Category Archives: Technology

Open source – what licence is the best? (Ottawa event annoucement)

From the Free and Open Source Software Learning Centre, this upcoming event on August 31st:

This event is a debate between proponents of the GPL, EPL, and BSD licenses. They will be arguing for which license is best for business, best for community, and best for academia.  The debate will be moderated by a practising lawyer proficient in open source licensing.

The event page doesn’t mention it, but the speakers include some interesting names:

See you there!

August 31st, 2009 9:30 AM through   12:00 PM
Suite 2600 – 160 Elgin Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 1C3
Canada
Email: events@fosslc.org

Event Update  – here’s a video of the event:

Which Open Source License is Best? from Andrew Ross on Vimeo.

Canadian government asks about Open Source

CBC reports on the federal government of Canada’s request for information on open source – you can view the actual RFI as posted on Merx, the government’s tendering system.

The purpose of the RFI is:

to help the Government of Canada (GC) put together guidelines related to the planning, acquisition, use and disposal of No Charge Licensed Software (NCLS). While there is already significant interest for No Charge Licensed Software within the Government of Canada there are many questions being asked… There exists operationally a requirement to produce common guidelines that are fair, open and transparent and can be applied consistently across departments.

I have some quibbles about just what they’re trying to accomplish with some of the questions, but I’m happy to see some interest and hope that this RFI leads in some way to giving open source the visibility it deserves.

I can attest to the  “significant interest” reference. In the last year, I’ve both witnessed and experienced hands-on some incredible developments that would have been unthinkable a year to two ago. Yesterday, for example, I found out about a major government data centre running Ubuntu + Open VZ for a significant rollout of virtual servers – and this from a one of the “lead agencies” too.  Drupal is in used in at least half dozen departments that I know of, a federal government library is set to move to an open source ILS, and the list goes on…

Getting started with DocBook

Any software project needs to have good documentation, and it’s a constant challenge to maintain high quality technical communications. Apart from using a help authoring system many years ago (I was a user of Doc-to-help versions 1-2) I haven’t followed the area at all.  But recent discussion on some of the threads I follow have me curious about technical standards like DITA and DocBook (see also: DITA vs. DocBook).

For DocBook, here’s a very good brief overview from the DMN Communications blog, where they cite this O’Reilly publication:

Get Started Writing in DocBook (enter guest as the user name and leave the password blank)

DocBook & DITA are not just for big technical communications projects. I noted that the recently released Islandora Documentation is written using the DocBook authoring framework.

OSS: “come for the price, stay for the quality”

The financial meltdown impacting global economies shows every sign of being a longer term crisis. O’Reilly Radar’s Nat Torkington has an excellent overview on The Effect of the Depression on Technology. His suggestion that open source will likely benefit is expected IMHO, and I like his phrase: “come for the price, stay for the quality” as well as his thought that “many of the applications (CRM, finance, etc.) higher up the stack” may benefit too.

What this means for the library automation (“ILS”) and related discovery tools and technologies?

Those of us who have been following open source in libraries carefully over the last few years will be cognizant of a very significant fact: the money hasn’t even hit the table yet. Think about how far Koha, Evergreen or vuFind have come in the last few years (or the last 6 months!) and frame their achievements in the context of their available (albeit growing) resources.

Most significantly, many of the those adopting these new tools haven’t yet fully re-directed their “cold hard cash” and internal staff resources.  For example, a common strategy is to maintain your legacy vendor’s contract during the planning, evaluation and implementation phase, with the intent to re-assign those resources more fully once you’ve made the transition. Remember, we are leasing our software and so we have limited rights beyond the heavily restricted terms of lease. Your vendor could legitimately unplug you if you try to run your system without a valid support contract, and so those transitioning to an open source stack need to manage the transition by keeping their lease agreements active until they go live.

So while some are able to re-deploy their staff and financial investments more fully from the get go, many others will be phasing in investments over a longer period of time.  We’re talking a significant ramp up that has yet to even be realized.  The BC Sitka move to Evergreen estimated a total expenditure at over $10 million for annual software maintenance and support with their legacy vendor (SirsiDynix) to 2011. How much of this formally planned expenditure will be re-deployed towards open source development, maintenance and support is anybody’s guess, but I would suggest even half of that would go twice as far.

Ditto for personnel resources: OSS communities are growing and growing fast. But staff expertise, code contribution, and so on will take some time to be fully realized. There’s training, getting familiar with the tools, building capacity with local contractors and developers, all part of the “opportunity costs” of making the move.

So I expect the investment to pay off, and pay off BIG, and the financial crisis will likely accelerate an already growing trend towards OSS in libraries.