Monthly Archives: February 2013

  • Allergy warning: Office 2013 marketing may contain traces of FUD

    In the IT world, FUD is a very useful acronym: it’s short for fear, uncertainty and doubt.

    Wikipedia defines FUD as:

    Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), is a tactic used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics and propaganda.

    FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information. An individual firm, for example, might use FUD to invite unfavourable opinions and speculation about a competitor’s product; to increase the general estimation of switching costs among current customers; or to maintain leverage over a current business partner who could potentially become a rival.

    The term originated to describe disinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry but has since been used more broadly. FUD is a manifestation of the appeal to fear.

    As you’ll find if you read further down the Wikipedia entry, Microsoft, that superannuated leviathan of the proprietary software world, is no stranger to FUD. Indeed, it seems to have roused its sales partners to use it to help promote Office 2013/Office 365, the latest versions of its bloated, overpriced and ubiquitous office suite.

    This came to my attention courtesy of Misco, who are kind enough to send my recycling box lots of sales material once a month. Included in this month’s batch of recycling was a 2-page spread for MS Office. Included in the ‘Top reasons to buy Office” was the following dubious information (reproduced verbatim from the leaflet):

    End of Support

    Running Office 2003 and Windows XP after the end-of-support date (April 8, 2014) may expose your company to security, compliance and compatibility risks due to a lack of ongoing updates.

    Several points can be made about this misleading statement.

    Firstly, all Microsoft products are insecure: just ask any decent, competent sysadmin.

    Secondly, what’s all this ‘compliance risk’ about then? Is Microsoft revoking all Office licences for Office 2003 and older versions and sending in the software police? I think we should be told.

    Thirdly, as far compatibility is concerned, users are wholly at the mercy of Microsoft as to how long files produced with earlier versions of Office programs can still be opened, read and edited using different versions of Office. This is vendor lock-in and it stinks.

    Especially in these times of austerity when money is tight, my advice to anyone thinking of procuring or upgrading an office suite would be to look carefully at gratis open source alternatives to Office, such as:

    • Apache OpenOffice – available for Linux, Mac and Windows;
    • LibreOffice – a fork of OpenOffice – also available for Linux, Mac and Windows;
    • Calligra – available for many Linux distributions and Free BSD and now with preliminary support for Windows and Mac.

    All of these can also open and write files in Office formats, as well as working natively with Open Document Format – an international standard recognised by the ISO that’s being adopted increasingly by national governments across the world as a means of ensuring their documents can still be read in centuries to come.

    I’ve been using open source office suites – principally OpenOffice and LibreOffice – in my professional capacity for the last 8 years and none of my clients – all of whom use Office – has reported problems opening the files I produce.

  • LibreOffice Impress sprint in Dresden

    The LibreOffice project has been offered a project weekend from Friday 22nd March to Sunday 24th March at Dresden Technical University which will focus specifically on Impress, LibreOffice’s presentation tool.

    Dresden 2013 sprint logo

    The main aims of the weekend will be to:

    • get into the code that is on stage with boatloads of presenters each year;
    • go bug hunting and help bug fixing;
    • find paper cuts and look into usability – life on stage is stressful enough without your presentation software acting up;
    • have a good time and meet new people!

    The main venue for the event will be the Beyer Building (map) at Dresden Technical University’s main campus physics faculty (map).

    The rough programme for the weekend is as follows:

    • Friday 22nd March – arrival and introduction, knowing your way around Impress;
    • Saturday 23rd March – bug hunting and fixing;
    • Sunday 24th March – wrap-up, future work.

    More details are available on The Document Foundation wiki.

  • DFD 2013 event registration opens

    Event registration opened yesterday for Document Freedom Day 2013 which will be held on Wednesday, 27th March. Local event teams can add details of their activities to the Document Freedom website and have them marked on the global campaign map.

    Last week 50 promotional packs were dispatched to hackerspaces to kick start event preparations. They contain posters, fliers, stickers, and advice, including how to apply for financial support. Packs are now also available to order online.

    dfd 2013 banner

    “Last year trail-blazing Open Standards advocates introduced thousands of people to better standards,” said DFD Campaign Manager Sam Tuke. “Teams now have more resources at their disposal and fresh ideas including switching from Adobe Flash to HTML5 technologies”.

    “Markets for digital products such as audio-books and cloud documents have grown dramatically in recent months, but without open standards customers are victims of vendor lock-in and anti-consumer market control,” said Erik Albers, Community Manager at the Free Software Foundation Europe.

