July 19, 2014
The Two Speeds of Cycling in Britain
- Posted by Shaun McDonald's Blog on July 19, 2014 07:12 PM
I’m increasingly finding that many people who want to cycle in Britain, have two options for their style of cycling. Note this doesn’t apply everywhere, however is particularly prevalent in Ipswich, Suffolk and other places that I’ve cycled.
If you are in the mood for cycling slower at a pootling pace, or have kids learning to cycle, you can use some pavements where cycling has been legalised. However when there are higher pedestrian flows, you’ll often have to travel slowly at walking pace, thus negating the advantage of cycling for those sections of the journey. This means the journey time is extended, and made more tedious and less enjoyable.
The alternative used by faster cyclists is to keep up with the speed of motor traffic and to take the lane. This would mean cycling at 20, 30 or more mph. I can manage the odd sprint at 20mph on the level, or 30mph on a downhill stretch, however it’s not something I can manage for longer sprints or whole journeys.
I have had occasions in the past where I’ve kept a fairly constant distance of a couple of bicycle lengths from the vehicle in front, and had the driver behind either honk their horn at me for being in the way, or dangerously overtake to squeeze in between me and the vehicle in front. Thus keeping your wits about you, taking the lane, and travelling at a similar speed to the vehicle in front doesn’t appear to be a valid option either, even so I’ve regularly been told to do this by experienced fast cyclists.
Being able to cycle at a speed between walking pace and motor vehicle pace is the ideal solution, however the current road environment in Ipswich and many other parts of Britain doesn’t make it easy to travel at a comfortable pace. For example being able to cycle somewhere without breaking into a big sweat, at a speed faster than walking pace.
Ipswich has a lot of pavements where cycling has been legalised, however you are generally having to negotiate pedestrians. I’m told that if you don’t like that, then you should be on the road, however I find that to be a horrible experience too, and it’s also dangerous due to the big metal boxes on wheels, that could kill me.
Quiet residential and service roads do allow for the middle pace of cycling, however they are often riddled with pinch points, traffic calming, rat runs, on-street car parking, or busy periods(or just lots of traffic). Thus these roads are often not perceived to be safe for cycling on by many would be cyclists, or parents wanting to let their kids to cycle.
Ipswich does have a few great bits of cycle infrastructure, such as a section of Rope Walk, which has been closed to through motor traffic, and pedestrians respect it due to the wide pavements, and the road like feel of it. There is a downside in that just to the north there is a rat run, which is on National Cycle Network Route 1, as drivers in the morning peak try to avoid a set of traffic lights. In the other direction, there’s a junction which has made it to the Warrington Cycling Facility of the Month.
Ravenswood and Kesgrave/Grange Farm are more recent housing estates in the Ipswich area, which have high quality cycle paths through the areas, limited through motor vehicle access, and some of the highest cycle to school rates in the country. However many of those people don’t venture out of the area by bike. The bike paths are just a 3 metre wide bit of tarmac with a white line down the middle, which simply isn’t wide enough for catering for both fast cyclists, and people wanting to cycle side by side talking to each other.
The new Ipswich Northern Fringe or Ipswich Garden Suburb, as it’s now called, is due to have high quality cycle paths throughout. A high quality cycle route is also needed from the new development in the north to the town centre, however it’s hard to find the best possible route that will be used, as any route that is chosen will need the through motor traffic removed due to the narrow streets and park (which is closed at night) in the way. My fear is that the compromise will produce a route which won’t entice the new residents on to their bikes or buses.
Finally, how do we get some of the current older cyclists, and campaigners who are happy with the current road conditions for cycling and are holding back campaigning for cycling facilities that will encourage more people to cycle, to accept that the current two tier system is inadequate?
July 14, 2014
“To whom much has been given, much is expected in return” – Free Software economics
To quote the gospel of Luke (12:48) before discussing Free Software is rare, yet not unseen, and this blog will not shy away from creating new rarities every month. Let’s start right away. What do projects such as OpenSSL, LibreSSL & LibreOffice have in common? They are Free Software projects of course; why do I ask the question? Probably because it deserves a better answer… Let’s try to dig deeper.
It is fashionable these days to show surprise, and then a sorry look, when discussing Free and Open Source Software. Yes, some projects are everywhere, in your browser, embedded into appliances and in places you don’t even imagine they could be. Is it written anywhere? Do appliances, ATMs, cars, airplanes, some proprietary software solutions, phones, televisions, ovens come with a full list of components? They usually don’t. But if they would, people would realize how prevalent Free and Open Source Software is. The other thing they would be surprised with would also be that most of the time, nobody pays projects or developers for this. I know, you’ve been taught that Free Software costs zero, and that’s good news because it’s better than warez, and on top of this you get to tell their idiotic developers that their software stink -heck, you’re even entitled to do that!
The problem with that, however, is that it is not sustainable. I don’t mean to say that the Free Software model is not sustainable, only that, just like any other working system, it does not work like a perpetual movement: people’s motivation is important, and sometimes even developers need a roof, some food, a shower, perhaps a car…Some of them might be entrepreneurs. Discovering the sorry state of OpenSSL does not equate to demonstrate that Free and Open Source Software does not work as intended, it only means that there are a whole lot of people benefiting from it -the users- and a few people probably abusing it, while the core contributors do not get anything in the end. And while no one suggests there is an obligation to pay core contributors in one way or another, certainly no one actually paid attention to the OpenSSL developers.
Let’s come back to LibreOffice. We often get messages, public and private, in the form of: “this or that feature does not work. How can it not work? You should be ashamed to offer this software. I expect software to work, and if it does,’t, well, I’ll take my business elsewhere!”. Of course we have not received this complaint but we did receive similar emails of what can qualified as digruntled customers. At first they were irritating to me, even though some of them were pointing to actual bugs. Now, they make me smile. Not having my livelihood depend on bug fixing helps too, but it would still make me smile. At the risk of offending a few people, these complaints make me think of people who browse large malls, have no money, will not spend anything of course, but who will call the better business bureau and the shops managers to complain about how the racks are aligned or the weak A/C. Could they be right? Probably yes, why not.
Will it be fixed because they communicated their frustration? Probably yes. Or perhaps no. It will really depends if their complaint is justified and if the mall has enough money to fix these issues.
When it comes to Free Software projects, there’s a profound, deep misunderstanding about who does what and how it’s being done. Using the now overused quote, developers write a code “because they have an itch to scratch”, means that there can be twenty different motivations to contribute to Free Software. No one needs to explain or justify his or her contribution. In the real world, one of the most common motivation is money, be it in the form of a salary, a fee, or a transaction involving the developers to fix whatever bug or develop a new feature. Most of the FOSS projects I know -excluding Firefox- do not pay developers directly for fixing bugs except in very specific circumstances and by definition not on a regular basis. The LibreOffice project is no different. The Document Foundation serves the LibreOffice project by financing its infrastructure, protecting its assets and improving LibreOffice in almost every way except paying for development on a regular basis. What this means, in other terms, is that the Document Foundation does not provide support; nor does it provide service to customers. In this sense, it is not a software vendor like Microsoft or Adobe. This is also one of the reasons why there is no “LTS” version of LibreOffice; because the Document Foundation will not provide a more or less mythical “bug-free version” of LibreOffice without ensuring the developers get paid for this. The healthiest way to do this is to grow an ecosystem of developers and service providers who are certified by the Document Foundation and are able to provide professionals with support, development, training and assistance.
To expect software that’s both Free as in beer and as in speech, without bugs and meeting most of your needs is a dream. Free Software delivers software freedom, digital rights; it greatly improves the collaborative development of software and the nurturing of software commons. It does not deliver you free lunch, and it never will. Or rather, if there is free lunch, it will be somebody’s lunch you share with him or her.
How can you help? There are many ways to contribute: joining the community by actively participating to its workflows, its teams and offering time, manpower, expertise; or with money, if you’re a professional user or donating to the project. You can do all this with LibreOffice (donate here; see how you can join us there). Ultimately, Free Software projects do not sell products, they grow communities. Stop being a consumer, become a contributor!
July 10, 2014
Eyes & Ears – July Edition
Welcome to the July installment of Eyes & Ears. This month we have quite a long mix by Chicane. I love most of the tracks released by what was at first a collective and is now one DJ. It seems there were a few years of inactivity in between their three main releases (Far from the maddening crowds, their best one I think, Behind the Sun and the Somersault); now Chicane is back, most notably with its Sun:Sets sessions.
