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Open Source Software for Community Based Organisations

arrow:What is Open Source Software?

arrow:What is GNU/Linux?
arrow:GNU/Linux Distributions
arrow:Graphic User Interfaces for GNU/Linux
arrow:Office Software for GNU/Linux
arrow:Other Software for GNU/Linux
arrow:Content Management Software for GNU/Linux
arrow:What are the benefits for Community Based Organisations?
arrow:Case Studies: Computer Bank Project (Australia) & GRO (USA)
arrow:Training Opportunities
arrow:Further Reading
arrow:Open Source Links

I believe that the development of Open Source software will assist Community Based Organisations to fully utilise the power of computers and online technologies to better serve the communities in which they work.

This website is regularly updated and links checked to see if they are relevent. I will develop the site and add further information. If you have any questions or wish to make a contribution or point out a bad link please email me Ken Young.

What is Open Source Software?

"Open Source, is a simple legal document  the General Public Licence (GPL), otherwise known as "copyleft".  The GPL is the most generous and rigorous of the intellectual property protections that seek to allow programmers and users to benefit from the collaborative efforts of a group. Strictly speaking, the GPL falls into the category of Free Software, not Open Source, although much of that latter movement is derived from the former.  According to the father of Free Software, Richard Stallman, it "is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free speech, not free beer." It is not a socialist ideal. It is more a matter of "from each according to their needs, to each according to their ability". Many additions to the source code come from a specific user's immediate need. Its subsequent integration into someone else's strategy is entirely up to the third-party concerned."
Extract from Let's get real on copyleft by Nathan Cochrane The Age 20 April 1999. This article used to be freely available for reading on the net. You now have to purchace a per view version from The Age News Store.

In an essay called The Open Source Definition by Bruce Perens in Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution he describes the thinking behind the term Open Source. "The Open Source Definition is a bill of rights for the computer user. It defines certain rights that a software license must grant you to be certified as Open Source.... these rights:

These rights are important to the software contributor because they keep all contributors at the same level relative to each other. Everyone who wants to is allowed to sell an Open Source program, so prices will be low and development to reach new markets will be rapid. Anyone who invests the time to build knowledge in an Open Source program can support it, and this provides users with the option of providing their own support, or the economy of a number of competing support providers. Any programmer can tailor an Open Source program to specific markets in order to reach new customers. People who do these things aren't compelled to pay royalties or license fees."

arrow:Open Source.Org
"The basic idea behind open source is very simple. When programmers on the Internet can read, redistribute, and modify the source for a piece of software, it evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing....  The Open Source pages exist to make this case to the commercial world."

arrow:Open Source Definition
Open source doesn't just mean providing access to source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:  Free Redistribution, Source Code, Derived Works, Integrity of The Author's Source Code , No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups, No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor, Distribution of License, License Must Not Be Specific to a Product, License Must Not Contaminate Other Software.  See the Open Source Definition  for details.

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What is GNU/Linux?

"Linux is a multi-user, multi-tasking operating system that runs on many platforms, including Intel processors (386 and higher), DEC Alphas and Power Macintoshes.
It implements a superset of the POSIX standard. Linux interoperates well with other operating systems, including Apple MacOS, Microsoft Windows and Novell NetWare.
The Linux operating system is freely available - it can be copied and redistributed without fees or royalties. The source code for Linux is available on the Internet to anyone who wants it."

(Extract from Linux Users of Victoria webpage at:

GNU/Linux  is used for software development, networking, and as an end-user platform. GNU/Linux is a multi-user, multi-tasking operating system. The Linux kernel was developed originally by Linus Torvalds in 1991.

The Linux kernel combined with GNU software (both released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) creates an operating system that is a reliable and cost-effective information technology alternative.

