The Coding Studio develops software for Android devices and LAMP based servers

The Coding Studio is a custom software development company located in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. They offer web, mobile, software, and e-learning development services for their customers who are looking for applications for use in the enterprise, on the web and on mobile devices. Among the many platforms The Coding Studio develops for are two open source platforms, Google’s mobile Linux/Java platform Android and the traditional LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) web server software stack.

Visit The Coding Studio’s website below
http://www.thecodingstudio.com/

The Coding Studio’s Android development page
http://www.thecodingstudio.com/index.php?android-app-development-page=android-developer&serving=Prince%20Edward%20Island

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Posted by: acoss | April 28, 2010

Newfoundland Call Center Company Moves To SugarCRM

Newfoundland call center company Tacamor uses open source SugarCRM software.

The Call Center Times, a website covering call center developments, recently released a case study looking at a Newfoundland company’s experience moving to the open source Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform SugarCRM. The company, Tacamor, is a nearshore call center service provider that creates virtual call centres in Newfoundland’s rural areas.

CRM software is used to handle customers and their account data when calls are made to the call center. SugarCRM was founded in 2004 and released their open source CRM software solution that same year. The software is popular with smaller companies that can not always afford to acquire larger, more expensive proprietary CRM solutions. The community edition is open source and free to use, as well SugarCRM offers other editions with licensing fees that offer more options and support services.

In 2008, Tacamor decided to overhaul its existing CRM infrastructure. After examining a number of solutions, they decided on using SugarCRM On-Demand. Installation and transition was very quick, taking only 5 hours on a weekend. This open source CRM solution was chosen for its ease of installation, intuitive user interface and scalability for dealing with clients with varying degrees of requirements. According to the case study, Tacamor has been very happy with the software, which they provide for their 60 employees.

Read more about Tacamor’s move to SugarCRM at the links below.

Call Center Times case study

TMCnet.com articles by editor Kelly McGuire covering Tacamor’s move to SugarCRM: Feburary 8, 2010 &  Feburary 15, 2010

Tacamor Call Center Services website

SugarCRM website

Image by Royalty-Free/Corbis, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

Posted by: acoss | April 11, 2010

Photos from the 2010 Halifax LinuxFest

Today the Halifax LinuxFest was held at the Dalhousie University Computer Science building. Below are a few photos taken at the event.

The Halifax Computer Club sets up a display table

Read More…

Posted by: acoss | April 6, 2010

Halifax LinuxFest – April 10, 2010

Visit the Halifax LinuxFest on Saturday, April 10 at the Dalhousie Computer Science Atrium.

Interested in exploring the world of the Linux operating system? Then visit the Halifax LinuxFest on Saturday, April 10 at the Dalhousie Computer Science Atrium. Presented by the Halifax Computer Club and the Nova Scotia Linux Users Group, the Halifax LinuxFest presents the open source operating system to the general public. The public can attend the free event to view various distributions of Linux on different hardware and speak to experienced Linux users. Below are the event details.

Halifax LinuxFest

Saturday, April 10, 2010

10am – 4pm

Dalhousie Computer Science Building Atrium
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Tux image copyright Larry Ewing, Simon Budig and Anja Gerwinski

Ben Armstrong is the leader of the Debian Eee PC project

Halifax native Ben Armstrong is the project leader for the Debian Eee PC project. The goal of the project is to prepare a version of the Linux distribution Debian that is fully compatible with all models of the ASUS Eee PC netbook line. Armstrong began the project when he purchased the original model of the Eee PC a few years ago and has since grown the project globally.

ACOSS recently interviewed Armstrong by email. View the interview below.

Please give some background on yourself and your use of open source software.

As a kid whose dad had been fascinated with computers since the fifties, it may have been inevitable that I should grow up liking to play with them myself. When we puzzled together how to implement Conway’s game of life in Pascal on the university mainframe, and then took a trip to campus to pick up several generations of line-printer output from the game, I was hooked. After that, I was a sponge for any material I could get my hands on, so by the time the eighties rolled around, Linux and free software were quite naturally my new playthings. I’ve been a Debian developer now for nearly as long as Debian has been around, and have raised my whole family using it. Every opportunity I can, whether at my job as a professional software developer, or in casual conversations on the bus, I look for ways to share this passion for Linux and free software.