Here’s the volume 1, but you can directly access to the other 7 volumes on SoundCloud:
Another great release of this month is the latest album of the Russian wonder DJ Moko, Future Hope. I’ve got the full album below:
An Eyes & Ears session would not be complete without at least one book suggestion. This month I’m reading the White Dominican by Gustav Meyrink. It’s an intensely spiritual story about an orphan boy with a deep sense of spirituality and mystery in Germany who meets a Dominican monk, and how he will come to travel along a few paths less travelled.
Enjoy the beginning of the Summer Season!
July 06, 2014
What’s up with Open Standards?
It has been a while since I have discussed open standards here, even though I have alluded to them in passing. There are currently a number of initiatives and policies ongoing at the European level that are bringing this topic back on the table, especially with regard to public procurement practices. Why does it matter? Because it shows that beyond any kind of advantage, convenience, or the mere ability to have a real choice of IT solutions suppliers, open standards are considered by much of the private and public sectors as some sort of nuisance.
Depending on how you see it, the “battle” for open standards is either won, or it is still ongoing at the normative level (think about the DRM injection in HTML5 that happened at the W3C). Open Standards, more than ever before, rule the IT industry and the Internet. Cloud technologies rely on open standards to a large extent; purchasing music tracks online lets you increasingly download open file formats that, while they may not be exactly standardized themselves, have open specifications and are unencumbered wiith digital restrictions management (yes, that’s how DRM should really be called).
On the other hand, desktop technologies are still a major issue. One could assume it is because of the stranghold of an entrenched monopoly, and perhaps it is, to some extent. We are in 2014 however, and both open standards and FOSS desktop offerings (LibreOffice, Firefox, Linux distributions for the desktop) are legion. These have a real uptake among what is often referred to as the consumers’ market and that’s great news, but when it comes to what’s going on in the workplace, there seems to be little choice aside the MS Office + Outlook + SharePoint on Windows stack. Why is that the case? Why is the European Commission still trying to tackle the problem in 2014?
The Desktop is traumatizing
And more exactly, change is traumatizing. Technology changes very quickly, but the more structured the workplace you have, the less adaptative it will be for IT solutions. If you add the specific culture of the organization that can sometimes be more or less rigid and centered on one vertical industry, you will find long cycles of deployment for any kind of IT technologies and a reluctance to “switch” to a new brand or a new kind of software. This could not be more true on the desktop. I’ve been writing this for years here, but there are reasons for that: the desktop is used by pretty much everyone in the organization. While it is somewhat changing with the arrival of tablets and smartphones, desktops are here to stay. The problem is that desktops are very complex systems -offering a graphical interface and tools for pretty much every kind of uses and situations one can imagine- and as such come with more quirks than other devices and other software platforms. These quirks end up being noticed by the users, who most of the time are not computer-savy and will be reluctant to change. Worse, their skills will directly or indirectly be challenged by the change. This fear of change ends up being passed on to the CIO level, who has to make the purchase decision, and does not want to be hold liable for having chosen that “weird, so called innovative solution no one gets”.
Just like with any fear, we are not talking about rationality. In 2014, people who use Twitter on a daily basis will shout if their desktop has changed overnight. It is not a good practice to do that kind of brutal change anyway, but the very concept of microblogging was unknown to them 5 years ago. They embraced it with no trouble at all. Their desktop, however, is a holy land, the solitaire game and their office suite their hallowed relics.
Open Standards can sometimes be hard to understand
It is hard enough for people to understand what protocols such as TCP/IP do. These open standards however are invisible to most of them, even if they’re using them on a daily basis. Other open standards, such as OpenDocument Format, are probably not conceivable by some people, who think that an office document is “an extension of Microsoft Office”. I have even heard of teachers, here in France, who refused to even mention ODF because such a thing “could not possibly exist”. The conceptual distinction between a file and an application has not permeated much, even in the twenty first century.
Yet, open standards are the way to go. They may not always be the superior technology, but they offer a level playing field for the industry to build on and innovate with. The Internet has been built on this, so does cloud computing. Desktop solutions are no different. Using open standards brings you back in control of your suppliers and IT infrastructure; it ultimately helps reducing costs and keep your data safe, reusable and sustainable for dozens of year to come. You can read more about it in the excellent article by Bjorn Lundell published here. Ultimately, the lock-in of the desktop solutions will stop being meaningful as the state of the art will change so much the solutions that are seen as essential today will stop being that important. But the documents, the images, the data, all your content will still be locked in undocumented file formats that need to be reverse-engineered in order to edit them. No one should build such a silo for the future and then throw away the key. That’s what has been happening for more than a decade on the desktop, unfortunately. Where does that lead us? I think we can already see where: vendor lock-in is here to stay on a more or less large extent; but so are open standards. There will then be people who are stuck with their vendors and constantly handle the legacy; there will be the others, who actually enable information technologies to help them innovate. For them, the story has only started.
June 29, 2014
Hacking LibreOffice in Paris
Friday and Saturday were great days of excitement: The LibreOffice Hackfest in Montreuil, organized by the Document Foundation and Simplon.co, a “startup factory” born in a large struggling -yet charming- urban neighbourhood next to Paris, gathered active developers of the project and members of Simplon Co. The hackfest was a success and a great opportunity to work together on various tasks.
Developers were able to work on OOXML filters, performance improvements, hacking on the integration of the Firebird as the database behind the Base module…
…. as well as interacting with members of the french community and students from Simplon Co.
Less technical particpants (such as yours truly) had the opportunity to work on the Bern Conference planning, the messaging of the upcoming LibreOffice releases, and explain how the LibreOffice project works to our guests. And of course, food and drinks were not forgotten during the Friday evening…
Thank you everyone who participated, to Simplon Co. for their hospitality, to our dev team, to Collabora, and to the volunteers who made this event possible. Santé!
June 25, 2014
Deeper, Better, Farther: Growing the Community & Improving LibreOffice
There is something truly comforting in observing vibrant communities such as the one of LibreOffice. The project is growing, not just in developers but in adoption as well: more users as well as more localizations are a visible sign inside the project. All this is not only thanks to our good name and reputation; it is because as we are well into our fourth year of existence, it is important to realize that communities scale as much as their production and communication infrastructure is able to grow and perform its duties. Two words are of peculiar importance here: Production & Communication. In a Free and Open Source Software project, these two functions are tightly connected. The project enables the software production at the same time it enables communications between its members. Conversely, you cannot have a developers, users, or QA mailing list for instance, without relying on an existing code repository of some sort, otherwise you’re only doing vapourware (and vapourware only needs a database of press contacts, but no real mailing list).
Scaling up the production and communication infrastructure ultimately amounts to improve the software quality, featureset or both, and making the project contributors communicate more effectively, in between themselves and outside of the project as well. We have entered a period of fast growth inside LibreOffice; growth in terms of quality improvement, in terms of features, but in terms of what the Document Foundation can do, thanks to broader resources than when it first started. What this does not mean however is that our infrastructure team has free time available; but it means it can do more and accomodate more needs than previously. Here are a few concrete actions the project has been deciding recently and/or committing itself to in a systematic way since a few months:
- Hackfests: Of course these are not new, but looking on this list you will notice that they do now happen on regular and close intervals. These are actually very inclusive events and are open to anyone who wish to learn development on LibreOffice as well as joining the QA team and even how to contribute designs to the project. The next step being to go “transcontinental”, with hackfest taking place in the Americas, Europe, and Asia for instance. And for what it’s worth, we are having our hackfest in Paris this Friday…
- More localizations: more and more teams of localizers apply to have LibreOffice localized in their own language. It does not stop there though, as we also see an increase in new openings for native-language projects, meaning that these teams will go beyond localization to serve users in their native language, promote LibreOffice locally, etc.
- RedMine. Everywhere. All the time. With various teams come various needs, many different habits. Some will use wikis extensively, some others won’t. But many of them, when they’re not developers, have trouble actually coordinating and keeping track of their own project. After extensive tests the answer is RedMine. The Infra team has a dedicated RedMine instance for anything such as events planning to website management. As a side note, our Bugzilla is now used only for LibreOffice development and not anymore for the website, infrastructure or project management. RedMine tends to be easier to use, more adapted to a range of uses broader than software development, and bundles several tools such as wikis, gantt chart, issues tracking, etc.
- Sane files repository with OwnCloud. We now have our own. Enough with files lost on the wiki….
- A project-wide newsletter, gathering the quality throughout the project, dubbed LOWN (LibreOffice Weekly Newsletter) has been started and will now become a collaborative, online effort that will help circulate information around the community.
- Soon, we will have a multilingual blog planet derived from the one used by OpenSuse.
