Archive for January, 2010

Reuse in action

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Having been involved in several research projects around the area of OERs (especially OpenSpires) and more specifically the reuse of existing content (Mosaic and Cascade),  it is really gratifying to see some of this work enter our mainstream course production practice.   A major benefit of Mosaic was a real tightening up of our approaches to reuse, copyright and IPR across our entire short course programme and this is now starting to really pay dividends.

An example is the course we are currently developing on Globalization, available in May.  Among other things, this course is using podcasts recorded by the author Jonathan Michie with the OpenSpires team.  As we will be providing transcripts to make the course fully accessible we can make sure that these are fed back to enhance the original OERs – a virtuous circle.

Switching from Windows to Ubuntu

Monday, January 11th, 2010

So, after a long time grumbling about how Windows gives me hassle, I’ve switched to Ubuntu on my work PC.

I had originally planned to dual boot both WinXP and Ubuntu whilst I figured out stuff like Active Directory domain membership, but in the end I got so fed up of Windows getting in my way, one day I just decided to switch. (Our IT team recognises that the developers in our group need administrator access to setup our tools and servers so, on the understanding that we don’t put our machines or the network at risk, we’re allowed fairly free reign.)

It took a while to get set up as I like it, but I think I’m there – so here’s a little overview…

NB: I’ve had only a little exposure to Windows Vista (where I found the continual “security” confirmation dialog boxes incredibly annoying), and to Windows 7 (where the window tiling function looks genuinely useful), so maybe MS have these newer versions of Windows would compare better than XP does.

What’s good?

  • I’ve installed (and use) software for web site browsing, word processing, vector drawing, image editing, version control, remote access sessions, programming, time tracking, and countless utilities – all with a few clicks from the built-in repositories (at zero purchase cost). The wealth of software available is amazing, for which the free software community is justifiably proud, and has my admiration and thanks 🙂
  • Easy access to remote files. I can browse Windows shares (without needing AD integration), and even better, I can browse our Linux servers via SSH (really not very pleasant on WinXP), all integrated with the Gnome desktop via Nautilus.
  • Virtual desktops – I’m amazed that Windows still doesn’t support this. I know there are hacks and 3rd party extensions, but the ones I’ve tried were rubbish in comparison to Gnome’s default configuration.
  • Using VirtualBox virtual machines I can use multiple versions of IE in virtual machines, and my old suite of Windows apps if I have to handle proprietary file types.
  • Software updates are smooth and rarely interrupt me.
  • Startup and shutdown are a lot quicker than Windows, never leaving me with x updates to install before the machine will shutdown (which is good as I like to switch off the machine at the socket).
  • No slowdowns due to a virus scanner.
  • All the little things which seem to happen because of Free Software. Simple useful integration that just works, like that Nautlius’ file property dialog shows size and codec information for media files.

What’s bad?

  • Evolution is supposed to be able to connect to MS Exchange for email and calendars, which it sort of does – unfortunately the MAPI connector doesn’t seem to work at all, and the Webmail connector is slow and tends to disconnect often. It’s ok for light use but, if I’ve got a lot of mail to deal with, I’ll often open Windows in a virtual machine and run Outlook.
  • doesn’t have seamless compatibility with MS Office files (arguably Microsoft’s fault).
  • Connections to Windows file shares have crashed on occasion.
  • The video is a little unstable, crashing very occasionally, but I’m chalking that one up to the Nvidia closed-source binaries. I’m glad that Nvidia provide a driver at all, but believe they’d end up with a better product if they were more open-friendly.
  • The task switcher (ALT+tab) is slow if desktop visual effects are on. This used to be fine, and I guess it’s the Nvidia driver disagreeing with the kernel about something.
  • A few cosmetic issues like notifications appearing at the wrong position.
  • There are other areas I’ve bumped against at home that are also worth a mention: The lack of decent video editing software, the ongoing transition to PulseAudio/JACK for regular/pro audio use. These aren’t a problem at work though.

Overall I’m happy – my day to day workflow is much smoother, and – at risk of becoming a FLOSS advert – I get warm fuzzies from following the progress being made in various parts of the Free Software environment – like a non-destructive editing version of GIMP, desktop activity awareness, local map applications, pro audio –  there’s too much to mention it all! 🙂

Online course launches

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

It is that time of year again when we embark on our online course launches for another term.  We are offering 31 courses this term including our new courses in Literary theory and History of medicine, many are full, but there are still places on a lot – so if you would enjoy some intellectual stimulation in over the next couple of months and are interested in Archaeology, Art History, English literature, Creative Writing, History, or Philosophy do take a look at what is available.