The challenge of bringing Open Source to the masses

One of the most important aims of the Open Source movement has always been to involve the masses in the movement. Until very recently, this aim has been too much like wishful-thinking. These days, however, there are some reasons to believe that we are close to reach, at least partially, this aim. In this post, I am trying to answer the important question that ‘how can we get closer to involve the big masses in the Open Source movement?’

I think the practical ways to popularization of Open Source can be categorized as either ‘positive push’ or ‘negative push’. The positive push ways are the ways of promoting the Open Source stuff by enhancing the products or the ways they interact with the masses. The negative push ways are the ways of demoting the most important trend rivaling the Open Source movement: proprietary/non-free softwares. I discuss either way in a separate section.

Positive push
There are three different things which can positively influence the impact of the Open Source movement. It appears to me that the Open Source community must concentrate on these three issues while trying to bring the Open Source stuff to the masses.

The first thing is “Plug and Play“. I don’t have any doubt that one of the features that has made the Windows XP overwhelmingly dominant OS is its rather good plug and play features. Many drivers are automatically installed at the very moment you connect a new device to your computer while a number of other hardwares are just a few clicks away from being installed. Most importantly, you can (still) find the XP drivers for virtually any single hardware in the market. That is one of the things that makes XP ‘The Standard’. I don’t like it just like (many of) you guys do, but it is true. Therefore, FOSS guys must invest a lot on Plug and Play feature. It is not sufficient that the things CAN be got done at the end; a non-tech-savy grandpa should be just as positive as you geeky guys are.

The second thing is Wine. Being able to run your favorite application seamlessly from within your Linux distro is what that eliminates the huge advantage of Windows that many applications are designed for it and are not available for Linux. Currently, Wine is not working as well as it must. Many applications fail to run with Wine at all let alone run easily and seamlessly . I believe that as many developers as possible should heavily work on Wine to make it as powerful as possible. What we really need is a plug and play Wine: grab a disk containing a native Windows application and you are just a few clicks aways from running it from within your Linux distro.

The third trick is monetizing the Open Source projects. Any Open Source project can sustain only if it can be somehow monetized by the developers. Of course, the worst thing is trying to sell the program just like the proprietary ones. The best way is to monetize the program while keeping it free for the consumers. Google’s model is an excellent one. If you prefer a more tangible example, take FireFox. It is Open Source. It is free. It is lovely. It generates revenue and simply gets the work done. Remember! they would let you play only if you are big enough to be seen while sitting around the table.

Negative push
Aside from making the FOSS products appealing, it is important to make the rival look just as ugly as they really are. Most important thing in this regard is to push for kind of legislation against bundling the softwares with the new computers. Most of the computers sold these days have so many proprietary softwares, including the OS, preloaded. The customers have little chance of selecting the OS they want and are in most cases forced to pay the software companies for the software they might finally through away. The Open Source community must push for such legislation. That is, in my opinion, one of the key points in bringing the Open Source to the masses.

Top 15 Open Source and/or free apps for scientists and students

1. Type-setting and office

- OpenOffice
Is a complete Office suite package including Writer, Presentation, Spreadsheet, Drawing, and Database applications. It is well suited to academic applications. The features of particular importance are built-in bibliography utility, possibility to export the Text files as LaTeX, BibTeX, MediaWiki, and XHtml, built-in pdf export capability, and good document formatting.
-LaTeX and MikTeX (for Windows)
LaTeX is a powerful mark-up language for writing papers, scientific reports, theses, and so on. It is based on the TeX system originally developed by Donald E. Knuth. LaTeX is super-powerful in writing and managing any sort of academic writing. As a mark-up language, it can be called a programming language for academic writing. Like many programming systems any LaTeX typesetting system should have a compiling component and an editor. Although normal plain text editors can be used for LaTeX typesetting, specialized LaTeX editors are also available. Most Linux distributions come with some sort of TeX system. MikTeX can be used for Windows. There is a huge ecosystem around LaTex and many things related o TeX can be freely downloaded from Comprehensive TeX Archive Network (CTAN).
- Kile
Kile is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for development of LaTex documents in Linux. It is based on KDE desktop environment. For screenshots of Kile see here.
-TeXnixCenter
A feature-rich LaTeX editor for Windows freely available under GPL license.