In terms of processes, two specific improvements must be listed:
- Regular QA bughunting sessions, allowing not just to tackle quality issues but to attract newcomers to the project -thanks Robinson!
- Regular release coordination and readiness for localizers and native-language projects – thanks Sophie!
All this ultimately leads to a breadth of improvement, in the community and in the final stages of the 4.3 release, a major one to date. Check out the first draft of the release notes here.
Ultimately however, all this would not work without the team of LibreOffice contributors who help make LibreOffice what it is today: a fun project, fantastic people, and a free office suite that is the best productivity tool you can find around.
June 15, 2014
Linux email clients – the road less traveled
One area on the Linux desktop that remains surprisingly conservative is email – email clients and webmail alike. While most if not all of the formats and protocols used are true open standards, you would think there could be a broad range of clients and webmails for Linux out there. Let me correct that: webmails are in a league of their own and I will not enter the webmail vs. email clients discussion. Many things are changing in that field, but one must differentiate between the actual email service, like GMail, your corporate mail, the webmail software (Roundcube, Horde, Citadel, Squirrel, etc.), the groupware platform (Kolab, Blue Mind, OBM, eGroupWare, and many others) and what lands and gets edited, if you’ve chosen so, in your email client, meaning the actual software program running distinctly from your web browser and handling anything from emails to calendars and contacts. Today I will focus on the email clients on the Linux desktop. I do not pretend that my list is exhaustive; it is but a personal selection; I have also excluded email client such as Mutt, mu4e, VM, RMail, Ner, Wanderlust, etc. as I will only be speaking of graphical email clients on Linux, at least the ones I’ve tried.
Let’s face it: Mozilla Thunderbird is unavoidable. The reason it is so popular is that the choice of an actual email client other than Outlook or perhaps Lotus SameTime on Windows is actually quite reduced, aside the blue bird and perhaps the Pegasus mail. Anyway, Thunderbird occupies a strategic segment, so to speak, in that it is really multi-platform and caters to most peoples’ needs. I did use Thunderbird and in many ways I really like it. I do have two real issues with Thunderbird though. The first one has nothing to do with the software itself: It is that we -and by we I mean almost everyone I turn to- don’t know anything about the future of Thunderbird. What Mozilla plans to do with it, how the project works, where it goes is unclear. Thunderbird is being maintained, and before you ask, no, the Document Foundation will not develop Thunderbird in the future.
The second issue I have is that because of some subtle combination of factors mostly related to the mbox implementation in Thunderbird and the general application performance, the email client can be an absolutely awful resources hog. In fact, for anyone relying on email client with large or even huge email boxes, I would argue that Thunderbird is not the best option, even if its extensibility seems to keep some portion of its user base happy. Basically, Thunderbird will do the job but if you’re down to three different emails and a few gigabytes of inboxes your computer will turn into an oven, and a slow one at that. Be it as it may, Thunderbird’s value, I think, lies in its ability to address almost everybody’s needs without being “feature complete” in any way.
At this stage you may be thinking that if I call Thunderbird a resources hog then Evolution must feel like crushing an ipad under a truck. Well, I have used Evolution intermittently since 2003(!) and I have seen it, er, evolve. Yes, Evolution was terrible for years in terms of resources and stability, although the features it offered and still offers are unique on Linux. After Gnome switched to its 3.x.x branch however, Evolution started a major rewrite and things improved considerably. I have been using Evolution for over a year in 2013. I know that Red Hat invested more resources in it after a few other hackers left. Surprisingly enough Evolution is faster and lighter than Thunderbird for large inboxes and multiple accounts. It also handles all sorts of mailbox formats and relies on the maildir format as a default, which does make a difference with large inboxes compared to mbox. One misconception I have also seen is that Evolution only handles one inbox. It is not true, you do have one global inbox for POP and local email accounts and inbox folders but if you use IMAP on several of your emails you will use several inboxes and of course several accounts. Feature-wise, Evolution offers what you expect for a corporate environment, meaning not just mail, but an actual working calendar, contacts management, tasks, memo, meeting planning, etc. If you do not have specific needs for calendaring and do not handle a lot of emails, then Thunderbird might become a more compelling option, although that is not really a really clearcut choice.
Readers of this blog will remember that Claws is my main email client, so don’t expect me to criticize it… or wait. I love Claws. It handles my gigabytes of email graciously, has built-in search that’s faster than anything I’ve witnessed (Thunderbird does not come close to that), handles the MH and the mbox formats like a charm… what’s not to like? Indeed, not much. True, the interface is not the most modern although a careful choice of iconsets can definitely improve the looks of Claws. On the other hand the interface is not antique and is very clear. Where I see limits is not in Claws’s mail handling but on pretty much everything around it. For email clients, this means at least contacts management and calendar. On these two fronts, Claws Mail is not on par with Evolution or Thunderbird. Let me explain.
When it comes to contacts and addressbooks, claws is doing relatively fine, especially on fields completion and contacts search; but the actual interface of the addressbook and the management of contacts is rather poor, so poor in fact that the Claws Mail project has started a rewrite (the first one since their fork off Sylpheed) of the contacts management module. The other area is the calendar. There is no calendar in Claws officially but there’s the vcalendar plugin. Help is very welcome in improving it feature-wise, but in making it actually usable. There’s a bug with recurring appointments that’s been driving me crazy for something like 3 years now. What can you do with this calendar? Receive invitations, send them, getting notifications. All this works if they’re not set as recurring events and if you like austere interfaces. Do not expect more from vcalendar though.
It is not entirely clear what is Kontact and what is Kmail because these two are very well integrated. I do not use Kontact on a regular basis: I’ve tried it and tested it several times. It has a very broad range of features which sets this KDE email client somewhere on par with Evolution but I have not tested its performance entirely. My problem with it? I don’t have a problem per se, I have seen Kontact working in conjunction with the Kolab plugin and the data sync is impressive. But I don’t use KDE regularly, and don’t intend to use it in the forseeable future.
I have either given a few of them a try, or not at all, but it does not mean I am not interested or that they’re not good. Here are three of them with cursory notes:
- Geary: I like its slick look but as far as I can see, the scope of features is just not what I’m looking for. It must be stressed, however, that Geary is currently undergoing heavy development, so who knows what will be the outcome in, say, one or two years.
- Balsa: a very old email client, a bit like Claws. I’ve never tried it though, but I’m interested in opinions on the subject.
- Trojita: I’ve heard really good things about this Qt email client; I’ve never used it though but I’ll give it a try soon.
What’s your take on email clients on Linux? I love the diversity and range of choices available, but feel a bit disappointed by the lack of awareness coming from Linux users about these projects. I hope this post can help improve things a bit!
June 10, 2014
Ever wondered how much your local authority would get per year if the Get Britain Cycling report was implemented?
- Posted by Shaun McDonald's Blog on June 10, 2014 06:32 AM
Have you wondered how much your local authority would have to spend on cycling if the Get Britain Cycling report was implemented? Particularly the point about £10 to £20 per head of population per year.
Well wonder no longer as I’ve created a spreadsheet with the population for each local authority in Britain based on the last census.
Take a look at this Google doc that I’ve created: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1LFoIdkcaxCmN2__mxu_jwb41l4jBnHrVi4kQD_as70I/edit?usp=sharing
You can search for your Local Authority in the Google Doc. How much infrastructure could be built in your area if this level of sustained funding was implemented?
June 04, 2014
- Posted by John McCreesh (Meall Doubh) on June 04, 2014 12:47 PM
On a visit to Scotland, it’s impossible to avoid the issue of the referendum on Scottish Independence, due to take place in September. The media explore endlessly every possible ramification of a ‘Yes’ vote. It all feels very odd – is this really what the birth pangs of a new nation should feel like?
When my grandparents’ generation set up the Irish Free State, they didn’t debate endlessly whether cross-border issues might work for or against their advantage. For them, it was simply a matter of “It’s our country. Give it back”.
I’m sure the same is true when the people of India gained their independence – they didn’t agonise over the pros and cons to their economy of membership of the British Empire. No, they simply said “It’s our country. Give it back”.
If the people of Scotland truly wish to join the independent nations of the world, then on September 18th, all it needs is for enough people to put their hands on their hearts and say: “It’s our country. Give it back”. Everything else can be worked out afterwards. In fact, for Scotland to earn its place as an independent nation, nothing else should matter.
Eyes & Ears – the June session
Welcome to the June installment of Eyes and Ears. Today is mostly about music videos, and not all the tracks are new. But I do like them so… To start with we have a rather old track by John Beltram perfomed in Tokyo with an interesting ending, I don’t think I had ever heard it before.