GNU/Linux Reference Links
arrow:The GNU Manifesto
arrow:What is Copyleft?
arrow:GNU General Public License
arrow:Open Source Definition

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GNU/Linux Distributions

To ensure the source code for the Linux kernel remains available and freely-distributed, a number of companies and self governing groups of software developers have created their own "distributions" of Linux.  This does't desribe how Linux is physically distributed, but rather how the operating system and GNU programs are bundled together or installed.  Each of these distributions has it's own feature set, and some are geared towards specific types of computer systems. In some cases, they are available at no charge via FTP and in other cases they may be purchased on CD for a relatively low cost, or as a companion to a Linux book.  Listed below are some of the more popular "distributions".

arrow:Debian GNU/Linux
Debian GNU/Linux is a free distribution of the Linux based operating system developed in the same open manner as the linux kernel itself.  It is maintained and updated through the work of many users who volunteer their time and effort.  Along with its large selection of prepackaged software is contains advanced package management tools that allow for easy installation and maintenance on individual systems and workstation clusters.  Extensive pre-release testing is done to ensure the highest degree of reliability possible, and a publicly accessible bug tracking system provides an easy way to monitor customer feedback.  Debian GNU/Linux is also available for many other architectures, not just Intel - i.e. motorola 68k (such as old macs, amigas, ataris), alpha, sparc, ultrasparc, and powerpc.

Debian's Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) ensures that everything in debian is free software, so users don't have to worry about licensing issues at all.  Some other GNU/Linux distributions don't make clear the distinctions between free and non-free software, so users can unknowingly be violating the licenses of shareware or commercial demo software or even software  with oddball licenses ( a few which say things like "free for everyone except government departments").

arrow:Simple End User Linux SEUL
SEUL is a volunteer project to help Linux become an operating system that the average user can install and operate easily. Currently SEUL is working on the non-technical aspects of bringing Linux to end-users.

Linux-MandrakeTM is a new Linux Distribution. A colleague from the US Randy Stoecker, provided the following comments.  "...another distribution I think is worth checking out is Mandrake.  A couple of advantages of Mandrake is that it is a knock-off of Redhat, with all its strengths, with some added advantages for "newbies."  For example, the graphical interface has the floppy drive and CD-ROM already configured and ready for use, and the floppy drive is configured to accept disks in the DOS/Windows format.They also provide direct links to a CD "image" of the distribution so you can just download the image rather than having to figure out how to download all the directories and then make a CD image out  of them (of course you need an Internet connection that can do a 500+ MBdownload).  It also comes pre-packaged with a simple list-serv software and updated versions of everything from Apache web server to the kernel.  And they are also getting the reputation for being nice people."

arrow:Red Hat
Founded in 1994, Red Hat Software is based in the USA.  The Red Hat Linux for Intel, Alpha and SPARC products are built from the same source packages. This assists software portability between machines running Red Hat Linux regardless of the underlying hardware architecture.  The Red Hat Asia-Pacific office also conducts training.

arrow:Caldera Systems
The Caldera OpenLinux Product line is a multi-tasking, multi-user operating system that brings the power and reliability of UNIX on a personal computer. Caldera OpenLinux targets business / commercial clients who must optimize their investment in existing systems, hardware & training.

Slackware Linux was first released  in April of 1993, by Patrick Volkerding.  The Slackware Linux Project has aimed at producing the most "UNIX-like" Linux distribution available. Slackware complies with the published Linux standards.  It has become a popular, stable, and friendly distribution.  Slackware Linux can run on 386 systems all the way up to the latest x86 machines.

arrow:Yellow Dog Linux
Yellow Dog Linux for the Apple Macintosh PowerPC, G3, G4, and IBM RS/6000.  This operating system takes advantage of the most current, stable and secure Linux kernel and libraries, and best of all, some of the fastest hardware on the planet!!!

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Graphic User Interfaces for GNU/Linux

Many new users of Linux are daunted by the command line / text interface.  The Windows and Macintosh Graphic User Interface gave 'non-techies' access to enourmous computer power without having to learn "DOS" just to make a computer work.  It allowed them to concentrate on the task not the process.  There are similar developments in the GNU/Linux world.

"GNOME stands for GNU Network Object Model Environment. The GNOME project intends to build a complete, user-friendly desktop based entirely on free software. GNOME is part of the GNU project, and it is free software compliant with the OpenSource(tm) definition. The desktop consists of small utilities and larger applications which share a consistent look and feel".

"KDE is a powerful graphical desktop environment for Unix workstations.It combines ease of use, contemporary functionality and outstanding  graphical design with the technological superiority of the  Unix operating system. KDE is a mature desktop suite providing a solid basis to an ever growing number of applications for Unix workstations.  The software created by KDE project is free software available at no cost. Its source code licensing strictly follows the OpenSource (TM)definition."

