Amplified 08 – Network of Networks


While at Birmingham Social Media Cafe this week I met Toby Moores for the first time and he told me all about Amplified 08. The idea is is bring all the tech and social media networks together to meet at one event which will then go on to have regional events.

The event will bring together a number of Creative and Social Media networks in a series of unconferences. The first is set for November 27th and will be funded by NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) running from 4pm until 8pm at Nesta’s London offices. The video below shows the location.

I will be going along as Wiki Wednesday’s is part of the event and this is one of the groups I like to attend.

Amplified 08: Your Space @ NESTA from Mike Atherton on Vimeo.

Blog Action Day 15th October 2008

October 15th 2008 is Blog Action Day. The idea is is to raise awareness of world poverty through blogging, which think is a fantastic idea. I think we are still trying to understand the power of blogging and every year the blogging world changes so radically that I think we need to constantly re-assess its effect. It will be really interesting to see the stats after the event and see what the impact is.

Anyway the point is to blog about poverty not about blogging. The guidelines are that the post should be relevant to yourself or your interests and fit in with the style of your blog so, probably, predictably I am going to blog about how I think open source software can help poverty throughout the world from Africa to Accrington. I am certainly not the only person who is taking the topic of open source as the subject of their Blog Action Day post which encourages me that there are plenty of other people who think the same way as me. I have also not tried to read these posts yet as they would be far better written than mine and would no doubt influence me so I have tagged them and will read them later.

The use of technology can only help even the poorest of nations. All our efforts should be to help these nations grow economically and become self sustaining so that they are less reliant on outside help. Technology can help any economy grow (and has, see India, China, UK etc) especially as it can remove physical barriers such as location. The internet especially is a great leveller as it allows anyone with an internet connection and the skills to compete whether you are in San Francisco or Saigon (sorry Ho Chi Minh City). Skills are the important requirement and that can only come from education and facilities for the young (and old) to learn (I am not dismissing the importance of broadband availability but that should probably be the topic of another post).

Now this was basically the aims of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and the fallout from the once Open Source project being ‘bought’ by Microsoft can be seen all over the internet. Now I do not want to fall into Microsoft bashing here and I quite understand that a poorer nation is not going to thumb their nose at Microsoft and Bill Gates support but I think in the long term it is the wrong decision. The path that emerging nations take now can fix their decisions for a long time to come.

The advantages of open source software to emerging nations.

1. Open Source is free (OK free as in freedom not free as in beer), that means that they are free from license costs and that means free today, free tomorrow and free forever. Now proprietary companies may offer free versions, reduced cost versions or may even pay for them to use the software. But why are they really doing this and what are their longer term aims, who knows? I don’t and probably neither does the country who accepts such a deal. It maybe an extreme analogy but just like the crack dealer the first couple of shots are always free as that is all it takes. We see this in our country where office products are supplied to schools and universities at a fraction of their normal cost but this ensures the perception that these are the only products that the emerging students could ever use. What ever happened to teaching transferable skills? When did schools become an exercise in proprietary products? (I think the answer to that is 1995).

2. Freedom – real freedom in so many ways. To be able to share any of the software with anyone so they can teach others and learn from others without any fear of license restrictions and recrimination.

3. Education. There are two sides to education, of course all people can learn to use the software but because the source code is available people can learn from the programs code. OK this is small percentage of people who can be so technical but to an emerging economy these people are crucial. These are the people who through technology can help, with lots of other people with other skills, to bring prosperity to a nation. At a key point in a nations growth we should not be putting up barriers to learning.

4. Another important education point is training material. Ubuntu for example has teacher and student training documentation fully available and many other open source projects have excellent freely available training documentation. What a lot of this material requires is translation to other languages and this is why open source can be so strong. We have seen that a large open source community will create translations both of the softwares language, localisation and of the documentation. Information and documentation can be released under Creative Commons licenses continuing the open source methodology through the documentation.