John Beltran in Tokyo from John Beltran on Vimeo.
The next two are novelties for me, discovered per chance by browsing the net. The short flicks match the tracks very well I think. We have a band called Message to the Bears, an ambient pop collective from United Kingdom, with their “Moonlight” track
Message to Bears – Moonlight from Benjamin Dowie on Vimeo.
Last but not least a beautiful animation with a classic-sounding house track by Max Cooper, “Supine”. Enjoy!
Max Cooper – Supine from Tom Geraedts on Vimeo.
May 31, 2014
Join us at the Paris – Montreuil LibreOffice Hackfest!
I usually don’t dedicate a full post to these events, but this one is special to me for obvious reasons. On the 27th and the 28th of June, in Montreuil (right next to Paris) The Document Foundation and Simplon.co will organize a LibreOffic hackfest, joining both LibreOffice hackers, Simplon.co students, partners and guests inside the Simplon rooms.
Simplon.co is a unique concept that manages to be at the same time a software development school, a cooperative software development team and a meeting place for innovators in Montreuil. This group helps many people on a local basis who may either not have enough funds or even the proper academic credentials by providing a full software development curriculum.
Three years after the first LibreOffice Conference and just before the LiboCon in Bern in September, it will be a good opportunity to kickstart the summer season with LibreOffice. During the course of the event a press conference will also take place, highlighting the state of the project. More information as well as registration is available on this page which is the current preparation page. We hope to see many of you in Montreuil!
May 24, 2014
Mozilla, a tale of gentrification
This post has a high trolling potential, I am aware of it. So let’s start with a few points meant as a caveat emptor. The views expressed here are mine , solely mine and do not represent the views of the Document Foundation nor my current employer. As a consequence I shall take all the blame, yes, I will, “Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco et peccatum meum contra me est semper “.
By now I’m sure you’ve read the announcement about Mozilla allowing DRM in Firefox. It stirred up quite a controversy and looking at the news, blogposts and tweets these days it is not really going away. I cannot help but wondering where all those protesters are today, the LGBT cause supporters, who discovered Mozilla was infringing a newly found human right by appointing an opponent of same sex marriage as its CEO, Brendan Eich. You who were so loud and outspoken, where are you today folks? Still as concerned with Mozilla than you were a month ago? Hmm? No? You must not be paying attention.
Contrary to Glyn Moody in his excellent article, I do not judge Mozilla’s decision in the same harsh way. At least not the decision itself: if we were to stick to Glyn’s arguments, then Mozilla should never have allowed Adobe/Macromedia Flash in the first place (that’s the very short argument). However, I believe that Mozilla’s decision must be assessed in a broader context. We are in 2014 and things are quite different from what they were in, say, 2004. From a very practical point of view (read: market share) it could make sense to include what has been outrageously approved by the W3C inside the html5 standard as EME, or in other words, DRM for specific videos. Obviously these only represent a small fraction of all videos found on the internet, and even a smaller fraction of the most popular ones. But as with all DRM this kind of content is doomed to fail and to be soon forgotten in the cemetary of the stupid and proprietary web technologies that suppress digital freedoms. I am not really worried about that in the long term, but a strong stance against DRM by Mozilla would probably have created quite an impression and helped spread the message and raise the awareness on these matters.
The problem I see, however, is something I’ve witnessed for some time now, and while I’m aware that I will probably look like I’m howling with the pack (something I do not like at all) I believe I should come clean about it. This problem is about Mozilla itself, what it does, how it operates, its own standing within the Free and Open Source Software community and its revenue model. In fact, I believe all these points are tightly connected and discretely conspired to bring Mozilla where it is today. This is not to say that I don’t like what Mozilla does and has done. This is not to say that there isn’t a whole bunch of great people inside Mozilla: there are, I know several of them. This is not to say that Mozilla is not an exciting set of projects and ventures: I think it will continue to be exciting in the years to come. And many of us know what technology does to any project or company in just a few years: kill it or make it blossom.
What I believe is going on with Mozilla is a quest to be a very respectable player in the IT industry. It is a continued, yet subtle, refusal to be part of the wider Free and Open Source Software community (which is not necessarily wrong in itself), a certain posture that is about words, slogans, nice web sites, but not about a radical course for software and Internet freedom. I am convinced that Mozilla does a lot of good, even after this announcement on DRM, but I also feel a certain gentrification taking place inside Mozilla. And it would probably not be very easy to avoid it if you were in their shoes. I mean, hundreds of millions in the bank, Firefox OS, big telcos all around you, smacking down Internet Explorer, working with charities, what comes next? Barack Obama offers all of you a trip on board of Air Force One? Maybe. Except that from gentrification one can develop a sense of entitlement. You are the project that matters. The browser.
You keep the Internet open, no matter what the FCC makes of it. While I trust the leadership of Mozilla to handle all these challenges and successes in the best way possible, I also expect that some of these things will start to turn their heads away from a certain state of things and change the perception not so much of the “reality”, but of what they can, should, and are entitled to do. In their case, it would not be hubris or anything like that; but it would work like a creepy and increasing feeling of isolation matched with a constant care about the survival of the structure; and on top of that, something which is both a blessing and a curse: Mozilla’s revenue model.
One peculiar aspect of the Mozilla project, be it the foundation, Firefox or Firefox OS that seems to have eluded most of the pundits and other commentators is the way it actually functions. Obviously, all this is Free and Open Source Software. You have the code, all the tools you need, you can even contribute bug reports and patches. But projects like Firefox are the kind of projects that rely on developers paid directly by the Mozilla Foundation / Corporation. It is not a bad thing, software freedom does not mandate you to accept anybody else’s contribution. But it does frame the development model and the community governance in a very specific way. Today, Mozilla has several hundreds of employees. You read that well, several hundreds. Not everyone is a software developer, but many are. It is a very different place compared to LibreOffice or the Linux kernel for instance. Just like with everything else, there are benefits and downsides. Among the latter, not paying attention to contributors and the outside world in general, while developing a sense of “Not Invented Here” while thinking inside the box framed by how the structure work is one of them. I’m not saying this is a major issue for Mozilla, because every structure that is strong ultimately develops this kind of patterns. What I’m trying to do here is to paint a picture of a project heading towards a certain direction and developing a mindset that will ultimately prove detrimental to its own relevance. Survival of the structure is another issue. Every single structure that is strong enough to survive a few years will develop, though its aggregated teams and individuals an urge to survive. Sociology and anthropology have demonstrated that. In our contemporary world, this usually translates into long brainstorming sessions and internal team meetings that end up amounting to this question: “How do we stay relevant?” Now don’t get me wrong: this may actually be a really good question. But the point here is that the structure wants to survive, not because it’s right, not because it should, only because it ends up working for that purpose, instead of being a tool or an entity established for a purpose different and distinct from itself. As a result, you have people who lose focus on what they came to do at first but as a paradox acquire a very sharp focus on how their organization is unique and must prevail. There’s now the “we” and then there’s the “them”.
Last but not least, the revenue model. There was yet another set of heated discussion after Mozilla ended up withdrawing their idea of inserting ads in their tabs. I believe it was a right decision after all, but I am not the only one thinking that this issue is one of revenue model. Mozilla famously got rich after they worked out this search engine bar revenue scheme with Google several years ago. And it ended up becoming insanely rich for an Open Source project. Perhaps too rich, some might say. Well, I don’t believe that’s the case. I think they chose a revenue model that made sense at that time, they were successful with it and drove some exciting projects with these resources. Some were a success, some failed. That’s part of what everybody does. But the revenue model puts demands and limits on what Mozilla is able to do. They also have to think in terms of safeguarding the sheer budget volume, and given the size of Google’s contribution (the agreement with Microsoft is of no trivial size as well) this cannot be an easy task. Therein lies the rub: At some point in time, which seems to have already been reached, Mozilla will have to increase the revenue generated by the online ads, which in turn will end up increasing their prevalence inside Mozilla software in general. Yet Mozilla knows users reject these, and no amount of “creative semantics” will convince them. An ad-based business model is fundamentally one relying on the pricing of campaigns and the acceptation by consumers of these ads themselves. The latter part seems somewhat compromised. If the advertising market goes south, and not by a lot, it will hurt Mozilla rather quickly. Mozilla must come up with other sources of revenues, keeping in mind that these might have to mechanically diminish (advertising market bubble anyone?). When that day arrives, it will not be pretty for the lizards.
