Producing Open Source Software, 2nd edition, by Karl Fogel

Recently I received a notification from Kickstarter that Karl Fogel has completed his project of revising Producing Open Source Software. Back in 2013 I made a small financial contribution, along with many others, to enable Karl to take some time away from his open technologies consulting business in order to revise and update this much used publication. The first edition was released under a Creative Commons licence back in 2005 and published as “treeware” by O’Reilly a year later. By 2013, the world of free and open source software had evolved. Even more so in the intervening years it has taken to reach the completed second edition.

As with the first edition, Producing Open Source Software is freely available under a Creative Commons licence. You can go to Karl’s site right now and read it. Or you can wait a bit for the print version. I confess to being a bit thrilled to find my name listed there in the acknowledgements along with the many others who donated to the Kickstarter project. I spotted the names of a few old colleagues and friends.

Congratulations to Karl for completing this edition. I look forward to reading it with pleasure.


FOSS Redux

After a hiatus of several years, I find myself thinking seriously once again about free and open source software (FOSS). Not that I ever fully stopped. One way or another FOSS worked its way into my daily software use, deployment choices, and broader considerations of community. Still, it’s nice to focus once again specifically on FOSS communities, especially those relevant to the work of librarians.

Whether it is the integrated library system (ILS) or the digital repository, search facilities or servers, end-user terminals or integration with the virtual learning environment (VLE), a library of almost any size these days will engage with and potentially find its technical staff participating in the onward development of FOSS. So I was both honoured and intimidated to be asked to participate on a panel at the Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA) conference, Digital Odyssey 2014: Code, the Most Important Language in the World. I’ll be part of the panel discussion entitled “Open Source Software Projects and Communities.”

The best part of this so far is that for the past month I’ve been turning my mind once again to the character of FOSS communities. It is a rich topic for debate, strongly held opinion, principled (and unprincipled) disagreement, and hope. I always find that I get more positive and enthusiastic about the possibilities for all of us, everywhere, when I think about FOSS communities. I love the very idea of using a legal instrument such as a copyright licence to facilitate social change. I love that even those who abjure the social engineering aspect behind some FOSS licences, who embrace instead the open development methodologies touted by many open source enthusiasts, end up promulgating social change in any case. Even the notion that communal development can be driven through a meritocratic hierarchy is exhilarating. It’s just so much fun thinking about FOSS communities.

The hardest part is going to be constraining my contribution to the panel to a mere fifteen minutes canvassing a variety of different types of FOSS communities that these librarians might encounter. Fortunately I’ve had a bit of experience with those communities, though admittedly that was a few years ago. Exploring various FOSS communities today I find much remains the same, but I also see a significant increase in the professionalism of and care towards community development. For example, it is great to see that Evergreen, the ILS used by a number of Ontario universities, is now part of the Software Freedom Conservancy. And so many projects have people now with community development as part of their job title or job description. I hardly think a mere enthusiast like me is going to have much to say to librarians who are already undoubtedly fully FOSS engaged. Or at least that’s what I assume when I see so much good work being done.

In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends at this event and to making some new ones. And glad to be thinking about FOSS once again.

Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel (revisited)

It seems years ago now since I first read Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source Software. That’s because it is. The book, made available at in 2005 and published by O’Reilly in 2006, was one of the first to offer an accessible and thoughtful look at how to run a successful free software project. Back in 2005 and 2006, that was something I was keenly interested in, not least because I was working for OSS Watch at the time.

Time passes. Things change. Even the world of free and open source software changes over time.

I was delighted to learn recently that Karl Fogel is setting about producing a revised and updated edition of Producing Open Source Software.  What’s more there is an easy way that interested individuals can help this project come to fruition. Karl has posted his project on Kickstarter, which is a funding platform for creative projects. Check out Karl’s video on his project page. And then consider making a small contribution to help kickstart the project. It’s a great opportunity to make a small contribution to the ongoing success of free and open source software.

Plus, just as with the first edition, the new edition will be released online under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike licence so it too will be freely available to read and share with others everywhere and anywhere.

Very much looking forward to the new edition of Producing Open Source Software.

