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.

Drupal in Government – Ottawa event

A couple of us attended last night’s Drupal in Government Event coordinated by Mike Gifford from OpenConcept and others.  As Natural Resources Canada (including our Library) is in the process of moving a sizable web presence into Drupal, this event offered a great opportunity to hear from some local shops supporting Drupal.

A few takeaways:

  • There is an active and experienced support and development community in Ottawa.  Speakers attending the event last night included reps from OpenConcept, Wirespeak, RealDecoy and a number of other shops and independent consultants (like Michael Baynger).  So once again the FUD that OSS support is a challenge is total head in the sand thinking. There is plenty of local top notch talent out there to provide support & development, and now there’s even big venture money being poured into the commercial open source software company Acquia for those who need to see that support angle growing.
  • A common focus related to our Common Look & Feel (CLF) standards for all gc.ca websites. OpenConcept is sponsoring a CLF 2 Drupal theme and discussion area. The CLF theme for Drupal is required for any “starter kit” on deploying a Drupal site for the Canadian government, but more work needs to be done coordinating and code sharing amongst the various first wave Drupal implementations (I think I heard there are around 8 different CLF themes floating around out there). My take on things right now is that all of us first implementers are in a “everybody for themselves” situation under the pressures and deadlines associated with the content migrations and application development. So I expect  the coordination and sharing to grow as the dust settles on these first moves to Drupal.
  • A non-governmental site launched focusing on Common Look & Feel implementation and discussion and Everett’s blog is worth checking out for lots of Drupal & gc.ca accessibility discussion.
  • There is a Drupal project for gc.ca at the IRCan site – still in pilot phase and under the radar, but short news is that Intellectual Resources Canada will be moving to create a collaboration space for gc.ca open source projects and initiatives. This will be for both internal AND external users, so it’s a good place to start bringing together Drupal customizations for gc.ca.  [As a side note, our Evergreen ILS has a project space on that site too!].
  • Software engineer from from Ingres reported on progress towards supporting Drupal with Ingres. (!)

Although I wasn’t able to get any updates, there are a least a dozen departments looking at Drupal and about a half dozen that I know about running Drupal in some capacity, including MPOW here at Natural Resources Canada (Intranet only so far).  Later on I’ll do a post on some of the custom modules we’ve had developed for us, including an Ebsco A-Z Journals module that may be of interest to some users of that service.

See also the: Drupal Ottawa group or this one for libraries.

CISTI takes a hit

It’s been talked about offline for a few weeks now, but I haven’t seen much on this sad news:  CISTI has taken on some big cuts, and I’m told that about 40-50 CISTI librarian staff – from locations across the country – were given the pink slip.

The  Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) is Canada’s national science library and is internationally recognized for its support to science, technology, engineering and medicine, mainly through National Research Council (NRC) programs and partnerships.

It comes down to this:   Strategic Review process + Budget 2009 = program review cuts.

This is not good. Sign of the times?

Footnote:  NRC (National Research Council) not to be mistaken for NRCan (or Natural Resources Canada).

NRCan Library selects Evergreen ILS

It’s official – Natural Resources Canada Library (NRCan Library) has selected the Evergreen ILS.

Evergreen is one several open source systems on the marketplace, and was selected on the basis of functional requirements but with serious consideration given to several important marketplace trends:

  • one big library
  • vendor neutrality, especially in regards to discovery interfaces
  • strong support for a functional API (application programming interface)

The collaborative, open source development model used by the Evergreen ILS community is anticipated to give us better long term options and situate our library to respond to these and other important library trends. The move addresses duplicative ILS infrastructure as a result of a consolidation of departmental libraries.

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…

ILS Migration: SirsiDynix and III on exit support and maintenance

Planning a migration? Eventually you’ll have to determine when you’re going to unplug your existing maintenance contract, an important factor given the ILS marketplace norm of restricting usage to paying maintenance customers.

