Archive for the 'Open source' Category

Stupid Windows

Monday, April 28th, 2008

So I’m working away on Windows XP, and suddenly everything starts shutting down. Hitting “Cancel” on a save/don’t save/cancel dialog doesn’t cancel, but closes the application. Without any warning, I’m logged out. What the?..

It turns out that the other Dave in the office has mistakenly logged into my PC via remote desktop, rather than the department “Terminal Sever” – and Windows just kicked me out with no warning or explanation, and then locked me out!

I’m not happy – asides from losing the work from that save/don’t save/cancel dialog, it was so rude. It warned Dave that he was going to log me out, but didn’t give me the same courtesy…

In brighter news, the new Ubuntu release (Hardy Heron) apparently has some support for incorporating Ubuntu desktops as members of a Windows domain (i.e. logging in using Active Directory), using a program called Likewise. If I can get that working, I’ll definitely try using Ubuntu as my primary desktop.

Linux driver status

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman has posted a status update on the Linux Driver Project, which is an effort to help hardware manufacturers support Linux – even write the drivers for them – hopefully alleviating the hardware support problems I mentioned in a previous post.

Greg states:

Linux supports more different types of devices than any other operating system ever has in the history of computing.

…which I believe. However, there are a few factors which I think are key to the perception of poor driver support:

  1. The kernels included in distributions naturally lag behind the current kernel release. The change to regular 2-3 month releases must have improved this, but it is still a problem compared to the competition. Most hardware for Windows and Mac comes with a disk of drivers you can install, so it doesn’t matter how old your OS is (within reason) – you can get your new hardware running on it. The Linux approach prefers drivers to be part of the kernel release, for reason
  2. Lagging support for highly visible hardware. Things like wireless network adapters and video capture devices are increasingly common and (it seems slightly redundant to say this) hard to do without if you particularly wanted them.
  3. Support for printers is not a kernel driver issue, Greg notes, but is often perceived as such, because on competing platforms it appears to be a driver issue. Users don’t typically care about this distinction, they just want it to work.

All in all I think that the situation looks good, with some significant improvements (e.g. in wireless) in recent kernels to be included in distributions soon…

Linux Kernel Development – Who, what, how fast, and who’s paying.

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Nice report from The Linux Foundation on Linux Kernel Development. A choice statistic:

…an impressive 3,621 lines added, 1,550 lines removed, and 1,425 lines changed every day for the past 2 1/2 years. That rate of change is larger than any other public software project of any size.

Linux pretending to be Windows

Monday, March 17th, 2008

My housemate has user account on my Ubuntu laptop, which she mainly uses for browsing the web. Last night I noticed that the online poker game she was playing wasn’t browser-based, but an MS Windows application.

This made me a little nervous at first, as I believe those sort of downloads are a major vector for malware, but as a) the site looked reasonably respectable, and b) I suspect that running Windows malware in an unprivileged account in Linux is less dangerous than running it on Windows – I figure it was probably safe.

But how was this Windows poker program running on Linux in the first place? I had already installed WINE, a Windows compatibility layer, to try and run Populous: The Beginning, and when my housemate downloaded and ran the installer program, it Just Worked – she hadn’t even realized anything special had happened.

Getting Populous to run hasn’t been so easy (I’m still working on it), but well done to everyone at the WINE project for a great system!

The Habitat Project Launches

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

No, not an opportunity to test stylish yet knowingly kitsch home furnishings but a research project piloting the use of Multi-User Virtual Environments (think Second Life). TALL heads up a large project team on the project which runs until March 2009. Read the official blurb below or visit for more info.


The JISC funded Habitat project is a collaboration between TALL at the University of Oxford, Leeds Metropolitan University, King’s College London, Essex University and Dave Cormier of Prince Edward Island University. It will take an innovative approach to encouraging creative online collaboration in Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) – the online 3D spaces in which each user is represented by an ‘avatar’ or 3D character.

The project will generate solutions to the challenges of teaching, learning and collaboration in MUVEs. These solutions will be primarily in the form of guidelines, models and exemplars but will also be supported by the development/appropriation of software tools and services in and around the MUVEs themselves.
During discussions with members of the Emerge community, teaching staff and students, it became clear the MUVEs offer a number of interesting opportunities for teaching and learning. These include the ability to collaboratively design and build objects/structures and the sense of presence or ‘being there’ that comes across when interacting in an MUVE.