This is where I think Mozilla surprizingly failed so far. The revenues generated by their agreement with Google could have set them free to do a lot of things and to help them build services and technologies. Online services requires skills Mozilla already has or can acquire. I am an avid user of Mozilla Sync. Why there hasn’t been any Mozilla challenger to DropBox is a mystery to me. And they could even charge for it beyond a certain storage threshold. I would not mind. Why isn’t there a nifty or shiny online office suite by Mozilla? I do not think it is out of respect for the Document Foundation. Why is Thunderbird left as a second class citizen, with no roadmap, and no clear venue to contribute to its development?
Granted, Mozilla did a lot of other things. They opened up a series of collaborative spaces all around the world, even in places that had already plenty, sometimes barely a block away from such venues(case in point: Paris). Why Mozilla felt they could do this without the local community of hackers, free software supporters, IT entrepreneurs and IT students is beyond me. They have also partnered in the field of web technologies education and free journalism support. And of course, there’s Firefox OS which in my view has great potential. It is a lot, and somehow it feels too little. If it sounds subjective, it is because it is, in part. My experience within the Document Foundation helps me get a vantage point on what can be done with a certain volume of (limited) resources, and what it means to be lean and mean.
In a nutshell, Mozilla could do a lot better, but the real issue seems to be that they do not intend to take that route. We have talked about Brendan Eich, we have heard interesting terms, trying to call online ads by any other name. We have heard very little about digital freedoms, even though Firefox is instrumental in ensuring these; and what’s with this weird “Open Web” meme that sounds like something halfway between an ISP advertising its latest plan and a new, fashionable yet odd hiking contraption? We are lacking some sense and purpose, some well defined goal – I’m all for memes when they are shared by everyone even if they don’t render the whole message accurately- but the Open Web? Why not talk about software freedom and digital rights? Is Mozilla that much scared of the bearded Free Software mob that they have to distance themselves from it by competing with the dubious help of convoluted slogans?
I know, some of you must think that I’m jealous. I know some would be. But oddly enough, I do not wish the Document Foundation to ever become as big as Mozilla. Surprising? It shouldn’t be. In our industry, smaller means more agile, better, faster. It also means more personal. Somewhere down these lines, a certain part of Mozilla has been lost. Can we get it back?
I’m almost done, and I don’t want to troll Mozilla to death anyway, at some point I will offend someone there, so let me finish by offering a personal view on what could be done next at Mozilla in terms of strategy and revenue model:
- As stated above: work on your mission and on your message. I’ll get more people fighting for microbreweries in my own district in Paris than for something as fantomatic as the Open Web that no one understands anyway.
- Progressively switch to a donation based model. It actually works with the point above, in that by getting a strong sense of purpose you can mobilize and work with volunteers, who in turn increase by their own networking and by your own communication the individual donations coming from everywhere. Mind you, people will donate 10 bucks, so you need a lot of them to get even somewhere close to a budget based on Google and Microsoft donations. You may of course blend the two models, but the switch will also mean that you will have to work with, by and through your community of volunteers. Which could well bring about the most critical change in the Mozilla project.
- The good thing with Mozilla is that it has both a foundation and corporation (read: a charity and a business) which means you can also think in terms of business model. I know that it is already the case otherwise you would have closed the corporation years ago; but here you can monetize on two fronts: OEM/Phone and tablets manufacturers, and service/consultancy for large organizations. I am not too sure the latter would be your bread and butter, but keep in mind that Mozilla can become or is already a cloud technology provider. This is an interesting path to think about.
- Attract revenue from the platform. This one is longer term, as it requires that Firefox OS be at least an installed player; once this would happen Mozilla would benefit from an actual platform, and could derive revenue -no, the App Store is not the only model out there- from the various relations the platform would have enabled an created. It could be anything from specific deals, services, to apps monetization.
The world is a dangerous place, not so much because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. – Einstein
Rock on Mozilla.
May 19, 2014
Eyes and Ears – May Edition
After a few weeks of a rainy Spring season the sun seems to have arrived over Paris. At least for now. This means another installment of the Eyes and Ears series is due! Let’s start right away with our books section.
Today I’d like to tell you about a funny and very interesting book. It’s called Cockpit Confidential and it is pretty much a book on everything you’ve ever wondered about airliners and air travel. You can find it pretty much anywhere but, interestingly enough, its author maintains a blog that is apparently famous, “Ask the Pilot“.
Moving on to our mixes and music section this great summer house mix from Tania Moon in Madrid will set you right up for the season:
TANIA MOON – OPEN HOUSE MADRID – 11 MAYO 2014 by Ibiza Sonica on Mixcloud
Now, this mix from Café del Mar is a not a traditional one, as it is performed by Michael E. Love it or hate it, it has some great tracks on it yet you do feel the romantic and classical influence of this quite remarkable composer.
Namasté (3 November 2012) by Luc Forlorn on Mixcloud
Last but not least one small yet precious pearl from Italy that has gone largely unnoticed. It was released by the Falerna (aka Laverna) netlabel and the artists comes out as “Fedepiano”, delivering exquisite ambient and electronica tunes. It also proves once more that there is a great and somewhat unknown electronica scene in Italy.
Full Of Lights by Falerna
Have a great week!
May 12, 2014
- Posted by John McCreesh (Meall Doubh) on May 12, 2014 07:45 AM
For over a year now, most UK banks and building societies have offered to take the hassle out of moving current accounts from one provider to another. On an agreed date, they agree to swap everything over. One day you’re with your old provider; on the next, you’re with the new one. According to the glossy publicity, painless.
I look after finances for some elderly relatives, continuing to use whatever current accounts they used themselves. However, one of these banks has recently changed its terms and conditions so that its current account is no longer attractive, so I thought it was time to switch. I’ve had excellent service from my local building society, so I thought I’d give them the business.
Setting up the new account was easy. Although I do virtually all banking over the internet, opening an account online for another person under a power of attorney is a real pain. Using a local branch was brilliant. It took half an hour or so one lunchtime, and the account was up and operational.
The big switch is now set for next week (at a time when there’s not much happening in the account). Now, I can believe that the banks can easily swap over the balance and all the outgoing payments (standing orders, direct debits). They have all the necessary information under their control.
But the headline statements about the switch say the banks will also swap over all the incoming payments too. This is much more challenging – getting pension payments, interest payments, etc all swapped over by the people making the payments.
Reading the small print very carefully, what the banks actually say they will do is: every time they they receive a payment into the old account, they will immediately forward it to the new account – for thirteen months. They will also tell the organisation responsible, and ask them to make the change. So it isn’t quite as seamless – or as guaranteed – as it appears at first sight.
And there perhaps is the flaw in this whole process. Will notoriously bureaucratic and inefficient organisations like the Department for Work and Pensions play ball? Time will tell.
In the mean time, let’s see how the switch goes next week. And if you are tired of banking with a company whose values are at odds with your own, have a look at Move Your Money to motivate you to switch!
May 08, 2014
LibreOffice Calc – Reintroducing Spreadsheets
Today I would like to discuss a boring subject: Spreadsheets. Actually it’s not that boring when you come to think of it. At least I’m going to try not to make it boring. Let me set something straight first: Spreadsheets are not just about numbers; they are about data. You may have already read Michael Meeks’ article on LibreOffice’s major rewrite of its spreadsheet engine (the much famed Ixion engine that was alluded to first in 2010) and indeed this is a major development for LibreOffice and ultimately for office suites in general – I’ll come back to that later- but this post is not an appreciation article for Michael and Kohei, it’s about how we think of spreadsheets, why we tend to think of them in a very limited way, and how we could redefine the uses of LibreOffice Calc.
There is something wrong with spreadsheets. We tend to think of them as tools to calculate and handle numbers and measures of various kinds. For many people, spreadsheets equal accounting and budget. Of course, these are tasks spreadsheets are perfectly meant for. Ultimately however, the key to spreadsheets is not their ability to perform two basic roles, display numbers and manipulate them. It is to extract meaning and data from these numbers and to manipulate this data to make other patterns emerge. This crucial point tends to be somewhat forgotten, yet it is something users do on a daily basis, although pretty often in a limited way.
There are two reasons for this. We often think of office suites as a set of predefined scenarios: the word processor is used for a letter. The spreadsheet is for accounting. Presentation software is for shiny slides where people write countless points and sentences all over the place so that no one understands anything. RIP Steve Jobs. But I digress. The point here is that we tend to copy usage, but hardly think of the software we use as a tool. The second reason may well lie in the inherent limitations of the tool itself and the information system in which the tool – the spreadsheet – operates.