2. Bibliography and reference management

- Bibus
Bibus is a bibliography and citation management software designed to be Open Source, free, and integrative to OpenOffice and MS Word. Bibus is available for Linux and Windows but Mac support is limited at the moment. It can be downloaded from here. Bibus can import and export from EndNote/Reference Manager and also RIS files. For screenshots of Bibus check this link.
- Jabref
It has LaTeX bibliography files (BibTeX files) as its native file format and can be used for management, manipulation, and export of BibTex files. Jabref is maintained for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. It can directly search and download from some bibliographic databases. Screenshots can be accessed here.
- Zotero
Zotero is a Firefox browser extension which can be used for storing bibliographic data while browsing. It can be used for managing and citing as well and can save a lot of time particularly the time spent for collection of data. It works with many websites. Read this nice article about how to use Zotero to manage OpenOffice bibliographies.
- There are more Open Source bibliographic management softwares than these three. Read this Wikipedia article about comparison of different proprietary and Open Source reference management softwares.

3. PDF and Postscript related apps

- PDFedit
PDFedit is a great free and Open Source pdf editor for Linux. Read my previous post about editing pdf files with Linux to find more about PDFedit.
- Ghostscript
Ghostscript is an application written mainly in C for viewing ps and pdf files, converting ps files to pdf, and much more. This is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.
- PDFCreator
It is a free and Open Source pdf creation application based on Ghostscript. This is available only for MS Windows but Vista is not currently well supported. However, the Vista bug is being fixed. PDFCreator was selected by the OpenCD project for creation of pdf files in Windows.
- Wanna more pdf apps (Open Source and proprietary) ? Check this link.

4. Math and computing

- Scilab
Scilab is a free and Open Source technical computing language. It’s syntax and application is very similar to MATLAB and if you already know MATLAB you wouldn’t have much difficulty switching to Scilab. It comes with a number of toolboxes and new applications can be easily added as interfacing with Fortran, Tcl/Tk, C, C++, Java, LabVIEW is possible. Downloadable binaries are available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.
- SciPy
SciPy and NumPy are two scientific computing and numerical analysis packages based on Python. NumPy provides the basic computational capabilities and SciPy is built on top of NumPy to provide a wider range of capabilities. For screenshots of the package see this and this pages.
- SAGE
SAGE is an Open Source mathematics application which is based on Python. Since SAGE is based on Python, the mathematical capabilities of SAGE can be combined by other general capabilities of Python to make more useful things. Interfacing with a number of non-free packages (such as Magma, Maple, Mathematica, MATLAB, and MuPAD) as well as free packages (such as Axiom, GAP, GP/PARI, Macaulay2, Maxima, Octave, and Singular) is possible. Here you can try SAGE online. SAGE can be integrated with some web browsers.
- Octave
GNU Octave is a high-level computational language which is similar to and mostly compatible with MATLAB. It is licensed under GPL license and is available for different platforms.
- Many other technical and scientific computing languages are also available. For other free and non-free alternatives see here, here and here.

5. Graphics and illustration making

- The GIMP
The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is an application for photo retouching and manipulating which is similar to non-free software Photoshop. It is available for many platforms including Linux and Windows. In Ubuntu Linux, GIMP is installed by default.
- Inkscape
Inkscape is a free and Open Source vector image editor. It is similar to non-free software Adobe Illustrator which is being widely used also by scholars to make scientific and educational illustrations. It has many advanced capabilities and is getting even better very rapidly.

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New FOSS releases- around mid October, 2007

New versions of following FOSS projects are just released.

