Summary: This week’s edition of The Linux Week in Review maintains a focus on one of the core principles of success: keeping it simple and stupid. Every situation does not call for us to have a PhD in computer science, or Bill Gates’ bank account. Often times, simple is better. Libreoffice can perform what most businesses need at a great price: free. NASA recently decided to, in the vernacular of the streets, keep it real by ditching expensive proprietary solutions, coming back to Earth, and embracing free software. Asus decided to leave ostentatious excess behind, and instead introduced its low-profile, but elegant, X101. This week’s stories are:
- Libreoffice 3.4.2 Courts Enterprise Users
- NASA Embraces Open Source
- Asus Saves the Last Dance For Meego
Libreoffice 3.4.2 Courts Enterprise Users
One of the hardest things to do as a contributor to open source software, and free software projects, is to focus. There are so many great projects out there, and it is very easy to get distracted by the great concepts, bells, and whistles in each of them. Personally, I am getting very close to choosing the project that I will focus on helping in the future: I am leaning towards the Libreoffice Project. The reason for this is simple: Libreoffice is the most important piece of software that I use. My job is becoming more and more one of reading, digesting, and interpreting news on GNU/Linux and related technologies. I end up writing a great deal, and I have developed a lot of expertise in using Libreoffice and Google Docs to express myself. The next logical step is for me to take my C++ programming experience, and I apply it to actually submitting source code to the Libreoffice Project. Several months ago, I wrote an article about the importance of giving back to the free software projects that one uses. This can be done through financial contributions, contributing code, contributing feedback, or all of the above. Libreoffice is evolving into a great project, and the business world is starting to notice what I realized several months ago: Libreoffice has arrived.
The Document Foundation just released Libreoffice 3.42. and they claim that THIS version of Libreoffice is ready for the Enterprise. Given the stability that I have observed in my personal use of Libreoffice, I tend to believe them. On my Fedora 15 laptop, the one where I do most of my writing, I sail a very conservative ship. I am running the very stable 3.3.3 version of Libreoffice. I am not the type of person to jump out and get the latest version of free software right away. I wait until the latest release has proven itself in the “wild” before I upgrade it to it. As such, I can attest to the fact that LibreOffice 3.3.3 is battle tested, and extremely stable. Unlike several versions of OpenOffice.org that I used before I transitioned to Libreoffice, the latter NEVER crashes on me. The Document Foundation appears to have really cleaned up and improved the OpenOffice.org source code. Given how good Libreoffice 3.3.3 is, I am sure that 3.4.2 is even better. Here is a quick summary of the improvements:
- better ergonomics
- better HTML export
- better fonts
- color charts
- named range as the data source in Calc spreadsheets
- better text rendering
The list above is only a sampling of the improvements, there are many more. Each subsequent Libreoffice release makes paying the high price of the leading commercial office suite seem more questionable. The major news story that I am waiting to hear is that a major Fortune 500 company is switching all of its workstations to Libreoffice.
NASA Embraces Open Source
The recent end of NASA’s space shuttle program was a sad event. However, NASA is characterized by boundless optimism, and a quest for an exciting future for mankind. This spirit embodies NASA’s bold new exploration of an unfamiliar frontier: the space known as open source. I would expect nothing less from NASA than to boldly go where no one has gone before. Of course, open source and free software are IMMENSELY popular. But NASA is a pioneer of sorts in that it is one of the first U.S. federal agencies to really embrace open source software. In this segment, I will explain why NASA’s latest adventure is so exciting.
I recently argued that free software and open source are becoming mainstream. New projects often trickle down from government organizations and corporations to the general populace after a few years. Once governments and industry embrace a new technology, it is inevitable that consumers will eventually embrace it too. I myself live in a home where we embrace both open and proprietary technologies. Our computing devices run a heterogeneous mixture of Fedora, Ubuntu, Centos, Android, and Windows 7. I believe that this will be the future. In ten years, the operating system’s name will be virtually irrelevant. People will only care about what the device allows them to do: communicate, solve problems, learn, etc. NASA has learned that free source software is as good as any other means of solving problems.