The latter point is fortunately about to change. LibreOffice ships a rewritten Calc engine that is able to churn data faster, better, partly thanks to a brand new design and partly by relying on GPUs instead of the good old CPU power. What does it mean to us? It means that we are going to be able to interact with much bigger volumes of data and do more with it than with any other spreadsheet software out there. I’m not about to blow the horn by claiming that LibreOffice Calc is now more powerful than Excel – it is true in a certain sense but the assertion is too bold if it’s not a detailed claim- but what I’m trying to say is that we should stop thinking of LibreOffice Calc as a nice me-too spreadsheet module inside LibreOffice and that we ougt to realize that spreadsheet software is fundamentaly about data and its representation.
A false, yet commonly admitted notion is that a spreadsheet is just some sort of table, or group of tables, called sheets. It is not. In fact, you can have tables inside a document opened by a word processor, but it will be different from a spreadsheet. Tables inside a document, inside Writer or elsewhere (emacs, MS Word, etc.) have no “intelligence”. They are just tables, with rows and columns. Spreadsheets have rows and colums too, but they also have cells that can be identified as resources, objects, and specific data sets. The same goes with rows and columns. It is possible to perform all sorts of actions based on the data that has been entered in cells, and this data can be processed elsewhere on the spreadsheets, such as in a different cells. It is possible to create representations of this data directly inside the spreadsheet, be it with specific markings, with operations on the data set (performing calculations with mathematical formulas for instance) or draw a fully visual chart of the data available on the spreadsheet. One thing which is now possible with LibreOffice Calc is the ability to stream and update the data existing inside the spreadsheet from and to different places such as the Internet. Where LibreOffice Calc shines though is in its ability to manage this data and perform complex operations on it. At the end of the day, LibreOffice Calc lets you achieve an unprecedented ability to manipulate data and to represent it in a clear and compelling way. By doing so, Calc is getting a bit closer to some types of databases but still retains its fundamental uses and purposes.
While this may not appeal to you if all you’re looking for is to define your monthly budget based on your income and expenses, this increased power and capacity appeals to several different kinds of users, such as universities, mathematicians, financial research, etc. But let’s move away from these number-intensive scenarios for a short while. Did you know you could use LibreOffice Calc to perform task management ? To-do lists? Track the progress of a project? In these cases, numbers may be involved, but so are words, concepts and ideas. Calc can be configured to manage projects and teams and will do that very well, by representing the project and team’s data, tasks and deadlines in a compelling and synthetic way. I was about to finish but talking about time tracking, did you know you could use LibreOffice Calc as a perpetual calendar? No? And what about the Football world cup in Brazil this year? We could not forget that, so Klaibson Ribeiro of the Brazilian project came up with the definitive team and matches chart for the world cup. And he did this with LibreOffice Calc!
May 05, 2014
Hidden costs of British cycle funding
- Posted by Shaun McDonald's Blog on May 05, 2014 09:51 AM
One of the big problems with the funding of cycle infrastructure in Britain, is that unlike other things it is rare for there to be a dedicated revenue budget for the cycle infrastructure. The City of Edinburgh Council is one of the notable exceptions who have allocated 5% of the transport budget and are increasing it over the next few years.
On the other hand in many other parts of Britain, such as Suffolk, cycle infrastructure is generally funded either through Section 106 money from new developments, or through bidding for specific projects with certain pots of money that get announced from central government from time to time. There is generally relatively little money in the main transport budget allocated to cycling beyond repairs.
With the Section 106 agreements the money from a single development is often so little that it won’t give a single improvement scheme, and the money if often banked until there are several developments that provide Section 106 money before a scheme is implemented. Also recent changes mean that it’s much easier for developers to not pay up, or argue that the demands are too onerous.
With the bidding process for the special pots of money that get announced from time to time, there are various problems with the system. It’s unknown when the next pot of money will be announced nor how much it will be. Often it will be short notice, so there won’t be enough time to draw up the bid in time for the bidding process or spending the money, such as when it’s got to be spent in the same financial year. I have heard of cases where the council officers ask local cycle campaigners a few days before the bid is due, which often isn’t enough time to respond. However councils and cycle campaigners can be organised and ready for this situation to occur.
Matt Turner has a blog post listing all the announcements from central government highlighting investment in cycling, which he keeps up to date. However a lot of the funding is mixed with other sustainable transport funding, which means that that councils don’t have to spend the money on improving cycle infrastructure, thus it’s harder to come up with a figure of how much has been spent on cycling. It is also extremely complicated as to which pot of money can be used by each authority and for which purpose.
There is a hidden cost to the bidding process as council officers have to spend time speculatively writing up potential projects which will often just be rejected due to too many bids or poor quality rushed bids. It would be much better if they were spending their time on projects which were more likely to succeed.
In the past there have been network based plans of improvements, such as the LCN+ in London, however it wasn’t backed up with the regular funding needed to see through the completion of the network and often left out the hard bits, such as junctions. However if there is a single point on someone’s journey where they can’t cycle safely, the transport planners have failed them, as the bicycle user may just give up and revert back to the car as they don’t feel safe enough to ride a bike.
Of course this wouldn’t be a problem if cycling would have a significant revenue budget. This means that longer term plans could be much easier planned in over the longer term, as the transport planners and cycle campaigners know that there will be money available each year for cycling related improvements. It then becomes a problem of ensuring that the improvements are of a high quality, which is a much easier problem to solve than there being not enough money on a regular basis for ambitious improvements. Of course there could still be some form of bidding process for bigger pots of money for bigger projects, however that should be an exception rather than a rule.
Ideally councils would have £10 to £20 per head of population per year, to spend solely on cycle infrastructure so that Britain can catchup with The Netherlands and Denmark. These figures have been mentioned in the Get Britain Cycling report, and by a Lothians MSP. For Suffolk County Council with a population of 668553 at the last census, that would mean £6,685,530 (£6.6 million) to 13,371,060 (£13.3 million) per year available for cycling. Unfortunately Suffolk County Council don’t make it easy to find the transport budget, I can only presume that it sits in the “Economy, Skills & Environment” part, which stood at £77 million in the 2013-2014 financial year, thus hard to say how much of the transport budget it would engulf.
April 27, 2014
Eyes and Ears
Welcome to this April’s edition of Eyes and Ears. Today we have a pretty unique selection of tracks and one very nice book. Let me first start by the book, that I’m currently reading in its french translation. It’s written by the brilliant and famous scholar Elif Shafak and the title (in English) is the Forty Rules of Love. Don’t get distracted by the title or think I’m into romantic and frilly novels. This book is about love in many ways, but also about a major tradition in Islam called Sufism. It is a fascinating read.
Let’s now move on to the Ears part of the post, and kick it of with the latest mix of a rather discrete artist, John Beltram.
- Toni Simonen has brought up this very nice Spring mix of the Café del Mar; he’s been releasing two official Café del Mar albums now and the level of these compilations he is definitely bringing up the famous label release quality. Listen to this new mix, it’s definitely worth it.
Café del Mar Spring 2014 Mix by Toni Simonen by Café Del Mar Music (Official) on Mixcloud
- Some recently discovered artist, Collioure, is producing a rather diverse set of tracks. I’ve picked this one today as this is a rather fine one, although he tends to be more known for his deep house mixes.
- Last but not least, a free album download by Transient, “Waveform” e.p. I recommend the netlabel Laverna for its continuing support of free software, open content and the great quality of the artists’s works it publishes regularly since several years now.
That’s all for today folks, may your eyes and your ears enjoy words and sounds the same way mine have this past week. Until then… have a great first week of May!
April 20, 2014
LibreOffice, the distraction-free way
There is a growing momentum towards specialized “text editors” these days, and these tools are not meant for “geeks” or “hackers”, far from that: there are targeted at people who write long chunks of texts, and only text. You may have already guessed who they might be: fiction writers, journalists, etc. There is now a nice ecosystem of tools, most of them non free software, like Scrivener, that is in full expansion. If I’d tell you office suites can offer just the same benefits, you would call me biased. And indeed I might be. Just a tad…. But it’s true. On the other hand, people having specific needs in the way they write and edit texts are very real, from developers to fiction writers. The question is: should an office suite like LibreOffice accomodate everyone – and does it already?
I will first show how to turn LibreOffice into a distraction-free text editor -yes you can do that quite easily- and then I will try to answer the question above: should an office suite like LibreOffice accomodate everyone? in an attempt at defining what LibreOffice, and especially Writer, is and does as a tool.
LibreOffice Writer as a distraction-free text editor in a few simple steps:
The whole point of the following suggestions is to take away elements from LibreOffice’s writer interface.
