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.