Most proprietary software at least gives you some illusion of ownership and control by letting you run the software for years after you paid for it (why pay for support if you don’t need it?). For the growing number of SaaS-based network services (e.g. RefWorks or Ebsco AtoZ), this is not the case, but at least it’s clear up front that customers are entering into what is  essentially a car rental type of agreement for software use.

The wonky thing about most ILS EULAs is that you normally don’t think of the SaaS model when you’re running the software locally.  You buy the software but that “purchase” should really be understood as a down payment against a lease agreement. You didn’t buy anything that you can keep or share!

When I look at my desktop & server-based applications that we run (excluding the few SaaS providers we use), I can’t identify a single vendor that would unplug me effective termination of our annual support & maintenance (or prevent me from using the software without a paid support contract in place).  Not a single one.

In any event, we’re exiting our Unicorn & Millennium systems and moving to a new open source ILS  (more on this later), and here’s how the two vendors responded to our request to go month-to-month or quarterly (your results may differ):

  • SirsiDynix: not allowed, we must purchase another full year’s annual support and maintenance
  • III:  accepted our request to go with 2 additional quarterly payments, rather than paying for an unwanted full year’s maintenance.

[BTW, we have two systems in place here as we’re in the process of amalgamating several libraries]

Personally, it’s frustrating that we can’t run the software on terms that even Microsoft would permit (i.e. without annual support & maintenace), but ok I get the deal: we rented a car.  I also didn’t expect III’s “flexibility” here since they’re arguably the most proprietary of the bunch, so good on them.

And finally, it’s a bit of a shame in that this situation significantly impedes many libraries’ ability to re-direct scarce funds towards any new ILS investment (as well as manage a migration with more  flexibility) since you’re not always able to optimize migration scheduling with the end of your maintenace contract.

Open access presentation & scientific journals. Free the Facts!

O’Reilly’s Radar cited this presentation in recent blog post.  I agree, it’s a very compelling presentation advocating for open access. Check it out: Dave Gray on the need for open access to scientific journals.

Part of the problem here is the usual marketplace imbalance.  We need to keep pushing, ensuring that our library funds are backed by more consideration for expenditures as values-based investment decisions rather than transactions without investment implications.

biblios.net – kudos..

Just signed up and logged onto the new biblios.net site. Although I’m not a cataloguer, this is a very impressive first launch.

It has been clear for many years now that developments towards “One Big Library” were going to radically change workflows and strategies for library automation. The promise of the network, the insane ease and seduction that came with accessible and largely free (or freer) web 2 services, cheap and then more cheaper infrastructure, and so on.

Biblios.net shows how it can be done with a clean, simple interface, and an impressive share & collaborate model that looks very compelling.

We’ve already seen great success and potential demonstrated by other ‘One Big Library’ services like LibraryThing and the OpenLibrary – still largely underappreciated and exploited imho –  and Biblios.net brings its own take on this kind of service.  But unlike LibraryThing and OpenLibrary, they have the potential advantage of being associated with a growing open source ILS community, so they already have a target audience primed for introducing this kind of service and building a community.  Cataloguing workflow is just ripe for this kind of disruption.

Also intriguing is yet another manifestation of the “mini-OCLC” model at play – only minus the Big Brother monopoly control aspects.  I say “mini” in the context of number of contributing libraries (so far), but as we move forward these types of services are not going to be that dis-advantaged by the number of shared records. According to Nicole Engard’s post,  they are starting out with  a “30 million strong shared database of catalog records” – pretty impressive for a start.

I would expect more vendor specific community offerings to be announced for similar shared repositories and types of services, even from the proprietary folks.  All of this is good for libraries, so long as the shared network opportunities are getting larger and more accessible, it can only reduce the size of our silos.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how all of this plays out.

For more details on biblios.net, there is an overview article published recently in  The Code4Lib Journal – ‡biblios: An Open Source Cataloging Editor, and a few recent blog posts from Nicole Engard and from Jonathan Rochkind.

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.