- Get rid of the ruler: Go to the View top menu then unselect the Ruler
- Take away any unwanted toolbar from the same View menu (then use the Toolbar submenu), such as Drawing or WordArt bars. Don’t get me wrong: you could make every bar disappear but it’s not helpful: just get rid of what you think is clutter.
- In the Options menu go to Writer, Appearance, then change the Application background to a shade of dark grey (70 up to 90%). Do not mistake this with the document background, there’s a specific entry for the Writer background.
- The last step is optional: get rid of the Stylist vertical integration. Many people do not have this as a default, I do because it makes me save time when I have to select styles as I’m typing a document. To me, it’s not clutter so I left it that way. Below is a screenshot of LibreOffice in distraction-free mode with the stylist nested on the right, while the second screenshot is the same configuration of LibreOffice without the nested stylist.
Why do I mention the stylist? Because using styles is pretty much the single most important tool you need to be familiar with when using an office suite. Any office suite, that’s to say, otherwise you will end up wondering why office suites are so complex when you just have to type a letter to your insurance company… although there’s certainly a huge userbase for that.
What do styles do? They structure your document visually and logically. They make the difference between a simple text with bold, underlined and italic words appearing from time to time, and an ordered document with chapters, sections, paragraphs that stands both the test of time (and format conversion) and multiple revisions or updates. They also help you create great looking documents and create templates. In a nutshell, using LibreOffice without styles is like driving a car in first gear or using Emacs only through the scratch buffer (that one’s for the geeks). By the way, the same is true for MS Office styles, but LibreOffice and its predecessor OpenOffice.org are known to handle styles in a consistently more powerful way.
But styles cannot do everything. They cannot magically turn an office suite into a full development environment or code editor for instance. That would be pushing the enveloppe a bit too far. Which prompts the question of what an office suite like LibreOffice can, could and should do.
It is clear to anyone who used an office suite and code editors or IDEs such as Emacs, Cloud9 (code editor in the cloud) , NetBeans or Eclipse, that LibreOffice serves different needs. There is no will, and no point for anyone to turn LibreOffice into a code editor (aside the macro and dialog editor that’s already embedded in the suite, as shown on the right), because an office suite is not and will never be a development environment.
It is not rare to hear that word processors are a thing of a past, but that’s an ill-informed opinion. It is not that the cloud is supposedly overthrowing everything, but rather it comes, I think, from several misconceptions and prejudices about office suites. Let me first hint at what word processors are not:
- code editors: Seriously, some people need to drop that ball. I’m the first one to wish for a full blown html editor that works inside LibreOffice, but certainly not for a full suite with compilers and debuggers. These are specific tools, aimed at a specific range of uses.
- LaTeX editors: I have good friends who use these – in short, these are powerful tools allowing you to focus on text and then frame and format the text the way you want in a programmatic way. These editors require a lot of practice and learning before you can use them. LaTex editors are used mostly in academic fields. They are not word processors, and to be honest, the notion that you must spend years of training to design a document in LaTex even in 2014 strikes me as nonsensical.
- wordpads, simple text editors: a word processor can definitely do that, but you could of course use something less complex, if all you need is a simple text editor such as TextEdit or WordPad.
- online pads; if you were to implement a collaborative stack in an office suite, it could actually be turned into an etherpad/framapad type of tool, although the value of a word processor may lie elsewhere.
At this stage then, it becomes useful to try to define what a word processor does and why it matters.
A word processor edits and handles documents . Not code, not notes (although it could), only actual documents. Faced with this shockingly simple yet – in my humble opnion powerful – assertion, what do we do with it?
Word processors help you read, edit, save, open documents in a very fast and relatively easy way compared to everything else. Documents are not only made up of words and sentences. They come with a structural logic, specific formating, styles, layouts and graphical elements. While it may appeal to one of the broadest audience on the earth (people who have access to a computer and would like to write a document, such as a letter or a book or a shopping list) it does not mean that word processors or office suites are made for everyone else except developers, engineers and fiction writers. It means word processors excel at editing documents in a powerful way without much of training (compared to a full fledged academic or technical cursus in learning vi, emacs, LaTex editors…) and this uncanny ability does not really exist among any other tool out there. Sure, if you spend four years editing a document in LaTex, you will likely learn enough to make your PhD. thesis look good. Sure, there’s a customized major mode in Emacs enabling some proper visual document to be edited, but you need to know and learn about it beforehand, customize it some more, get acquainted with the custom shortcuts, etc.
I’m not berating these tools: I’m a regular and devout Emacs user myself. But I do love the comfort and smoothness of firing up LibreOffice Writer and write that nice memo or strategic overview for the Document Foundation just by pointing on the stylist, clicking, expressing my thoughts through the text I’m wirting, changing the fonts, run the spell checker, saving the document, closing it. Tomorrow, when I’ll open it, it will look just as good, and I might even make it look crisper for the benefits of my readers. How long will it take me? A couple of minutes. Ten, if I’m in the mood of changing everything. It cannot get any easier than that. Office suites, and especially word processors are powerful tools. They help create and develop one’s intelligence, and by sharing documents enhance the collective intelligence of groups and crowds. They are meant to be what the LibreOffice project strives to provide: engines of creation, tools for intelligence.
April 13, 2014
Brendan Eich, the bigots, and Software Freedom
For starters, let me remind you of several things:
No system is perfect…. And while Free Software is made of a set of legal norms, a philosophy, a political movement, and a way to produce and expand digital commons, Free Software in itself is something that constantly evolves. Sometimes people make mistakes. Technology changes. Licence evolve. Etc. A perfect system is a fantasy and does not exist in reality.
I have gay friends… And they’re not of the alibi-type of friends. They’re actual friends, buddies, people I have drinks with, people I meet and engage in discussions, people who tell me about their relationships, their work, their lives.
I have heterosexual and socially conservative friends… And they’re not of the alibi-type of friends. They’re actual friends, buddies, people I have drinks with, people I meet and engage in discussions, people who tell me about their relationships, their work, their lives.
When the controversy about Brendan Eich’s views and activism against gay marriage spread in the news, I thought that certainly this would not go much further than people shouting on blogs. I was wrong. While I do support gay marriage, I did not think for a moment that being a CEO of Mozilla meant that your personal views on politics and society would be judged. Everyone has political views and it is, after all, customary everywhere not to voice these opinions, nor to value them, at the workplace. Of course, I have written here and elsewhere that software freedom is political; surely then the board and the CEO of Mozilla must have some political commitment about digital rights and software freedom deeply rooted in their hearts and minds. I am pretty sure Brendan Eich is no different; but aside this, people are different. They have different stories, different ideas, different political views and different sexual orientations. Free and Open Source Software projects gather and welcome all kinds of people. In fact, the four freedoms at the core of Free Software licenses are explicit on the notion that Free Software is made available for anyone to use, study, modify and distribute as long as the software license is respected. I’m not making that up, the statement is on the Free Software Philosophy page of the FSF web site:
The freedom to run the program means the freedom for any kind of person or organization to use it on any kind of computer system, for any kind of overall job and purpose, without being required to communicate about it with the developer or any other specific entity. In this freedom, it is the user’s purpose that matters, not the developer’s purpose; you as a user are free to run the program for your purposes, and if you distribute it to someone else, she is then free to run it for her purposes, but you are not entitled to impose your purposes on her.
By now you may be wondering where I’m going with this. The point I feel very few people made in the controversy surrouding Brendan Eich is that Free Software does not care who you are voting for as an individual or even as an organization. What matters is respecting the license the software you are studying, using, modifyng and distributing, and to a broader extent, that the development community you are contributing to -if that is the case- is not deprived from its freedom. Now let’s take a few real, yet general cases of Free Software usage around the globe.
- Free Software such as Linux or Firefox, or LibreOffice (or BIND, or TCP/IP, etc.) is used by corporations actively engaging into child slavery
- Free Software (again, same example) is used by the U.S. Government for various needs, some of them being of the military and data collection kind. This statement is public knowledge of course. There are some parts of this world where the U.S. Government is not hold in high regard by some peoples and / or their government
- Some people from extremist parties around the world use Firefox and LibreOffice
- Some opponents of same-sex marriage, in the US and elsewhere, are using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Evolution, Linux, etc.
- Some proponents of same-sex marriage use the same software.