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Office Software for GNU/Linux

Community Based Organisations need basic software applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets, that are simple for staff to use and have features that increase productivity.  In addition managers in CBO's need to ensure that their organisation has legal software licences on every desktop.  Open source software reduces the complexity and cost software licencing and compliance.  There are many software applications for GNU/Linux that are suitable for CBO's the following are just a few examples to give an indication of the range available.

StarOffice is a office software suite that supports all commonly used operating systems: Not only the Windows operating systems but also OS/2 and the diverse UNIX-based systems, such as Sun Solaris and Linux. The latest version is StarOffice 6.0 it has the following components (StarWriter, StarCalc, StarImpress, StarDraw, StarBase, StarSchedule and others) are tuned to the Internet and team-oriented communication and work methods. I have used StarOffice 5.2 and I found it easy to swap files with Microsoft Office users. The compatibility with other desktop applications is assisted by conversion filters.

The KOffice is an integrated Office suite for KDE, the K Desktop Environment. KOffice currently includes: KSpread a spreadsheet, KPresenter a presentation application, KIllustrator a vector drawing program, KWord a FrameMaker-like wordprocessor, KDiagramm draws charts and diagramms, KFormula is a formula editor and KImage a simple image viewer.  KOffice is, as the whole KDE project, a free project which is released under the GNU GPL.

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Other Software for GNU/Linux

GIMP is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software suitable for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It is an extremely capable piece of software with many features. It can be used as a simple paint program, a expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, a image format converter, etc.

GnomeICU is an Internet based communications program which makes use of ICQ protocol. GnomeICU also makes use of Gnome, a growingly popular desktop environment. GnomeICU is released under the GNU Public License, and is available free of charge.

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Content Management Software for GNU/Linux

Zope is a leading open source application server, specializing in content management, portals, and custom applications. Zope enables teams to collaborate in the creation and management of dynamic web-based business applications such as intranets and portals. Written in Python it is flexible and robust

PHP is an HTML-embedded scripting language. Much of its syntax is borrowed from C, Java and Perl with a couple of unique PHP-specific features thrown in. The goal of the language is to allow web developers to write dynamically generated pages quickly. A nice introduction to PHP by Stig Sæther Bakken can be found here on the Zend website.

arrow:Community Enabler - Portal in a box
Powerful, feature rich online Content Management and Collaboration Framework developed using the Zope application server and the CMF Plone portal This is a very exciting development as it is being lead by a Queensland based community organisation called Maleny Enterprise Network Association - MENA

WebGUI is a content management platform built to allow average business users to build and maintain complex web sites. It is modular, pluggable, and platform independent. It was designed to allow the people who create the content, to manage it online, rather than content management taking up the time of the busy IT Staff. I am aware that it has been deployed in a community setting at the Womens Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) WIRE by a company Freestream that specialises in Opensource developments.

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What are the benefits of Open Source software for Community Based Organisations?

Until the very recent past many community based organisations had very few computers and they were used primarily for administrative tasks, keeping accounts and writing up the minutes of meetings.  As the Internet has developed it has become clear that communications and information technology are having an increased impact on community based organisations.  In particular agencies delivering services in the health, adult education, social and community services sector are increasingly required by many funding bodies to submit business data, client information and statistics in electronic formats via secure internet connections.  It is also clear to the sector that through electronic networking, particularly email lists, it is possible to build powerful communities of interest to lobby for resources, share news and ideas, and develop skills in the sector.  An excellent example of this is the work undertaken by the Infoxchange, recent winners of the Stockholm Challenge Public Services and Democracy award.

CBO's unaware of cheap, robust open source solutions to their agencies communications and information technology needs are spending precious resources on expensive hardware and software solutions that are some cases unnecessary.  For example, a CBO agency which had a 586 clone computer had been convinced by a salesman that to get on the internet they had to spend more than $2,500 (which they did not have) on a new machine (I will not go into the FUD the person attempted to run on Y2K issues) just to read email.  I came up with a more reasonable $100 solution and left them with money to provide services to clients!

I believe that Open Source developments will allow CBO's to deliver more services to their clients, instead of seeing hard to get money disappearing into the pockets of hardware and software vendors.  As I see it there are two  major barriers to CBO's moving down this path towards Open Source software:

I hope that programs and mechanisms to address these two barriers can be established in Australia and would welcome the opportunity to discuss ideas with CBO's.