Why did you pick the ASUS Eee PC line of netbooks for this Debian project?

Quite simply, it was the first.  For years before it was announced, I knew I wanted a device like this, so when the model 4G finally hit the market, I snapped up two: one for myself, and one for my wife.

Why did you choose Debian over other distributions?

It was the natural choice, having been a Debian developer since the late nineties.  While the custom Linux OS that ASUS contracted to Xandros to be made for the machine was Debian-based under the hood, I knew the average user was going to have challenges getting Debian itself running.  I wanted to ensure that my favourite OS would “just work” on these nice little machines.

Where is the Debian Eee PC project at right now, what goals are there still to reach?

We’re now well advanced in the preparation of the Debian 6.0 “Squeeze” release.  We find Squeeze works well on all older Eee PC systems and many newer systems as well, though not entirely without quirks.  It’s mostly the newest systems that give us trouble, as our upstreams have not yet finished support for them.

We have just one, simple goal, as stated on our home page: “full support for the ASUS Eee PC in Debian”.  If you consider the broad range of systems ASUS continues to release under this name, that’s a goal we might not fully reach for a long time.  We’re always playing catch-up.  ASUS has also made some mis-steps by sometimes choosing hardware with no free drivers, as they did with the Intel GMA 500 “Poulsbo” graphics chipset, and they often bring new models to market without complete support from our most important upstreams: the Linux kernel itself, of course, and Xorg.  That being said, none of these problems have been insurmountable.  We get tremendous support from our users and team members, who tirelessly assist in sharing test results, filing and fixing bugs, and keeping our wiki updated.  Thanks to their help, Debian is in good shape for supporting all models of Eee PC over the long haul.  This matrix will give you a rough idea of where we are today: http://wiki.debian.org/DebianEeePC/Models .

What sort of issues does the Debian Eee PC project have to tackle most, and how successful has the team been at overcoming them?

Well, first it’s the usual set of challenges that any free software project has to tackle: guiding new users through the rough spots as they try out things and keeping their interest long enough in working through problems so that they can enjoy positive results in the end. This can sometimes be a trial for the impatient, as some of the more irritating and persistent bugs are in drivers that we are not equipped to fix ourselves. But often, we manage to find workarounds while we’re waiting on real solutions. The other big challenge is staying on top of support for such a wide variety of hardware, where our developers only have a handful of the models out there.  Our users are a tremendous asset here. I think we do fairly well on both fronts, as we continue to hear good reports from satisfied users, and we’re managing to attract and retain people who are helping out with the newest models that we don’t have ourselves.

Can you explain the difference between your project and other projects for the Eee PC like Eeebuntu?

From the outset, we knew that our project could only be successful with a reasonable expenditure of effort on our part if it meshed perfectly with Debian instead of forking a splinter distribution.  Desktops tailored for the small display of a netbook, or hardware-specific control panels may be nice ideas, but neither has anything to do with making a distribution.  In fact, I’ve never seen anything in the Eee PC hardware that warrants making a whole new distribution.  You ought to be able to just install Debian itself on your Eee, and then how it looks after that is up to you.  Debian has a wide range of choices that should be able to meet your needs, and everyone’s tastes are different.

So, while we’re busy working on infrastructure, which is quite important to making sure Debian “just works” on these machines, just like any other computer, other projects focus on the differentness of netbooks, and strike out to release something new-looking, distinct from the mainstream.  I don’t think this serves the needs of users well.  There will always be an initial flurry of interest in such distros for how they look and feel, but after the “shiny new” wears off, people find there’s a lot of grunt-work to keep a distribution going.  Interest wears off, releases start to lag behind, some of the splinter distros die off altogether, and when they do, users are left in the lurch.  By contrast, we want to support you over the long term, not just impress you with slick packaging, and tapping directly into Debian itself instead of striking off on our own helps us deliver that.  I think all of the feedback I have received so far indicates that we’re succeeding.

What has the response from the Debian development team been towards the Eee PC project?