The Habitat project will build on these principles by running a number of pilots which are integrated into the teaching of art & design and philosophy.

A competition to build a structure in the Second Life MUVE which reflects their current practice will be set as part of the first year art & design undergraduate degree based at Leeds Metropolitan University. Parallel to this the project will facilitate discussions in an MUVE with students who have attended one of the University of Oxford’s online short courses in philosophy. The art & design students will have the opportunity to meet face-to-face during the pilot in contrast to the philosophy students who are distributed around the world.

The pilots are designed to explore the effects of working in an MUVE on collaborative group work and on the effects of being represented as an avatar over and above using text, sound or video to communicate. In addition to this the pilots are designed to encourage communication between the two disciplines to assess the potential of MUVEs to bring together diverse student groups.

Habitat will predominantly be using the Second Life MUVE because of its ubiquity and relative stability. The project will also be experimenting with OpenSim, an open source MUVE and a MUVE provided by IBM. These are representative of the widening range of 3D collaborative environments which are emerging across the web and which afford intriguing opportunities for teaching and learning.

Where to look for reusable content?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

As we kick off the Mosaic project (trying to develop a short course in early English literature using at a majority of preexisting content) I am trying to develop a list of places to start looking for this content that we want to re-use. I know that Sandie (our subject matter expert) has already identified lots of excellent resources using her knowledge of the discipline, but with the growth of OERs (Open Educational Resources) and portals and repositories to access them, I should hopefully not just be able to identify some likely looking content, but also content that will be easy for us to reuse – in terms of permission and copyright.

I have been clipping this area for about 3 years so had a list of about 65 things tagged free content and about 75 tagged OERs. A lot of these were the same thing tagged in different contexts or commentaries on the phenomenon more generally, rather than links to specific content, this got rid of a lot of links. A lot were very specifically K12 or focussed on a specific discipline that was not our course (at the moment it seems to me there is a lot more on the sciences and social sciences than on the humanities). There seemed to be a lot of initiatives that had a very impressive front page but very little behind it, or ones that did have a lot of content but clearly even I (as a non subject specialist) could tell there would be nothing appropriate for our course.

So now I have a list of things I want Sandie to check out and … consists of 12 things…..

To be fair some of these are VERY big portals to a lot of other content, but I am kind of disappointed. Also having had a quick search around I am already almost totally certain that it is sites that are not as explicitly focussed on reusable learning content that are going to be the most useful. Sandie will be doing more digging on this in the next few weeks, and will let us know what she finds. In the meantime here are the links i think it is worth Sandie following up:


  1. Intute –
  2. The OU –
  3. Jorum –
  4. Merlot –
  5. Rice Connexions –
  6. MIT OCW –
  7. Open courseware consortium –
  8. OER Commons –
  9. Jisc Collections –
  10. Directory of Open Access Journals –
  11. UNESCO List of Open Educational Resources –
  12. Google OCW search –

So if you know somewhere else we should be looking let us know.


Metaplace – like Second Life, but open from the start?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Areae want to reinvent virtual worlds, using open standards and protocols. It sounds pretty good:

“Right now, there are lots of people who want to use virtual worlds for research, or education, or business, but it’s just too darn hard to get one going. Now [with Metaplace] you can create a world in just a few minutes and start tailoring it to your needs.”

Definitely worth looking into, when they recover from the Slashdotting…

I wonder how much Areae’s announcment influenced Linden Labs to announce their plans for the future of Second Life (or vice-versa).

A project in quotidian democracy

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

As mentioned before, Mako Hill is doing interesting things with voting software. He just posted an update, and the selectricity site is up. I made this quickvote to have a play – take a look!

A system that works for me

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Andreas Lloyd has made his thesis on the social dynamics of the Ubuntu community available.

I’ve not read it all yet, but an initial look suggests that it relates quite well to the intersection of two strands of endeavour in TALL – online communities (who sometime meet in person – how do they work, are they useful for education?), and computer tech (what tools and services can we use/adapt/create?).

NB: Andreas has, with community spirit, released it under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can redistribute it and add their comments.