1. TikiWiki (ver 1.9.8.1): A multilingual Wiki/CMS/Groupware

2. Texlipse (ver 1.2.0): A Latex plugin for Eclipse Java IDE

3. GanttProject (ver 2.0.5): A project management package

4. Notepad++ (ver 4.4): A powerful editor for code development and general purposes

5. KeePass (ver 1.09): A password manager

6. RAP (ver 1.0): An Eclipse toolkit for making RIAs combining Java, OSGI and Ajax

7. OpenProj (ver. beta 6): Yet another FOSS project management software

Open Source and Linux events in 2008

This is meant to be a reference post. You can always find this post in the left sidebar under the title “Reference Posts”. I will keep updating this post to cover as many Open Source events as possible. An RSS feed with possibility of importing the events as ICAL and VCAL is available. But, please check the calender as it is still in its alpha state.

January
Open Source Meets Business, January 22-24, Nuremberg, Germany
Australia’s Annual Linux Conference (linux.conf.au), January 28 to February 2, Melbourne, Australia

February
Australia’s Annual Linux Conference (linux.conf.au), January 28 to February 2, Melbourne, Australia
Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE), February 8-10, Los Angeles, California, United States
Florida Linux Show 2008, February 11, Jacksonville, Florida, United States
LinuxDays 2008, February 19-20, Luxembourg
Free and Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting (FOSDEM 08), February 23-24, Brussels, Belgium
The 6th Linux Audio Conference 2008, Feb 28 to March 2, Cologne, Germany

March
The 6th Linux Audio Conference 2008, Feb 28 to March 2, Cologne, Germany
Eclipse Technical and User Conference (EclipseCon), March 17-20, Santa Clara, California
Open Source Business Conference (OSBC)-InfoWorld Events, March 25-26, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, California, United States
The UK’s Unix & Open Systems User Group (UKUUG) Spring Conference, March 31 to April 2, Birmingham, United Kingdom

April
The UK’s Unix & Open Systems User Group (UKUUG) Spring Conference, March 31 to April 2, Birmingham, United Kingdom
ApacheCon Europe 2008
, April 7-11, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
MySQL Conference and Expo 2008, April 15-18, Santa Clara, California, United States

May
The Open Source Strategy Conference, May 20-22, Sydney, Australia
LinuxTag, May 28-31, Berlin, Germany

July
Ubuntu Live, July 20-22, Portland, Oregon, United States
O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON), July 21-25, Portland, Oregon, United States

August
LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, August 4(5)-7, San Francisco, California, United States
DebConf8, August 10-16, Mar del Plata, Argentina

September
The 4th International Conference on Open Source Systems, September 7-10, Milan, Italy
The Linux Plumbers Conference, September 17-19, Portland, Oregon, United States

First Linux infringement lawsuit just filed

An infringement lawsuit was just filed against Red Hat and Novell. As far as I know, this is the first ever infringement lawsuit invloving Linux. This is happening just after Ballmer (Microsoft CEO) blamed FOSS community for violation of IP laws. Read the full story here.

Open Source acounting package: GnuCash

GnuCash is a free and open source package for small business and personal financial accounting. It is developed by a team of developers and is distributed under GNU GPL license. GnuCash is available for several platforms including GNU/Linux, Windows, Solaris, BSD, and Mac OS X.

GnuCash allows tracking the income, expenses, stocks, and bank accounts. Some important features of Gnucash include:
1. Double entry accounting: each transaction should equally debit one account and credit another meaning that the transaction balance is always preserved.
2. Different account types: for example income and expense accounts.
3. Multiple currencies can be used.
4. Stock/Mutual Funds
5. Small business accounting features such as payment, invoice, billing, and tax.
6. QIF and OFX import: GnuCash supports Intuit Quicken QIF files and Open Financial Exchange format.
7. HBCI support: GnuCash also supports German Home Banking Computer Information protocol
8. Reports and Graphs
9. Transaction finder
10. On-line Stock & Mutual Fund Quotes
11. Scheduled Transactions
12. Mortgage & Loan Repayment Druid
13. etc

For screen-shots of the program see here and here. The binary version is available for Windows. The source codes have to be compiled for other platforms.

Open Source FEM packages

A list of Open Source Finite Elements Method (FEM) packages

read more | digg story

CAD softwares for Linux

In this link, you can find a list of available Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages for Linux which includes a number of Open Source and a number of Commercial packages.

read more | digg story

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