Open NASA is a new project aimed at making NASA a more open, collaborative, and transparent organization. I commend them on this initiative. Their related website is http://open.nasa.gov/. In the spirit of openness, NASA decided to build this website entirely on free software: the GNU/Linux operating system, the Apache Web Server, MySQL database, and the PhP programming language. This suite of software is known as a LAMP stack, and it is one of the most common web server software configurations. In addition to the LAMP stack, the Open Nasa website uses WordPress as its content management system. A couple of years ago, the White House set the precedent for openness by switching the White House website to Drupal, and since then, several government agencies have followed along. NASA’s embrace of free software should provide a nice boost to its rapid rise into Earth’s orbit.
Asus Saves the Last Dance For Meego
Asus has had an on-again, off-again love affair with GNU/Linux on its popular line of netbooks. The affair is back on with the latest netbook production: the Asus X101. (To be precise, the Asus X101 runs Meego, an Intel-backed flavor of GNU/Linux). I own an older Dell netbook myself, and I disagree with the naysayers who say that the netbook is doomed due to tablets. NOTHING can replace the convenience of a real keyboard. The computer market is big enough for all of these devices. The Asus X101 is a very compelling device because of its great form factor: it is EXTREMELY thin. When I first read about the device, this feature intrigued me. I fly a lot, and the biggest problem that I encounter from a computing standpoint is battery life. The best that I can get is about one and a half hours of battery life on my Toshiba Satellite 17” laptop. My netbook can easily double that amount. Netbooks are smaller devices, consume less power, and can do most of what a laptop can. Perhaps the most amazing feature of the X101 is its price: $199. I predict that this device is going to cause quite a stir, but it will not be disruptive, as the first netbooks were a few years ago. Thankfully, the anemic Windows Starter Edition that was pushed out to OEMs has given GNU/Linux and Android a new lease on life in the netbook market.
Netbooks first reduced their size by ditching the old school optical drives. The X101 goes one step further by sacking the Ethernet port and the VGA connector. Hasta la vista! I welcome simplicity. When you need to do a complex job, a complex machine is appropriate. But when you want to quickly edit a document on a flight, this is the right machine for the job. Kudos to Asus for looking out for those that don’t need a super-powered machine!
By all accounts that I’ve read, Microsoft Office 2010 is a great product. However, I have used Libreoffice; it is a great product as well. If I were in charge of acquisitions at a large company, I would have to ask myself this: “Is MS Office REALLY $200 or $300 times the number of machines that I have better than Libreoffice?” From my personal experience, I don’t envision any way that the answer to this question could be yes. I suspect that a herd mentality is the real explanation. Business A concludes that they MUST use MS Office because Businesses B and C use it. This mentality is entrenched, so it will take a long time for it to change. But it WILL change. NASA’s shift to open source is just one example of a major organization choosing to break from the herd. The Asus X101 is an example of the kind of device that could help to break businesses away from their traditional ways of thinking. Imagine a business deploying its warriors on the road armed with Meego-powered $199 Asus X101s instead of $500 Ipad 2s. The effect on a company’s bottom line could be quite dramatic.
Thank you for reading this edition of The Linux Week in Review. I look forward to seeing you again next week!
Crothers, B. (2011, August 4). $199 asus x101 targets linux tablet alternative. Cnet. Retrieved August 7, 2011, from http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20088439-64/$199-asus-x101-targets-linux-tablet-alternative/
Montalbano, E. (2011, August 4). Nasa’s open government site built on open source. Information Week. Retrieved August 7, 2011, from http://informationweek.com/news/government/enterprise-architecture/231300239?nomobile=1
Noyes, K. (2011, August 1). With version 3.4.2, libreoffice is business-ready. PC World. Retrieved August 6, 2011, from http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/237034/with_version_342_libreoffice_is_businessready.html