Thank you to all who have made any kind of contribution, so matter how small, to the success of GNU/Linux.

This article says it very well.

It is OUR Cause.

Here’s good news.

A parent has a school where experiments are invited, even if they are from outside.

Parent introduced Gimp photo editing to a couple of middle school classes.

Darth V. Stark

Anybody else have or know of a good story like this one?

I love my GUI interface on Kubuntu. I love to listen to music with Audacity as I plunk around making clipart or writing or learning to code in Python. A computer is a big part of my life.

Sonar Project Logo

Jonathan Nadeau is blind. He’s also the guy behind Northeast LinuxFest. He  is also working to develop a FOSS distribution specifically directed to making it easier to use a computer for people with impaired vision and any other impairment, actually. Computers are a big part of his life, but the GUI that is fun for me doesn’t help him much. He needs accessibility software like a screen reader that really works.  Jonathan writes:

It’s true that there is proprietary accessible software to help blind and low vision people access a computer, but the average cost of this software is around $900. Since 90% of blind and low vision people live in developing countries, how are they supposed to afford this?

One answer is using the power of the community. There are great coders out there. They love contributing their skill and they are doing so. Jonathan is trying to put together a really great distribution targeting the needs of those with any disability that limits their access to computer power. The Sonar Project is that distribution.

There is a lot of work needed to organize, build, expand and deliver a FOSS distribution. FOSS may be based on Free Software, but the work takes away from other jobs that pay. Burning CDs, printing manuals, all that sort of thing takes more than dedication, too.

Jonathan has started an Indigogo campaign to raise $20,000. Please consider supporting the effort.


You may have students in your school, or even children of your own who would benefit from a FOSS distribution that serves them.

FOSS projects depend on a strong, dedicated, vibrant and supporting community. Even if you are not a coder, you can be involved, and you can make a difference.

By the way, if you are going to the Northeast LinuxFest this spring, stop by to say hello. I’ll be at the KDE table.


I’ve just finished taking a look at the future, or at least a part of the future.

There is an online working emulator of Mozilla’s Boot to Gecko project.

You’ll need a recent version of Firefox to explore. It is a Mozilla project after all and Mozilla is the shepherd of the browser some of us love.

I’ll show you some screen shots in a moment, but if you just can’t wait, click the link and, if you remember, come back and read more here later.

OK. If I’ve still got your eyes, here’s what I saw. Now remember, this is screen shots on my GNU/Linux/Kubuntu running Firefox 10.0.2. As I understand it, the “apps” are all done in HTML5. That’s the coming Web standard which is slowly being rolled out by Web designers.

The first shot shows my browser with several tabs and the opening screen of the emulator. That text in the top left corner says “Drag up to unlock” and a click-drag does just that. Looks like it would be a finger drag on a touchscreen of a phone or tablet just like today’s smartphones.

I had to use the feature of reducing my screen image on my 15.6″ laptop screen to get the whole emulator to show in my browser window. The emulator doesn’t have a scrollbar as I’m seeing it. Firefox lets you reduce a screen in the browser by holding down the Ctrl key and tapping the minus key. Ctrl and the plus key reverse that and make things bigger if you want bigger fonts like me, most of the time.

I didn’t try everything. I was too excited to get my first thoughts out to you wonderful readers.

After an unlock, the main “Menu” screen shows. A moment after the emulator started, the message you see at the bottom of the shot popped up. I haven’t figured out how to clear it, yet.

I started with a peek at the map app. (Love the sound of that.)
You can click and drag the map around as you would expect from a map from Google Maps.

There wasn’t a noticeable delay making a switch from one app to another. On a real smartphone or tablet, this ought to be quick.

Here’s the last screenshot. I did this on Leap Day, the 29th of February.
The news is from today in the CNN news “app” running in the Boot to Gecko emulator. This is no mockup. That time showing in the top corner of the emulator is the current time when I took the screenshot.

This thing really works!

This emulator, and the eventual hardware version, coming on the heels of the KDE Active “Spark” tablet may mean iOS from Apple and Android from Google may soon have some competition.

Update: Click and drag the Main Menu screen to the left. There are more apps to try.

Cannonical has announced that the next Long Term Support Ubuntu release will have five years of security updates and support for five years on the desktop in addition to the server.

In the past, the LTS versions, which come every two years with the April release offered only three years of support. The move is seen as an effort to engage enterprise users whose equipment update cycle is between four and five years. By being able to use a stable, well supported version of Ubuntu’s distribution of GNU/Linux, the hope is that more large organizations will follow the lead of the city of Munich in Germany and corporations like Qualcomm which have made the choice of Ubuntu for their computers.