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Case Study 1: The Computerbank Project

The Computerbank Project is an Australia wide initiative to supply GNU/Linux systems to low income individuals, community groups and disadvantaged schools. It was founded and auspiced by Computerbank Victoria Incorporated. The Computerbanks are groups of volunteers with a broad range of IT skills.  The volunteers collect, refurbish and then redistribute older donated computer hardware to people who can't otherwise afford the costs associated with computing.  Computerbank volunteers provide direct IT assistance to low income individuals,  families and under-resourced community groups and schools. Computerbank Projects use GNU/Linux on all systems distributed.
The ComputerBank Project has grown over the past 2 years and has now generated a high level of support and recognition from some large organisations.  There are now affiliated Computer Banks opening up across Australia and overseas.

Case Study 2: Grassroots Organisations: Building an Opensource Office

Building an Opensource office is a project of The Low Income Networking and Communications (LINC) Project of the Welfare Law Center (NYC) which has helped over 40 low-income led organizing groups use technology more effectively. Excellent step by step explanation of the issues and steps required to move to a GNU/Linux environment.

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Training Opportunities

arrow:Cybersource - Melbourne
Cybersource is a specialist IT development and training organisation utitilising opensource software. Con Zymaris, CEO, informs me that Cybersource is keen to support the not for profit sector and generous discounts for training can be negotiated on a case by case basis. Visit the Cybersource website for details.

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Further Reading

arrow:The Case for Government Promotion of Open Source Software
Mitch Stoltz explains the open source concept and attempts to show how government can use open source as a vehicle for promoting economic development and as a policy tool which could assist the Justice Department in its antitrust action against Microsoft.

arrow:The Power of Openness:
Why Citizens, Education, Government and Business Should Care About the Coming Revolution in Open Source Code Software. A Critique and a Proposal  for The H20 Project. [cc] 1999 Berkman Center for Internet and Society

arrow:Why Linux?
The Simple End User Linux (SEUL) project team have put together a comprehensive article outlining the benefits of Linux.

arrow:The Cathedral and the Bazaar
This paper by Eric S. Raymond influenced Netscape, Corel, Aplix IBM and other major software companies to develop on the open source model.

arrow:Homesteading the Noosphere
Another influential paper by Eric S. Raymond

arrow:Development, Ethical Trading, and Free Software
Danny Yee is one of the Community Aid Abroad web masters and a board member of Electronic Frontiers Australia, he has written an article called Development, Ethical Trading, and Free Software which examines the software choices and issues facing community based organisations.

arrow:Which network server for the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA)?
Matthew Arnison gives his account of the reasons why he chose to use GNU/Linux as a file, email and web server for CBAA.

arrow:The Littlefish Project
Littlefish is an open source health project, with origins in the Northern Territory, designed to co-operatively develop initially an affordable, high quality 'Patient Information and Recall System' and later a comprehensive 'Health Management Information System' for Health Care Providers in the developing world.

arrow:The Practical Manager's Guide to Linux  Can you profitably use Linux in your organisation?
This document on Linux is unique in that it speaks the language of business, from the viewpoint of a corporate user. It addresses the issues managers want to talk about, -- cost savings, ease of use, support, uptime, productivity, vendor independence, staffing and training, backed up by detailed references. You may or may not decide to use Linux after reading it, but you will certainly come away with a better understanding of the options that Linux now gives you.

arrow:Let's get real about copyleft
This article used to be freely available for reading on the net. You now have to purchace a per view version from The Age News Store.

A press report by Nathan Cochrane (The Age) about the General Public Licence (GPL), otherwise known as "copyleft" and its implications and limitations.

arrow:Copying 'oppression' slammed
This article used to be freely available for reading on the net. You now have to purchace a per view version from The Age News Store.

A press report by Nathan Cochrane (The Age) of a lecture given by Richard Stallman during his 1999 tour of Melbourne.

arrow:Open Line - Nathan Cochrane
These really useful articles used to be collected in one place to make it easy to find. You now have to use an awkward search enginge and the articles which used to be freely available for reading on the net, you now have to purchace a per view version from The Age News Store.