Distribution Upgrade — Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS

My ageing laptop (2007 Dell Inspiron 1520) has been around the world, literally. It served me well in Kathmandu and Bamako, London and Paris, and even here in Waterloo. A couple of years ago I replaced the keypad. But otherwise it has been rock solid. In the past six months, however, it has developed numerous ailments that probably signal its end time. For example, there is now a constant high pitched whine coming from the hard drive, which I’m sure can only be heard by canines, Superman, and me. More significant, however, is the emergent power conflict such that I can no longer run the laptop plugged into the mains. Doing so automatically leads the screen to very shortly black out.  So I am forced to use the machine solely on battery power. And even the battery is now a bit long in the tooth and drops its power rapidly and inconsistently.

Still, it’s been a good machine and I’ve learned a lot with it. But one thing I’d never done was an Ubuntu distribution upgrade. In the past, whenever I wanted to move up to a never version of Ubuntu, I would burn a disc and install the distribution from the disc, entirely wiping out what had previously been on the hard drive. On a whim today I thought I would attempt a direct distribution upgrade. Could my machine manage it with its dodgy battery, high pitched whine, and travel stickers from Nepal?

Yes, it can!

It was touch and go. I started up the machine and went quickly to the software updater. I already knew that Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS was available for upgrade, so I immediately clicked on the button for distribution upgrade. Then I ignored all the warnings about how long it might take (it said it might take hours) and that I should definitely not attempt it without being plugged into the mains (but hey, what could I do? It’s not risk taking when it is your only option.) I then stepped back and crossed my fingers.

Sure, crossing your fingers is probably not best practice for techies, but then it’s long been clear that I’m no techie. Initially the laptop claimed to have almost 2 hours of battery life left, and the upgrade was estimating that it would take over 3 hours to download and install everything. But what are numbers, eh? Soon enough the download speed picked up (I had plugged directly in to my router to optimize my throughput). Of course the battery time took a dive as well. After about 30 minutes the laptop was claiming to have just over an hour’s worth of battery left, but the upgrade was by then estimating that it needed only slightly less than an hour more.

I should have filmed the sequence because over the next hour the battery jumped down and then up and likewise the estimated upgrade time went up and down. It was like a high (or slow) speed action thriller. In the end, the upgrade completed with less than five minutes to spare on the battery.

Of course the battery life vs upgrade time drama is not really all that significant. Much more important is the fact that the upgrade appears to have gone through perfectly. Even my crappy wireless card continued to work post upgrade. Well done, Ubuntu!

I don’t know how many more months this laptop has in it. But till the end of its days it will happily stay an Ubuntu machine.

Single boot laptop – Ubuntu 11.10

I bought a Dell Inspiron 1520 back in 2007 when my wife and I moved back to Canada. For much of its life it has been a dual boot machine – Windows Vista and whatever the latest version of Ubuntu was. It’s not really an old machine, but it has been around the world. Literally. From here to Kathmandu and many stops in between. Throughout these four years I have paid for virus protection (for Windows). But I don’t use the laptop so much these days, since I’m not on the road now, and because I’ve now got an iMac as my base desktop. And even when I do use the laptop, I tend to use it in Linux. So, with my most recent year’s licence for virus protection (for Windows) running out, and with a new version of my favourite Linux distribution released (Ubuntu 11.10), I finally made the move and turned this laptop into a single boot machine.

That’s no big deal for many Linux users, I’m sure. For me, though, there was always a barrier to such a move. Perhaps if my first Linux machine had not also been a dual-boot machine (with Windows), I might not have developed this psychological dependency on that other operating system. This, despite the fact that I almost never used it. But I knew that I could, if I needed to, right?

It is no surprise to learn that there is a cost to most software decisions. For me the cost of yet another year’s licence for virus protection (for Windows) when it wasn’t really being used was just too much.

And now here I am with a lovely “new” laptop. So far it seems to do everything I’ve always expected my Linux installs to do. (The fact that I can listen to the cricket on Test Match Special whilst typing this post is all the evidence I need.) It has been a long time coming, but I can now finally say that I have a Linux machine. Full stop.