5. As much as these points relate to say an African nation or other poorer countries they also apply in affluent societies like our own, in the UK. I believe, like many, that every household should have a computer and a broadband internet connection. In the UK the majority of homes can have this both logistically and financially. Where there are poorer homes there are various schemes to assist but there is an excess of second hand hardware available which could run free and open source software. These can provide education software and office suites plus much much more. But add an internet connection and it opens up huge learning possibilities. There are currently schemes to assist broadband into poorer homes. I know that I for one would give up my satellite/cable TV subscription to pay for broadband if money was the only issue especially if I had children in the house.

Adoption and promotion of open source software needs to happen at a governmental level in richer nations to encourage poorer nations to follow suit. There are some great examples of government all over the world promoting and adopting open source e.g. Brazil (52 million children) and France.

My message to everybody is – the open source community wants and needs emerging nations and they need the open source community.

What can we do? What can you do?

1. Raise awareness of Blog Action Day.

2. Write a blog post for Blog Action Day.

3. Comment on a blog post offering your opinion or support.

4. Tag and submit posts to sites such as digg, delicious, reddit and many of the others you can think of.

5. Use and promote open source software (probably one of the best things you can do to help)

6.Encourage others to do so (three generations of my family run ubuntu and openoffice)

7. If you have children or you are in education ask what approach your school/college/university has to open source. If they have no approach ask them why not. Easy and simple question question Are you using Microsoft Office? Why would you not look at Read this.

8. Email your MP if you live in the UK (I did) and ask him what approach he has to open source software and to explain the policy of his party – he should know and if he is a labour MP should explain why there policy is generally not to look at open source.

I will also be attending Birmingham Social Media Surgery for Blog Action Day 2008 to see if can help local charities.

I saw another blog post that said that they would donate $1 for a every comment on their Blog Action Blog post up to $100. The best I can do currently is 50p per post up to £50. All I ask is that if you have any links relevant to this post like open source resources or other relevant blog posts please put them in your comments. Also If you have a relevant charity that you would like to see my donation going to please put a link to it in your comment. If you have no links please comment anyway (even my family might want to comment hint hint). All comments (except obvious spam) will be counted up to £50 (i.e. 100 comments) and all charities will be considered but if there is not a suitable charity e.g. ‘open source helping poverty somewhere’ in the world them it will be Oxfam or a charity promoted by Blog Action Day. I will blog the amount and the charity.

Like many things Open Source alone is not going to end world poverty but it could certainly help educate and grow economies, it certainly won’t be a hinderance.

Please comment.

Can 3.0 change the world?

openoffice_logo.jpg Every day it seams a new version of someones favourite software is released somegreatphotosoftware version 5.5.5 or thebestmusicplayer version 1,1,01. Little excitement is seen around the world except by the group fanboys and girls of that product waiting for the latest and greatest, checking the new features list for whistles and bells like children crossing off their Christmas present list (and equally frustrated when the one special present/feature is not delivered as expected).

But every now and again new versions of software come along that can affect many people and that can take a product mainstream. The best example of this was probably Windows 95 and both Word and Excel both had landmark versions that saw them over the ‘tipping point. (there are many reasons for the Word and Excel success including price and distribution but both products required to be at a level of maturity and usability for popular widespread adoption).

For many followers of software the upcoming release of 3.0 is possibly just such a release and there is a belief that this could be the tipping point for leading to worldwide adoption from schools and colleges to homes users and businesses of all sizes.

At this point it is worth explaining what is. Without a large marketing budget is not the most well known. (sometimes known as ooo the .org is always shown as someone else owns the trademark to ‘open office’) from Sun Microsystems is an open source equivalent suite of products to Microsoft Office or other office suites (yes there are few others still left). Where Microsoft has Word has Writer where Microsoft has Excel has Calc. For many these two programs cover 95% of their software use but also has equivalent presentation programs and a database. It does not include an email and calendering application although there are many alternatives to Outlook but does offer programs for drawing and mathematical formulae.