Nathan Cochrane a regular colomist from The Age newspaper has been writing for a number of years about Opensource software in a coloumn called 'Open Line' read his collected articles for a balanced view of Opensource software.

arrow:Mindcraft: Web and File Server Comparison: Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 and Red Hat Linux 5.2 Upgraded to the Linux 2.2.2 Kernel
The report of a study conducted by a US analyst Mindcraft and commissioned by Microsoft.  The study sought to compare Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 and Red Hat Linux 5.2 Upgraded to the Linux 2.2.2 Kernel.  The report found Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 is 2.5 times faster than Linux as a File Server and 3.7 times faster as a Web Server.

arrow:The Mindcraft Fiasco
Microsoft's latest FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) tactic may be backfiring.  A review  by Eric S. Raymond as his response to the Mind Craft report.  This is a good wrap-up type piece which nicely summarizes the flaws with the testing.

arrow:Halloween Documents
Find out about the famous Halloween memorandum which Microsoft has publicly acknowledged as authentic, but dismissed it as a mere engineering study that does not define Microsoft policy.

arrow:Gnome is no Windows dwarf
BBC news review of Gnome and its potential to challenge Windows 98.

arrow:I Want to Live in a World Where Software Doesn't Stink
A Business Week Online interview with Eric Raymond.

arrow:Eric Steven Raymond's Home Page
Eric Raymond's Website has a wide range of opensource resources and FAQ's.  Raymond's approach to Opensource is from a Libertarian point of view.

arrow:Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution Edited by Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman & Mark Stone 1st Edition January 1999, O'Reilly, 280 pages, $US 24.95.  This book is now available online from the publishers O'Reilly.  Click Here

It is about the open source/free software movement but it makes in the introduction an interesting point about the methodology of science. Long before "open source" there was science and its requirement of sharing methodologies and results so others can benefit and duplicate.  So science is the original open source movement.

I found that the O'Reilly Website had a lot of useful Open Source recources, the Open Source Bibliography in particular, so have a browse.

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Open Source Links

arrow:Free Software Foundation
Founded in 1984 by Richard Stallman, originator of the General Public Licence, the fundamental core of Open Source Software.  The FSF aim to eliminate "restrictions on copying, redistribution, understanding, and modification of computer programs." They do this by "promoting the development and use of free software in all areas of computing but most particularly, by helping to develop the GNU operating system"

GNU also established by Richard Stallman, stands for Gnu's Not Unix, is the name for the complete Unix-compatible software system which is free to everyone who can use it.

Linux is a free Unix-type operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers around the world based on code developed by the GNU project.

arrow:The Linux Documentation Project
The Linux Documentation Project (LDP) is working on developing good, reliable documentation for the Linux operating system. The overall goal of the LDP is to collaborate in taking care of all of the issues of Linux documentation, ranging from online documentation (man pages, HTML, and so on) to printed manuals covering topics such as installing, using, and running Linux.

arrow:Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF)
Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF). Mission is to create and gain wide adoption for software applications of uncompromising quality using open-source methods.

arrow:Linux Center
Linux Center. Links to Linux applications

arrow:Linux Applications
Linnux Applications. Links to Linux applications

arrow:Linux Australia
The Linux Organisation of Australia was founded to cater specifically to the needs of the Australian Linux community. Linux Australia hopes to provide a single forum to facilitate communication between groups of Linux users.

arrow:Linux Users of Victoria
LUV is the original and largest Linux users group in Victoria.  Based in Melbourne, it aims to encourage and support the use of Linux within the Victorian community.

arrow:Project Computerbank
Project Computerbank is an Australian initiative to supply GNU/Linux systems to low income individuals, community groups and disadvantaged schools. Project: Computerbank -  networking and empowering the disadvantaged with GNU/Linux.

arrow:Melbourne Linux Users Group
MLUG is a Linux user group located in Melbourne.  They offer helpful, friendly support to Linux users in their vicinity.

arrow:Chebucto Suite
I have added Chebucto Suite, a copy of which was given to me by Gary Shearmen of Telecommunities Canada, as an example of a GNU/Linux suite of tools purpose built to assist community networks. It is used by about a dozen community nets in Canada.

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Copyright Ken Young   ©1999 - 2003
This document was prepared by Ken Young  July 2003.
Please read disclaimer before acting on information listed at this site.
For further Information Email Ken Young.