Will this move influence the K-12 school community to consider Ubuntu?

Public schools have been slow to change their habits. Some are using Macintosh computers, but most are using Windows operating systems. The version may actually be Windows XP, in many cases. XP is a version of Windows which satisfies most working needs, but it is in its end-of-life stage. Microsoft has urged upgrade to Windows 7.

Has your school made the upgrade?

What is the impact of reduced budgets? Can your school afford to upgrade?

Do you realize that a computer with Windows XP is a good candidate for a GNU/Linux install? Current distributions, including Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, etc. would run very well on a machine converted from Windows XP. Schools making the switch would make good use of their current hardware.

Tell me your impediments. What’s stopping you?

This has been a busy week.

The icon of modern, hip technology, Steve Jobs is gone. He will be missed. The tech world will change because he will no longer deliver new “insanely great”cool toys.

Dennis Ritchie, co-creator of both the C programming language and of Unix while working at Bell Labs, also died. He will be missed, but his work which he taught others to use will have long effect in the tech world, perhaps longer than the Apple phenomenon. Linux is mostly written in C and is a functional homage to Unix.

The Ubuntu family of distributions, with its many alternate flavors like Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc. released its October version 11.10, right on time. I just did my backup and will run the updater after I finish this blog post.

KDE, the desktop originally described as the “kewl desktop environment” is having a birthday on Thursday October 14, 2011. KDE is my personal choice for desktop. I run it in the Kubuntu distribution. KDE is a friendly, interactive community, too. That’s not uncommon in the Free Software world, but KDE seems to do it particularly well for a complex group of programmers, designers, documentation writers and happy users.

I think I’m the only KDE user in my town so a big party is out, but I plan to celebrate with a raised glass and a piece of cake.



I’ve taken on a task for the end of summer.

A friend of a friend has been allowed to try to make some use of a cart of laptop computers. He wants to use them with Google Docs. JavaScript capabilities are therefore important in the browser.

The computers are Dell Inspiron 4000 laptops which have 128Mb of RAM in each machine. Windows Millennium Edition. That wasn’t going to cut it. I hope a version of Linux will solve the problem. Floppy drive module. Was able to swap the floppy for a CD drive from a Dell Latitude laptop (hooray for parts compatibility).

First try: Damn Small Linux. 4.4.10 – DSL specs say it works great with low resource hardware.  It installed easily and fairly quickly. It recognized the wireless card, attached  working driver software and connected to Google Docs, but the browser wasn’t new enough to handle the job. After about an hour, the mouse pointer started to wander and finally got “stuck” in a screen corner. Move on…

Next: Puppy Linux 5.25 – It installed with a bit more work, but didn’t connect with the wireless, even when I used the exact same driver that had worked with DSL. Move on…

Xubuntu 11.04 – SLOW install. Gave up the first time while the screen stayed blank at the networking hardware stage. Tried again and walked away for errands for two hours. When I returned, the wireless card had been detected and the install went forward, though still slowly. Mouse pointer stable, I think. Firefox 5.0 is the current browser with software updates applied. Wow! Modern browser. With 128Mb of RAM an actual Google Word Document almost works. Doubling to 256Mb, grabbing a memory module from another laptop, makes it work pretty well. The issue is the space required for the JavaScript that makes Google Docs work.

I’m now searching for more RAM. Dell’s page says the machine maxes out at 512Mb, two sticks of 256Mb. The first two I found weren’t recognized by the laptop which shut down right after turning on.

Anybody got ideas?

Anybody have compatible memory (PC100, SDRAM CL=2, non parity, 3.3V according to the Crucial Site) who would be willing to donate it? (Couldn’t get a PC133 chip to work. Would a BIOS update matter?)

128Mb memory modules would be enough to make the system workable. As it is now, the 30 laptops will supply enough RAM to have 15 working units. Clearly it would be nice if all 30 could be deployed. Class sizes are big at the school.

I’ll report on progress.

Switching to GNU/Linux was my best Windows system update.

I use GNU/Linux most of the time. I keep a Windows partition into which I boot when somebody has a Windows question that needs a demonstrated answer. I don’t hate Windows. I just don’t rely on it for daily work any more.

This week at my local FOSS user group, one of those Windows questions came up right at the end of the session and I didn’t realize the building was about to close down. After my quick demo, though, we had to get out so the staff could close the building down. I wasn’t bugged by that. The staff at the community center have supper to cook at home, after all.