For the ‘iPhone generation’ this is not a release full of the latest whiz bang features and cutting edge innovation (c’mon this is office software) but the final product appears a more complete office suite that could have all the functionality for the majority of users. has been the office suite of choice for most Linux distributions for some time and a version for Windows has had a reasonable adoption but up until now there has not be a native Apple Mac version, yes you could install it with some messing around or you could even use a Mac modified version called NeoOffice. Now finally with the release of version 3.0 there is a full Mac version (intel only not power pc) and it should not go unnoticed that the most popular software purchased for Mac’s is Microsft Office. Until the recent release of iWork for the Mac there was no popular complete office suite apart from Microsoft Office. With so many new and young users of Mac’s have a real opportunity, after spending a lot their money on the hardware not everybody wants to spend more money on Microsoft Licenses.

The other compelling reason to look at is formats. 2.x could read and produce .doc, .xls and other proprietary Microsoft formats and this should be improved in in version 3.0 plus the addition of being able to read .docx, .xlsx and .pptx (which is more than Microsoft office 2003 user can do as standard) Openoffice 3 will not be able to produce in these ooxml formats but in my opinion that is a good thing. One of the greatest benefits of using open source software is also adopting open formats the default format is ODF (OpenDocument Format) each program has its own ODF format Writer has .odt. Calc has .ods etc. With the release of Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 Microsoft’s own office suite will support ODF. This means that an user will be able to exchange documents, edits and updates with a Microsoft Office user all using an open standard format, this really is a great step forward. Of course there are many other products that support ODF, not just the two mentioned, from web applications such as Google Docs and Zoho to office suites including IBM Lotus Symphony and WordPerfect Office.

With full cross platform support, fully open source, really useful open formats supported by the major players and a Firefox-like extensions-ecosystem has’s time come? Only time will tell. I hope so.

Open Source Politics

It is no secret that in the United Kingdom we are far behind many countries in our use of open source software. Now there are no doubt many reasons for this both social, economic and political but a major factor must be the approach of the Government. The Government has direct influence over the public sector the biggest consumer of IT and also over Education which lays many of the foundations to our use of computers.

At a time when we can not be far from an election the Labour party does not appear to have a coherent policy on open source software. This is in stark contrast to the other major parties who take all opportunities to say how much they love open source. Now I am as cynical as the next person and of course it is very easy to be a crowd pleaser when you are in opposition and delivering on your promises appears a long way off.

Even with plenty of sound bites it was still difficult to get a clear picture of each parties approach towards open source. In a true unbiased fashion I have listed in alphabetical order what I could glean from the major parties:


The Conservatives website was actually quite good, has relatively easy navigation and a reasonable search facility. They are also very keen to advertise there ‘Web 2.0’ badges with Twitter, Facebook, Bebo and Myspace links. With successful use of Web 2.0 and social networking in The Barack Obama campaign I am surprised that all parties are not so positive with their use of social networking.

The following comments were taken from speeches

David Cameron

“We will follow private sector best practice which is to introduce ‘open standards’ that enables IT contracts to be split up into modular components. So never again could there be projects like Labour’s hubristic NHS supercomputer. And we will create a level playing field for open source software in IT procurement and open up the procurement system to small and innovative companies…

Full details on The Conservative website

“What it is about is better and more effective government. The problem is that the cultural change has not taken place in government. There isn’t a level playing field for open source software. As it stands, too many companies are frozen out of government IT contracts, stifling competition and driving up costs.

“Taking into account the experience of companies and public sector bodies, it is estimated that the Government could save at least 5% of its annual IT bill if more open source software was used as part of a more effective procurement strategy. That adds up to over £600m a year. The internet age is transforming politics and has the capacity to transform government. Let’s start being open source right now.”