    This year the DFD campaign aims to have more events in more locations. In 2012 groups of volunteers ran 54 DFD events in 23 different countries, including Belgium, Colombia and Indonesia.

    This post originally appeared on Bristol Wireless.

  • Plain talk about plane trees

    The Bristol Post is not particularly renowned for the quality of its journalism.

    This point of view was borne out by its report today on public works in Weston-super Mare, which features the following paragraph:

    The species to be planted include silver birch, hazel, Scots pine, Himalayan plain, London plain and common alder. Work on removing the trees is due to start this week.

    Himalayan plain? London plain? The Post should be sent to sit in shame in homophone corner until it learns the difference between a plain tree and a plane tree and promises not to make such elementary sub-editing errors in future.

    However, the Post is not only guilty of falling victim to homophony and failing to do a bit of basic sub-editing. Indeed it is also guilty of churnalism – “a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking”.

    Checking back on the source of the story in question, one arrives at a North Somerset Council news item of 20th February 2013, where – lo and behold – the following sentence appears:

    The species to be planted include silver birch, hazel, Scots pine, Himalayan plain, London plain and common alder.

    Thus the anonymous Post hack quoted initially has merely repeated the error of the original author of the news in North Somerset.

    This blog has pointed out before that North Somerset is a strange place (posts passim), but having an illiterate write news on the council website is just plain perverse.

  • ORR fails open standards test

    As a regular rail user, I sometimes use real-time train information and was intrigued to learn that the Office of Rail Regulation is currently holding a consultation on real-time train information until 28th February.

    However, the ORR is clearly confused as to what open standards (such as web standards. Ed.) really are, as shown by the following sentence from the consultation page:

    So that we are able to apply web standards to content on our website, we would prefer that you email us your response in Microsoft Word format.

    Firstly, MS Office formats are closed, proprietary formats, unlike the Open Document Format (ODF) used by more sensible office suites.

    Secondly, does the above statement imply that the ORR uses MS Word to edit its web content? MS Word has a hard time behaving like a word processor. 🙂 When used for HTML it produces some of the sloppiest mark-up known. As Homer Simpson would say: “Doh!”

  • Croatia: President supports open source

    image of Ivo Josipović
    Croatian President Ivo Josipović. Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    What Croatian President Ivo Josipović has done would be akin to Elizabeth II supporting the work of the UK LUGs, according to a report on Joinup, the EU’s public sector open source news site.

    Ivo Josipović is providing support to a conference organised by Croatia’s 2 free and open source advocacy groups, the Croatian Linux User Group (Hrvatska Udruga Linux Korisnika, HULK) and the Croatian Association for Open Systems (HrOpen) and has accepted the groups’ invitation to become honorary patron of the the event – the 2013 Croatian Linux Users’ Convention (CLUC) to be held in Zagreb from 15th to 17th May.

    HULK and HrOpen met the president in Zagreb on 21 January. “We briefed President Josipović on the benefits of using open standards and the use of free and open source software”, explains Ivan Gustin, HULK’s chairman. “He appreciates our activities and efforts, especially in getting this type of software accepted by Croatia’s public sector.”

    HULK is an association promoting the use of open standards and open source solutions. It represents both professional and amateur users and developers of free and open source software. HrOpen, whose members include several of Croatia’s universities, promotes and encourages the development of open IT systems and an open internet in Croatia.

  • Open data a closed book to most civil servants

    An Open Data Insitute blog post of the first ever survey* into civil servants’ awareness of open data reveals an astonishing level of ignorance.

    Among the survey’s main findings were the following:

    • 78% of civil servants do not know about government plans for open data and the benefits that follow;
    • 75% say they don’t know where to find useful data to help their decision making;
    • 57% do not know how to access data sets, how to interpret them or how to best apply data standards;
    • Only 52% recognised that ready access to data and data standards will generate new enterprises, jobs and services in the public and private sectors.

    Sir Humphrey and his Whitehall mates (plus their counterparts in local government. Ed.) are essentially saying that they find it too difficult to access and reuse the right data and – more importantly – that they do not have the technical knowledge and expertise to exploit what data is available.

    What implications does this have for the UK government’s aspirations to be a world leader in open data – aspirations that Chancellor George Osborne voiced in his 2011 autumn statement? Negative ones probably, unless better skills, training and communication are introduced across government departments, local government and the public sector in general.

