Open Source and Cloud

After the Community Summit at Open World Forum, three of the speakers – including me – spent 10 minutes discussing how cloud computing impacts the open source community.

[youtube http://youtu.be/qpVIJAdRTXc]

Far from making open source irrelevant – an idea that only works if you see software solely in terms of proprietary packages sold by software vendors – cloud computing will drive ever more companies to participate in, and eventually contribute to, open source communities.

Red Hat’s Hidden Cloud

Not every project hits the headlines. As I’ve been co-hosting FLOSS Weekly over the last few months, I’ve noticed a surprising number of projects showing up that handle cloud computing in useful ways and are staff by Red Hat employees. I take a short stroll through some of those less known projects in this week’s InfoWorld column.

It’s ODF Time

Now the UK’s open standards consultation is over, let’s get back to basics.

[youtube http://youtu.be/99qDuRskqek]

All these power plugs didn’t give us more choice – they instead inconvenienced us all as every vendor chose a different “standard” that suited them to power their gear. They have been superseded by the micro-USB connector for powering electronics in Europe.

In just the same way, what we need for document processing is not a choice of standards, but one open standard – ODF, OpenDocument Format.

Share freely 🙂

Java ME Fragmentation

Sun acknowledged in 2008 and 2009 that Java ME was fragmented – and had been for years – without any help from Android.

[youtube http://youtu.be/wx_YhPJWNhs]

More in today’s article on ComputerWorld UK.

Making Hybrid PDFs

It’s easy with LibreOffice. Send people attachments you can be sure they can view, but which can also be edited with free, open source software.

Here’s a how-to video that explains how to make Hybrid PDF files – that’s a normal PDF file, but with the ODF source of the document embedded so that anyone with LibreOffice is also able to open and edit it. Both ODF and PDF are widely implemented open standards, so you can be sure that there’s a choice of free and open source software for editing and viewing them and that they will remain accessible in perpetuity.

[youtube http://youtu.be/EuVZcygoZsI]

The instruction sheet I edit in the video is available for download. Naturally, it’s an editable PDF!

☆ Promoting Document Freedom

Today is Document Freedom Day. It’s not the easiest subject to explain. It’s easy to explain why being free to video a police encounter in the USA is important, or why it’s wrong for your eBook to be remotely controlled by a vendor, but many people fail to understand the subtlety of why a document format is important.

Having your work in a format that will still be readable in 20 years makes sense, and being able to be sure when you share a document with others that they will be able to read it and work on it is also good. But people glaze over when you try to explain that an ISO standard is not enough. Having a document format standard that is beyond the control of any individual vendor and is fully implemented in multiple products is crucial, but seems esoteric.

So when it comes to practical actions, most people still just save their work in the format their office software chooses for them by default. They send it out to everyone without a thought for the fact they are adding their own energy to a market monopoly that restricts choice and innovation and sells our future to one of the worlds richest convicted monopolists. It’s convenient now, but who knows if the files will even be readable in the future? The largest corporations can change (Nokia started making rubber products) or even go out of business (I’ll leave you to think of an example!)

The fact it is so hard to explain to ordinary people why their choice of document format matters, why a little effort now can make all the difference in the world, is what led me to the conclusion it was worth promoting hybrid PDFs. As I wrote yesterday on ComputerWorldUK, it is possible to create a PDF that can also be fully edited.

Like ODF, PDF is a standard. Sending a PDF makes the maximum number of people able to read your work, so it’s worth the small extra effort to create it. Developing an instinct to always send PDFs ensures maximum readability, and it’s safe to assume PDFs will continue to be readable for the indefinitely long future. Using online storage instead of attaching the file can be good, but plenty of mobile and out-of-office people will be inconvenienced or excluded by that, so I’ve found people reluctant to rely on it at the moment.

Sending PDFs is the right answer. The only issue is editability. Most people just want to send one attachment, so they opt for the one from their word-processor or presentation program. By a simple software upgrade to LibreOffice, that problem is solved too. LibreOffice makes PDFs very easily, and now also comes configured to create PDFs that can be edited. I’ve created full instructions which you are welcome to pass on to others – and edit if you need to!

While I am naturally a huge supporter of Open Document Format as the best protection for our digital liberty, pragmatically I think educating and encouraging people to send PDFs instead of .DOC/.DOCX files is the best next step. When they learn the benefits of editable PDFs, they are also using ODF, of course – that’s the format that’s embedded in the PDF. But it’s a smaller, easier, less controversial step to send a PDF to all their friends and collaborators.

So celebrate Document Freedom Day with me today. Send a friend my tip about editable PDFs, or just the how-to sheet. The journey to freedom starts with the first step.

☆ Making Google+ Work

Close RaceI sometimes see complaints by people that Google+ is not as exciting and/or useful as a social media service they are already using, like Twitter or Facebook. They both looked just as perplexingly dull when you started using them as an outsider – you’ve just become comfortable there and forgotten that experience! Treasure the chance to once again experience social media as ordinary users do when they first discover it…

Google+ is a different medium to the other social networks you’re using, and the techniques and expectations you’re bringing with you may not apply – you need the right horse for the right course. That feeling nothing is happening is unlikely to continue for long if you engage on Google+ in ways that make it work well as a social environment. My take is those are:

  • post interesting stuff publicly, preferably with pictures – Google+ is not a great place for private networking;
  • comment on what you post, don’t just post unexplained links or pictures;
  • engage in intelligent and respectful discussion on other people’s posts, as well as your own;
  • respect other people’s discussion threads as you would a conversation you were drawn into at the next table in a cafe;
  • track ripples (a feature on the context menu of any post that’s been re-shared) and cultivate new relationships by adding those who repost the same things that interest you to your circles;
  • use the delete-comment button to prune comments on your posts where necessary – always to remove spam and sparingly to sanction trolls.

What other suggestions would you make to new users, especially those with good experiences of other social media systems? The Google+ thread for this post is public

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