The Debian project’s response comes from two main directions: other developers who have purchased or are thinking of purchasing a machine, and the kernel and Xorg teams.  The former have provided us with valuable bug reports and patches, or have gone one step further and joined our team.  The latter have been responsive to the Eee-specific issues we have raised, and it is largely thanks to them that we are able to continue to provide such good support for the Eee PC line of systems within Debian.  So, the Debian project as a whole has been quite supportive of our work.

Has ASUS ever contacted you or the project team directly for any reason, and if so why? Have they assisted with the project at all?

This is a troubling question.  I don’t want to blame ASUS entirely for the failure in communication here.  They did, at one point, contact us, setting up people at ASUS as a team to communicate with us, but beyond that initial gesture, we did not hear back from them.  I wonder now if we had made more of a united effort to bring them our concerns, to overcome the challenges of differences in language and free software vs. corporate culture and values, things might have turned out differently.  So while some small efforts were made on both sides to talk, apparently it was not enough, and ultimately failed.

The Eee PC line initially came with Linux installed by default, but has since moved away from that to Windows pre-installs, what are your feelings on that?

While the party line on that is “we are just providing what the market is asking for”, I think it’s a shame ASUS didn’t really “get” how to work with the free software community.  Had they really known while they were still developing the product, they’d have worked with a mainstream distribution from the outset and maybe that would have helped Linux to make a bigger impact in the marketplace.  But it seems that their vision was for a different user experience that the mainstream distros didn’t seem to address at the time, and this drove them to a lesser known but more commercially friendly distribution vendor, Xandros.  I think I understand their motives, here, even though I disagree with their approach.  They thought they needed a distinctly different look and feel to sell this machine to the public, which would therefore require a high degree of customization and needed to partner with some commercial entity to deliver it.  But those are only surface things that could have as easily been implemented directly as free software on top of Debian, no matter who got the contract to do the work.  Then they would have tapped into the huge community support behind Debian.  This would have reduced the cost of support to ASUS and helped them to remain competitive with their Linux-based offering.

That being said, the failure to provide a successful pre-installed Linux option on the Eee is not the end of the story.  I hope that some day, rather than shipping with some default OS, they might offer a cheaper, OS-less edition that anyone could install their own favourite OS on.  This is certainly something I would buy, and I think a lot of others would too.

What comments can you make on being a project leader in the Maritimes?

Sometimes I feel the physical isolation from my teammates, as face-to-face meetings can really help motivate and help a team to gel.  But mostly the distance is a non-issue, as we stay in touch around the world daily via mailing lists and irc.  I’m particularly attached to Nova Scotia, having grown up here.  It’s a beautiful province with a lot to offer, the pace of life suits me well, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.  I’d love to get some of my peers to move up here or at least drop in for a visit.

What challenges and rewards are there to leading a distribution project?

People expect us to be able to solve all of their computer problems once they install Debian on their Eee.  But we’ve deliberately set out not to be so much a “distribution project” as a subproject working within a distribution to make it better for owners of this hardware.  So once users have installed Debian on their Eees and start to ask general Debian configuration and maintenance questions, I have to gently redirect them to general Debian support channels and make sure we’re not dragged off focus.  On the flip side, our members are generous to a fault with their time.  It’s tremendously rewarding to see all of that generosity pay off when users express to us their thanks for doing a good job.  But beyond just the support, which consumes most of my time — just keeping tabs with users to stay on top of what’s broken and what’s still to be done on all of those models, and checking back to make sure we’re following up on delivering solutions, as they become available — it still amazes me to see how far just a little bit of encouragement on my part goes to keep things moving along.  It’s to the point where most of the time, I can just let the whole thing coast, and everyone stays busy getting things done fine without me.

Are there any aspects of leading a project like this that you dislike?

I’m really quite a lazy leader.  I feel most motivated when the problem-du-jour first presents itself and is fresh and interesting.  The duller, but no-less-important parts of the project are ensuring you stay on top of what needs to be done, delegating jobs, recognizing areas that are being overlooked and putting them back in view so that they can be solved, and generally keeping a regular flow of information both back to your team and users, and to other developers in the broader Debian project.  When it comes down to it, I don’t dislike doing any of these things, but I feel the guilt when I recognize I’m letting things slip, and that’s unpleasant.  I follow a cycle of frenetic activity followed by periods when I let things slide, and then I have to kick-start myself back into action.  Still, that’s just a part of me I have to live with anyway, and it has never discouraged me to the point of wanting to quit.  The project is still fresh and fun after over two years of work on it, and despite my obvious flaws as a leader is still chugging along.