    * The research was conducted in December 2012 on behalf of Listpoint and involved over 1,000 responses received from central and local government, non-departmental bodies, the NHS and the police.

  • The “mad priest of Kent”

    Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, I’m currently reading some of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles and last night perused his account of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt. One of the main protagonists of the Revolt was a priest (possibly excommunicated and probably a “hedge-priest“) called John Ball, whom Froissart termed the “mad priest of Kent“.

    image of John Ball (on horse) encouraging Wat Tyler's rebels (14th century MS of Froissart's Chronicles). Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    John Ball (on horse) encouraging Wat Tyler’s rebels (14th century MS of Froissart’s Chronicles). Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    John Ball (c.1338-15 July 1381) gained considerable fame as a preacher by expounding the doctrines of John Wycliffe, but especially by his insistence on the principle of social equality. These utterances brought him into collision with the Archbishop of Canterbury and on 3 occasions the archbishop committed him to prison. Indeed Ball was in prison when the Revolt began and he was released by Kentish rebels who then marched on London, along with Ball.

    John Ball’s most famous public address was that to the assembled masses on Blackheath Common during the Peasant’s Revolt that began: “When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then a gentleman?

    However, what struck me most of what Ball is reported to have said is a sermon he’s alleged by Froissart to have delivered to a congregation leaving the minster of Canterbury one Sunday:

    Ah, ye good people, the matters goeth not well to pass in England, nor shall not do till everything be common, and that there be no villains nor gentlemen, but that we may be all united together, and that the lords be no greater masters than we be. What have we deserved, or why should we be kept thus in servage? We be all come from one father and one mother, Adam and Eve: whereby can they say or shew that they be greater lords than we be, saving by that they cause us to win and labour for that they dispend? They are clothed in velvet and camlet furred with grise, and we be vestured with poor cloth: they have their wines, spices and good bread, and we have the drawing out of the chaff and drink water; they dwell in fair houses, and we have the pain and travail, rain and wind in the fields; and by that that cometh of our labours they keep and maintain their estates: we be called their bondmen, and without we do readily them service, we be beaten; and we have no sovereign to whom we may complain, nor that will hear us nor do us right. Let us go to the king, he is young, and shew him what servage we be in, and shew him how we will have it otherwise, or else we will provide us of some remedy; and if we go together, all manner of people that be now in any bondage will follow us to the intent to be made free; and when the king seeth us, we shall have some remedy, either by fairness or otherwise.

    To me this shows that John Ball was a man way ahead of his times – and not mad at all (Froissart as a chronicler was true to his times and favoured the elite and their version of events). Indeed ideas of equality such as he voiced were not widely heard again until the Commonwealth (1649-1660) and still have relevance today as the gap between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots yawns ever wider once more.

  • rms coming to Bath

    image of Richard Stallman
    Richard Stallman – the conscience of the free software movement
    Richard Stallman, also known as rms, the Founder and President of the Free Software Foundation and often described as the conscience of the free software movement, will be giving at talk entitled “Copyright vs Community” at 6.00 pm on Thursday 21st March at the University of Bath as part of the 2013 Bath Digital Festival.

    Admission is free, but booking is essential. More details are available on the Bath Digital Festival site, which, for those unfamiliar with his decades of work in the field of software and freedoms of various kinds, also has potted biography of rms.

  • Ubuntu Touch Developer Preview due next week

    Ubuntu logoThere’ll be a further foretaste of the Ubuntu OS for smartphones with effect from 21st February according to a report on German IT news website Heise since Ubuntu developer Canonical wants to publish its Touch Developer Preview of the mobile operating system then. It is aimed at developers so they can test their applocations with it, as well as users who like to experiment. Besides images for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and LG Nexus 4 smartphones, Canonical also wants to publish the sources with which the operating system can be ported to other smartphones.

    An Ubuntu for smartphones wiki page is already online, but will only be filled with additional content on 21st February. Anyone visiting the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona from 25th February can also see the Ubuntu OS on smartphones at the Canonical stand (81D30) in Hall 8.1.

    image of Ubuntu running on smartphones
    Ubuntu: coming to a smartphone near you soon

    Using Ubuntu for smartphones is heavily based on swipe gestures and dispenses with the usual Android home, back and menu buttons. The final version is provisionally scheduled to ship in the autumn, as was recently announced by Canonical’s founder Mark Shuttleworth.

Posts navigation