George Osborne talking about new media

Instead of experts deciding which order to rank the web pages in, the on-line community decides collectively by its actions.
Another example is Linux. Linux is the open-source operating system that is the main rival to Microsoft Windows.
Linux is constantly updated and improved. Yet no one owns Linux. No one is directing the improvements or updates. The code is available on-line and thousands of independent programmers make changes, fix bugs, and add new features – all for no personal gain.

Full details on the Conservatives website


OK the Green Party may not be seen as a major party in the UK but it would still be a shame not to give them a mention when presumably they would be so supportive of any open source initiatives. To be fair there is not a great deal of information about open source to be found from the greens but that maybe understandable given their resources and what they may see as the core messages. Never the less there are a few sound bites about such as:

Open source software should be more widely available in order to help reduce the ‘digital divide’, according to Dr Caroline Lucas, Green MEP forthe South East. Liberal Democrats


The Labour Party’s website, at least to me, appeared the least friendly (no Obama-esque Web 2.0 friendlyness here) and offered no real information on open source. Further digging around only really turned up criticism for their lack of policy (again this is to be expected – it is politics) and overall it was disappointing.

The only interesting thing I found out about (not open source related) on the puffbox blog here was that they do have a twitter account “UKlabour” (“Labour” was taken by the Irish Labour Party – ooh that must hurt!)


The Liberal Democrats website may not be as slick as The Conservatives but they do have a creative commons license on their site and appear to be the only party who talk about using open source software themselves:

Rugby based Open Source IT Consultancy credativ has been awarded a contract by the Liberal Democrats to provide server migration and support for its IT systems that are based on free open source software.

What the Liberal Democrats do have is John Pugh an MP who appears to know what he is talking about when it comes to open source software and open standards. Some great information on John Pugh on the Open Rights Group Wiki here

John Pugh as quoted on the Open Rights Group Wiki

Westminster Hall debate Government IT and Software Procurement 9 October 2007

… Four things ought to be avoided. The first is a lock-in, an indefinite commitment to a single proprietary solution—endless licensing renewal that the Government simply cannot get out of. Secondly, there must obviously be interoperability; its absence will always be a problem, because it limits the growth and integration of whatever software has been bought, as well as one’s choice of supplier. Thirdly, it is preferable to have access to the source code, so that if necessary people can understand what they have. Finally, it is extraordinarily helpful to have a good skills base on the client side, so that people know what they are dealing with.
On that basis, one would expect the Government to have made use of the growing British open-source software industry, which is by and large highly successful, although there are exceptions. It is successful in a number of operations known to all, such as eBay, Amazon, banks and stock exchanges and so on. …

More about John Pugh can be found at his website which runs on Joomla the open source CMS (Content Management System).

Bournemouth 2008: Vince Cable speech

We’ve got to stop the gravy train of management consultancy in government; stop questionable government IT projects like that for the NHS and insist that procurement is from the cheapest, open source; and take an axe to the overgrown thickets of quango land.

More here;show

Overall the main parties policies could be a lot clearer on open source and maybe in the run up to any election they will make more definate statements but for now I will continue to follow this area with interest.

Software freedom Day 2008 – This Saturday

FirefoxScreenSnapz009.jpg This Saturday is Software Freedom Day (Worldwide). From The Software Freedom Website:

Software Freedom Day is a global celebration and education of why transparent and sustainable technologies are now more important than ever. With over 200 teams in 60 countries participating, it is a fantastic event to get your schools and communities involved in. Go along to your local event or start your own event and meet a wide range of people, all working together to help ensure our freedoms are maintained by the technologies of tomorrow.

Locally to me the nearest event, I am aware of, is in Manchester organised by Manchester Free Software details here.

With family commitments I can not go to Manchester on Saturday but it makes me think about what I can do at a personnel level to promote free and open source software. I recently did an Infopoint ( at the Trentham Gardens (Stoke) Northern Computer Market. The purpose of an Infopoint is to promote free software by giving away copies of the Opendisc, and Linux Distros. I gave away mainly Ubuntu. Northern Computer Markets support this by offering free tables where they can. Althought the Infopoint projects website has not been updated for a while Infopoints are still active around the country often supported by local Linux User Groups.