I was bothered, though, by the big pain of Windows updates. When I shut down my laptop using the approved menu steps, I got the very clear message. Do not shut down or power off your computer. You have 23 updates.There had been no warning before I committed to the shut down. The shutdown couldn’t be deferred once I saw the message. There was no way to put the updates on hold. I was a hostage to the process.

I didn’t quite panic. I couldn’t stop to plug the laptop in. Fortunately it was almost fully charged. I went out the door and off to the car with hope in my heart that this wasn’t one of those major update-upgrades that would go on for an hour or more.

I decided to carry the open laptop to my car. It had just started raining, so I tipped the laptop to get the rain to hit mainly on the screen’s back and not into the openings of the case. I rushed across the empty parking lot and used a napkin to wipe off the splattered raindrops on the computer once I was inside. On my way home, the updates finished and the laptop shut down on its own. No harm done.

What’s the problem, then?

Windows! I was totally at the mercy of default update options of the operating system. The message was clear. The OS is in charge, not YOU!

My GNU/Linux software updates work differently. I get a message in my system taskbar telling me I have updates available. I can check to see what they are. I can click a button to apply the updates when I’m ready. I can also ignore the notification and go on with my work or even TURN OFF MY COMPUTER when I want. I can put off the updates to a convenient time.

I know. I know. I have the ability to modify the settings of the Windows installation so that I can better control the update process. But Windows programmers set the defaults and I accept defaults because generally the developers know what’s best. Ahem!

For a desktop computer, automatic updates taking over my computer at shutdown isn’t so bad. I can turn off the monitor, the room lights and go home. The computer will whir along through as many updates as are needed. Then it will simply shut down, even if it is an hour after I’ve left the building. For a user on the go with a laptop, the automatic updates process is a headache. It is wonderful that the Windows headaches are now rare events for me.

I’m going off now to change my Windows update settings. See you later.

Chris Dawson writes about education for ZDNet. In a post today, he boldly recommends educators look closely at Canonical’s newest version of Ubuntu.

There’s been a move by the Ubuntu distribution team to create a unified interface which works on desktops, laptops, and  netbooks.

What’s your take? Have you tried Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity?

Happy Cinco de Mayo to you who are from south of the border.

The United States turned down the international standard for measurement and stands alone using the foot, gallon, pound and Fahrenheit degree. Will our stance on software be similar? Will we let corporations decide what is good for us? (cybergedeon)

How attached are you?

When I was a middle school science teacher during the 1970s, there was a brief period during which we were asked to teach students how easy it is to use the metric system. Just like our decimal system for counting (10 fingers, after all) the metric system offered simple relationships among the measurements, and children learned it easily.

Nonetheless, the effort was brief. Industry rejected the recommendation, saying it would be prohibitively expensive to make the machinery conversions, and besides, everybody already knows the current “English” system of measurements.

Of course, losing the opportunity didn’t mean nothing changed. Look around. Find out what size your soda bottles are. They are almost all based on a metric liter. There are no quart, half gallon, etc. in my grocery store. Most loyal Americans seem to buy Hondas, Toyotas, Mazdas, etc., etc. whose bolts are metric. Did the U.S. citizens suffer from that silent conversion in the automobile industry? A quick check of the Wikipedia page on “engine displacement” indicates that since the 1980s, the industry has adopted the Liter as it’s main volume measure.

Right now, the common software base is Windows. If a program runs on Windows, people claim to know how to use it. If the same program runs on GNU/Linux, is it any more difficult?

Schools are the place where expectations are often set for the future. Is your school tying students to a Windows expectation? It it Macintosh that fills your classrooms? Are you teachers and your students shills for the proprietary formats of Microsoft and Apple, Inc.?

Where is GNU/Linux getting the chance to set student expectations? It is open, teachers and their students can be free to work with it and not be constrained by cost restrictions. There is no need to cry, “We cannot afford that software.”

Of course, the masters of the school computers aren’t the students nor the teachers, not even the early adopters. Most American schools are locked into the choices made by district administrators or worse, by the tech staff.

During the early days of computers in the classroom, the 1970s and 1980s, teachers who jumped at the chance to have a computer made more decisions than they do today. We are stepping backward. Progress is in the hands of the tech staff and administrators who control the money.

It isn’t the hardware which makes a computer useful. It is the software.

As a teacher, are you allowed to bring an old computer into your classroom for students to use, even if it is a Windows or Mac machine? I know of teachers who had to give the computers they brought in to the school which took control of the software installs just as much as they did the hardware.

Where is your software freedom? Do you have any?

Even if you are a tech savvy user, can you get any of your classroom computers set up to provide software freedom for yourself or your students?

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