Windows vs Ubuntu – why switch?

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

I want to re-install my work PC – get rid of Windows and install Ubuntu. Here’s why…

Around 5 years ago, after using AmigaOS, MS DOS, and MS Windows (versions 3.1, 95, 98, ME, and NT, 2000) , I started playing with Linux (or GNU/Linux if you prefer). I started with Mandrake (now Mandriva), and Linux From Scratch (compiling and setting up the whole operating system from source code), and I learned a lot about how a Linux system is put together, how software is developed and managed, and how PC hardware is often poorly put together, neglecting industry “standards” in favour of “does it work on Windows?”.

It seemed clear 5 years ago that Linux could do all I want a computer do, do it well, and maybe even gratis. The only problem was that it took a lot of effort to get to the system set up correctly in the first instance. Once it was ready it was great, but getting ready took time, research, and effort – that’s fine for messing around at home, but not so good for getting work done.

I now run Ubuntu Desktop Linux on my home PC, with virtually no effort required to run it – as these things should be.

My work PCs have always run MS Windows. Currently it’s Windows XP, and gives me hassle most days.

I don’t want to write reams of prose about the two platforms, so I’ll just describe the key issues that bother me, comparing Windows to Ubuntu:

(Apologies for the odd table, not suited to this thin theme.)

Issue MS Windows Ubuntu
Software management
  • Automatic updates for MS products only, unless you’re running multiple update programs
  • Add/Remove Programs tool works most of the time for some programs.
  • Periodically asks me whether I trust a security certificate.
  • Doesn’t really support adding new programs (get them from CD, or the web.)
  • Usually dumps an icon at the top of the start menu, making it a mess.
  • Central auto-update system for all software I reasonably might use (thousands of programs).
  • Cleanly installs and un-installs programs
  • Digitally signed, automatically authenticated repositories.
  • Places menu items in sensible categories – all from one simple to use program.
  • For the few cases where I want something not available in the system by default, I can usually add a new software source for it – problem solved
Malware scanner
  • Sophos anti-virus regularly brings my PC grinding to a halt.
  • No need for a virus scanner.
  • Maybe one will be needed in future – but not today.
  • Even with a rather generous 2GB RAM and 8 processor cores, I’m often waiting for simple tasks like a dialogue box to open or directory listing to appear.
  • That really bugs me.
  • Might be network related, rather than WinXP. One way to find out which…
  • My 1.5GM system slows down if I’m loading a multi-GB audio or image file, but that seems fair.
  • Switching between windows can be a bit twitchy if I’m not running Compiz Fusion – the new display acceleration system (which isn’t officially stable in Ubuntu).
Hardware support
  • Generally good.
  • I never managed to get bluetooth working, and getting the PC and my phone to talk through a cable was hassle, trying to find drivers/software.
  • Adding new devices can be rather hit and miss, with the problems of finding the right website->page->download needed.
  • When a device is supported in the kernel it’s usually seamless.
  • When not in the kernel, it can be as much hassle as Windows.
  • I got Bluetooth operational, although it was horribly slow – I suspect that’s just the format.
  • There are still lots of gaps in consumer hardware support (I expect recent moves from Intel and Dell will help close these gaps)
User runs the computer, or the other way around?
  • Do what Microsoft wants you to do – MS is the only producer of MS Windows
  • I get the impression that Windows Vista has lots of problems, heavy hardware requirements, but no compelling reason to use it.
  • In Microsoft’s business model everyone must “upgrade” to Vista – even the homepage for WinXP is covered in material steering you towards Vista.
  • There are many competing distributions of GNU/Linux, all essentially compatible with each other.
  • Differentiation on cost, support, features, architecture.
  • If you don’t like how things are heading on one distribution, you have a choice of others to use.
License costs
  • Software is not gratis.
  • Administrative overhead.
  • Perhaps a bigger issue for servers & CALs.
  • Pay more to run on multi-core/processor CPUs.
  • Software is gratis.
  • Pay for support if you want it.

Some of these problems could be decried as “standard industry practice”, but I see Free software changing the standard practice for the better.

So, if I want to use Ubuntu at work, what will I have to do? I’ve started listing up key Windows-Linux interoperability issues that will need to be solved – and their solutions – but that’ll have to wait for another post…