Alan Cocks who is an active organiser of Infopoints and LUG member has also organised the Bracknell Software Freedom Day event details here. I would like to do another Infopoint in the near future possibly in Wolverhampton.

I am also helping my family use free and open source software with my parents and son using Linux Mint and my wife using Ubuntu. I think that helping friends and family use free software is a small thing that all free software enthusiasts can do (and I am sure a lot already do). With two children in primary school I also want to understand how schools are (not) using free software.

A map of all Free Software Events worldwide is here.

Too Many Blogs?


I have setup and used many blogs with blogger, livejournal, tumblr, .mac etc. As much as I enjoy writing blog posts I like to play with the technology and see how the different services work. I had a main blog for a few years at a yahoo hosted wordpress blog. Due to work commitments became little more than my delicious tags being automatically posted everyday (not a great idea if you re not posting anything else).

As part of rationalising my blogs I have completely deleted and cancelled my hosting plan, which at 5.99 gave little value (sorry yahoo but I think you have bigger problems than that at the moment). I have also tried to streamline the blogs that are left, which are below and all running on the latest version of WordPress. – I intend to keep this as my personal blog to add my own personal comments on anything i feel is interesting although I am sure that that most of it will be tech related. I am not looking to put a lot of family stuff, photos etc as I have other placces for that. I also intend to use it as a space to test themes, plugins and widgets as thats what I like doing.
– A relatively new site where I wanted to talk about software that
could be used on Windows, Mac and Linux. I use all three platforms and
like to use software that can run on all 3 (e.g. Firefox). I find it useful to be using similar software across all machines and to be able to share files with the same format (e.g. OpenOffice).
I also think that using this software offers more freedom to the users
it does not lack you into one operating system provider and can
facilitate moving to another os e.g. windows to linux. Although it is
not a prerequisite a lot of the software will no doubt be free and open
source. – (Free Libre Open Source BUsiness Software) now one of my older blogs I set this blog up to do mini reviews of open source business software such as ERP, CRM, BI etc. I am looking to expand this site to include news and anything that is relevant to this topic.

EPSOutserve.jpgOutserve Blog – this is the company blog of my company Outserve Limited and I want this blog to just contain news and views relating to the company.

I have a few more domain names but will just look to point those as the existing blogs above. I am trying to keep the blogs to a sensible number (4 or less) but already have another 3 ideas for 3 more.

Happy Birthday GNU – with Stephen Fry

Just found this post on Alan Lord’s blog The Open Sourcerer celebrating 25 years of GNU.

The video is now on youtube (as below) but for the freedom fighters it is available in ogg vorbis format here which can be played on VLC the cross platform media player or as Alan quite rightly puts it:

If you are one of those poor souls still using proprietary software, you might need to read this first. The video is encoded in Ogg, a free an un-patent encumbered format that is really free to use. Of course you could go and download a free operating system too and rid yourself of the shackles and chains which Stephen so eloquently describes.

Wordle – Arty Tag Clouds

I have liked tag clouds for a while as they show in a quick visual snapshot what you often cannot see from the core data. Wordle have taken Tag Clouds and added a bit of style and I think the results are really interesting. Not sure how useful they are as they also take text from a blog as well as tags but they sure are pretty.

The first Wordle cloud is my delicious tags and the second is taken from this blog.



WordPress iphone app

A wordpress iPhone app has now been released to what appears to be mixed reviews. I am testing this by posting from the middle of cannock chase so if this us successful then I will be happy with the app because this would me very difficult to do over the web over a slow connection.

The photo insert option does not appear clear but I think it will post it at the bottom of this post. Hopefully it will show the view from where I am sitting.

Links and video added after initial post from iphone: