pull up reviews of that item or recommendations based on that title.

When our Librarian and I started talking about self-check, my first thought was 'Oh... I wonder if Koha can support it?' I hadn't heard anything on the lists about it so I was prepared to start looking for some developer funding, but sure enough, it's one of the features Koha has that isn't widely known.

Below is Jo Ransom and Chris Cormack's presentation on Koha 3.2, due out in the next little while. I'm really looking forward to the upgrade: there are a whole lot of new features including enhancements to the federated search feature in Koha.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Obama AND John Key embrace open source

Never one to be left behind, John Key has followed Barack Obama into the open source world. Last year, it was announced that the Whitehouse now runs on open source CMS drupal, while recently we learnt that "Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Horizons Regional Council and NZ Post will all begin trialling the use of Linux desktops in February" (ZDNet). Some very nice news from the highest levels.