Try it on for size

These days almost any webhosting company that offers a GNU/Linux package also offers a plethora of one-click installs of free and open source content management systems, database servers, blogging software, wikis, control versioning systems (cvs), and more. With so much choice, you will want to try it all. And you should. It’s fun, and you will learn a great deal.

There is probably some marketing term for a product that promotes itself by letting potential customers use it. In the case of open source software, that trial use merges seamlessly with actual use, with no discernible transition or acquisition cost.

So, I come, I try out some software, I like it so much that…I just keep using it.

The opportunity to try something that isn’t a cut-down version, or a lost leader for a “pro” version, is one of the great strengths of free and open source software.

Recently I have been learning how to administer Mailman. Just another one-click install option from the webhoster for a project site I am helping with. I already know it does the job I need it to do. I need to set up a development discussion list and an announcement list. I know this because I’ve engaged with Mailman interfaces as a list subscriber on countless open source project sites. Now I’m discovering that administering lists is reasonably straightforward as well. What should I do now?

Just keep using it!

In the news

It’s always a little embarrassing when you find yourself in the news, Public sector catches wikimania. I was interviewed back in December about OSS Watch’s Wiki. Freelance writer for The Guardian Steve Mathieson was interested in why we had gone down this route and how we were planning to avoid some of the problems Wikipedia was experiencing on trust issues.

To be honest, the interview took place on the day before we left for Canada for Christmas, so I’d largely forgotten about it when I was contacted by the photo desk at The Guardian in January and asked to make myself available for a photo shoot. Get real! But then the article failed to appear in January. So I forgot about it again.

Then yesterday, after a long but enjoyable advisory committee meeting, I found an email in my inbox from Steve letting me know that the article had come out. No photo of me (thank heavens!) but a really nice piece. Good for OSS Watch, good for JISC (our funders), good for Oxford University (I think).

Still, a little embarrassing though 🙂

ReportTool – setting up a project site

I am assisting my friend, Steve Butterfill, in setting up a project site for a software application he wrote called ReportTool. Steve’s plan is to eventually release ReportTool under an open source licence. My job is to help him think through the process involved, as well as pitching in to help on practical things like writing web pages and participating on mailing lists and such.

Heavens, there is such a lot to do. Even for the smallest of projects. First impressions, of course, are important. So we want to get as much right before the site is announced to its potential user/developer community.

A million and one things to do

Sometime it feels like I’ve got a million and one things to do. So much in fact that I can’t face doing any of it. It feels like that right now.

The only solution I’ve found effective is to narrow down to one manageable item on the list and tackle that one, ignoring everything else. Get that one item done no matter what.

This has two benefits. First, I at least get one thing done – so one less item on the list. Second, I persuade myself that I don’t need to throw up my hands; I can do everything, I just need to do it one thing at a time.

Today: prep for OSS Watch’s advisory committee meeting.

Let tomorrow take care of itself.

Consultancy – setting up a website

Does it count as consultancy if it is for your brother-in-law and you are doing it for free? I suppose it does.

Kathy mentioned that Roy and Kereny might like some help setting up a site to promote Kereny’s business, Mexico Rico. I would definitely like to help, if I can. I have set up sites for myself in the past, but I’m no expert.

The site needs to be registered in Canada since Mexico Rico is based in Hamilton, Ontario. I have checked on the domain name that Kereny would like and it appears to be available. Next up – find a suitable webhosting company and then set up an initial page for the site. On the former, I am looking at

I need to set up the site in such a way that Roy and Kereny can take over management of it. This, despite the fact that neither have much experience with writing websites. So things need to be straightforward – which is good because those are just the kind of websites I prefer.

I will also want to stick to using free and open source software. Not just because it is the right thing to do. But also because I will need to provide software for Roy and Kereny’s management and further development of the site. If I provide them with open source tools, at least I know it will not cost them anything, and I can ensure that I will have exactly the same software available to me so that I can give them ongoing support with the software they are using.