In this regard, I’m afraid I have bad news for all the people who thought Brendan Eich was unfit to be CEO of Mozilla: I know for a fact that there is one contributor of a major Free Software project who is an extreme right activist. He was seen by a friend per chance in an extreme right demonstration, as this friend was crossing a street in Paris. I know for a fact that projects such as LibreOffice have people who have, let’s put it that way, a rather traditional vision of marriage. I know for a fact that there are people who are actively campaigning in favour of gay marriage all around the world and who are active contributors to LibreOffice as well. And I could go on and on.
If you want to deny leadership positions to people who may have completely different views on marriage, gender and race equality inside Free Software projects or foundations, be ready for a witch-hunt. And then ask yourself the question of whether the same people should be expelled from the project. Then the next thing you should consider would be to only accept people who have been individually cleared from any dubious ideas into your project. You may not want to stop there: get new software licenses prohibiting Free Software to be used by certain kind of people. Someone tried this before and the FSF rejected it, by the way, as it was a blatant denial of software freedom. On top of this, you may want to impose a worldwide censorship and surveillance of the network just to make sure people who may have unacceptable ideas never get around to contact your project. What a fine world this would be, wouldn’t it?
Yes, even people who are outrageous bigots and blatant racists have a right to join, participate and use Free Software. We may not love everyone, but we do work with everyone and serve all of them. Free Software is not a party, it is a much bigger and broader movement encompassing technology, society, law, software and hardware, and ultimately some of our most human qualities: empathy, communication, cooperation, and sharing. The day this will change, software freedom will die – and the true freedom haters, the censors, the real bigots, the extremists will have won.
Caveat Emptor: This post reflects my personal opinion only and not the views of the Document Foundation nor my employers, past and present.
April 04, 2014
Keeping a promise made a long time ago
Some time around 2009 or 2010, the OpenDocument community realized that while it had won the moral battle over Microsoft and its dubious OOXML standard, it had lost the adoption and ecosystems war.
Microsoft Office had been released and with it an undocument format called OOXML which, as far as experts were concerned, had little to do with the ISO 29500 (aka OOXML) standard. While Europe and Brazil were struggling to migrate their public sector’s documents to ODF, any company or government, let alone any individual acquiring Microsoft Office 2010 migrated to the new and shiny OOXML, officially without remorse or complaint. The ODF advocacy groups here and there were launching all sorts of events and meetings to guide and assist migrations to ODF. Results were mixed. We had victories. We had defeats. At the end of the day what was at stake was fear of failure and change from CIOs and IT services. That’s still the case today. But while these are mostly human factors, there is one thing we hadn’t tried yet, or at least hadn’t been tried enough: turning the hundreds of thousands of files that are out there and locked up in various proprietary file formats to ODF documents.
This week the Document Foundation announced its second major project, the Document Liberation. Its aims is to pool and collect every file format filters we have and that people are willing to contribute and develop them so that they not only keep improving but are distributed in the largest number of applications. The aim of the Document Liberation is thus simple: to enable everyone to own its content and to bring a solution to vendor lock-in and undocumented file formats. In doing so, the project is keeping a promise made a long time ago, specifially by ODF. But ODF is a format itself, and while it is enjoying a pretty widespread adoption, it has not done what Microsoft did with OOXML: propose a smooth transition through a change people can accept. In the case of OOXML, as lousy as it seems, people accepted the change because they didn’t know better: Microsoft does this for a reason, so things will pan out all right in the end. They’re taking care of my documents. The industry will follow.
In the case of ODF, no one was in such a position, except perhaps Microsoft. The approach we’re taking today is to offer a solution to a very real problem millions of people have: they don’t know what to do with their files if they haven’t migrated them to a more modern, but not necessarily more standard or more open file format. To these users, we offer a range of choices depending on their “predicament”. We will add more filters as time goes by and the community grows. To developers we offer an exciting place to contribute code by improving existing format filters and proposing new ones. To everyone we offer code that will ensure the continuity of access to content locked in countless files scattered across the Internet, personal computers, corporate, academic and governmental archives. In doing so we not only help ODF keep its promise to liberate documents once and for all, we help make the world a better place by empowering everyone to access and create more digital knowledge and unleash creativity. This promise lies at the core of the Document Foundation’s mission.
March 30, 2014
Eyes and Ears
Welcome to this month’s Eyes and Ears issue on the Moved by Freedom Powered by Standards blog! Today we have a set of electronic tracks that are issued mostly by one artist, “Dreamium”, aka Sam Z. from the US. I’ve discovered this artist and also found out he does not just mix and compose electronic tracks, as he’s a guitarist and a pretty good one too.
The last track is from Laurent Garnier and is called the Man with the Red Face. This is almost a classic but at the same time it does not sound as minimalistic as his other productions. Enjoy!
March 28, 2014
- Posted by Hu Caiyong's blog on March 28, 2014 07:47 AM
未完待续～～ 青春就应该这样绽放 游戏测试：三国时期谁是你最好的兄弟！！ 你不得不信的星座秘密
March 27, 2014
- Posted by Hu Caiyong's blog on March 27, 2014 03:09 AM
未完待续～～ 青春就应该这样绽放 游戏测试：三国时期谁是你最好的兄弟！！ 你不得不信的星座秘密
March 26, 2014
- Posted by Hu Caiyong's blog on March 26, 2014 02:10 AM
青春就应该这样绽放 游戏测试：三国时期谁是你最好的兄弟！！ 你不得不信的星座秘密
March 22, 2014
With the release of our new LibreOffice 4.2 version and the new website, people have noticed a small yet quite visual change in the way we label the versions of LibreOffice. You now have the choice between downloading LibreOffice “Fresh” or “Stable”. Of course the version numbers do not go away, however it is expected that the first information anyone might receive about downloding LibreOffice would be these two tags, and not numbers. Let me explain a little bit what we are trying to achieve here, as this is at this stage somewhat of an experiment.
LibreOffice release model works according to a time-based scheme and relies on two distinct production branches. This means that we do release versions that are stable and ready for use by anyone based on a pace and a set of dates that have been agreed upon and planned beforehand. By looking at the diagram on the release plan, one will also notice that these two production branches are both stable, but stand at a different stage of their lifecycle. One of these branches has seen her first stable release (4.x.0) some time ago and has seen several updates and patches. This version is now, say, in its fifth iteration (4.0.4) and is thus very stable, very patched and will see almost no changes anymore. In a Microsoft world we would call this “Service Packs”. Around the same time, a new branch has been open, but it is not a development branch, an unstable branch for development: each of the two branches has its daily testing versions, its pre-releases such as betas and release candidates. These two branches are stable no matter what. But let’s go back to the new branch. It will be released roughly around the same time that the older branch reaches its fourth or fifth iteration, and the first version of its new branch will have a .0 at its third decimal. It will then take one the same lifecycle that the older branch, until it reaches its sixth or seventh iteration at the latest. Then this branch will be entirely discontinued in favour of its successor, and so on.
Confused by the version numbers? We thought so too. This is how the idea of introducing names that would label the two distinct branches came up. Mind you: this is not about the newest release as some people thought at first. It is about drawing the line between the two current branches of the LibreOffice production. We thus picked “Fresh” and “Stable”. it is not entirely clear whether these are the best terms, but we feel they’re working well so far in that they’re conveying complex concepts with simple terms. These also help us avoid rather long and difficult discussions with people who tend to think that we need to release one stable version when it’s ready (what used to happen and not work too well with OpenOffice.org) and people who think that the new branch was a “dangerous” “development” branch only made for people living precariously on the edge. Nothing of that was and is true; if one wants to try really unstable versions our development builds, and to a lesser extent the betas are here for that. But it is true that the new branch introduces the new features, while the older one receives rather corrective bugfixes.
In the end, we hope this new naming scheme will bring clarity while combining freshness and stability for the benefit of all. Let me know what you think!
March 21, 2014
- Posted by Hu Caiyong's blog on March 21, 2014 02:58 AM
青春就应该这样绽放 游戏测试：三国时期谁是你最好的兄弟！！ 你不得不信的星座秘密
March 20, 2014
- Posted by Hu Caiyong's blog on March 20, 2014 02:08 AM
未完待续～～ 青春就应该这样绽放 游戏测试：三国时期谁是你最好的兄弟！！ 你不得不信的星座秘密
March 19, 2014
- Posted by Hu Caiyong's blog on March 19, 2014 01:37 AM
未完待续～～ 青春就应该这样绽放 游戏测试：三国时期谁是你最好的兄弟！！ 你不得不信的星座秘密
March 18, 2014
March 17, 2014
- Posted by Hu Caiyong's blog on March 17, 2014 03:43 AM
未完待续～～ 青春就应该这样绽放 游戏测试：三国时期谁是你最好的兄弟！！ 你不得不信的星座秘密