Is there potential in the Maritimes for more projects like Debian Eee PC to be started or contributed to?

Sure!  Why not?  We have a gorgeous province.  We have great, friendly, smart people …  We have excellent Internet infrastructure, and that’s a boon to staying in touch with the broader, international free software community.  I don’t see any reason the Maritimes shouldn’t be brimming with free software projects.

ACOSS thanks Mr. Armstrong for taking the time to tell us about the Debian Eee PC project. You can learn more about Debian Eee PC at the link below. You can follow Ben Armstrong on his blog syn.theti.ca and on Twitter here.

Debian Eee PC website

Original photo by ragwing, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported

Dalhousie Student Yeming Hu has placed 3rd in IBM's "Master the Mainframe" contest

Yeming Hu, a student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has placed 3rd in part 3 of IBM’s 5th annual “Master the Mainframe 2009” contest. The contest was designed to help students become more familiar with IBM’s System z mainframes and to give them real world skills for later employment in the mainframe market. Part 3, the “Real World Challenge”, involved completing advanced tasks that experienced mainframe technicians would encounter in the work place.

By winning in the top three, Hu won the choice of a Samsung television or a Lenovo laptop as well as an all expenses paid trip to IBM’s mainframe lab in Poughkeepsie, New York. The trip was to attend a celebration held by IBM to commemorate 10 years of Linux on the System z mainframe. Hu was quoted on a Computer Canada article regarding the celebration:

“I think it’s a great idea for IBM to port Linux on the z/OS,” said Hu of the company’s 10-year milestone. “I think it provides more power as a server for the z/OS system and attracts more users.”

ACOSS congratulates Yeming Hu and all the other winners. Read more about the contest and the celebration in Poughkeepsie at the links below.

IBM “Master the Mainframe” 2009 Contest Winners

IBM Marks 10 years of Linux on SystemZ

Update: View a video of Yeming Hu at the System z celebration below here.

Photo by ViRuZ360 , Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported

Mark Leggott likens the mix-and-match nature of open source software to Mr. Potato Head

How would you describe open source software projects? To Mark Leggott, University of Prince Edward Island’s (UPEI) University Librarian, they are a lot like the toy Mr. Potato Head. In a recent article posted on the UPEI’s Office of Research Development website, he compares open source software:

“In a way, Mr. Potato Head is a perfect metaphor for open-source software,” says Leggott with a grin. “One team builds the core software, then releases it to the world, asking: what could you stick in this thing to make it better?”

Leggott goes on to describe an open source project developed at UPEI called Islandora, a document management and archiving platform. Using Drupal and Fedora software as a core, Islandora can handle large amounts of documents no matter what format they are in. It is currently used to manage UPEI’s digital document collections, as well with other projects such as a local history archive and a local scholarly publications repository. Islandora is also being used at the University of New Brunswick and University College Dublin. Leggott will soon use funds from the Atlantic Innovation Fund organization to create a commercial company to offer support services to clients using Islandora.

Follow the link below to read the full article at the UPEI Office of Research Development website.

Mr. Potato Head: champion of open-source technology

Update (May 3, 2010) UPEI shares the 2010 CACUL Innovation Achievement Award prize for Islandora.
http://www.cla.ca/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=9308

Photo by Ian Muttoo, creative commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

New Brunswick's School District 16 implements Drupal web content management for a more efficient online presence

John D. Kershaw, Deputy Minister for the New Brunswick Department of Education (Anglophone Sector), has written an article about the recent move to the open source Drupal website content management platform by School District 16. The school district manages 21 schools and three alternate sites with students in primary to grade 12 within the east central area of New Brunswick.

In the article, published on the ITBusiness.ca website, Mr. Kershaw describes the improvements that District 16 have experienced in online communication from implementing Drupal. Before using Drupal, the district had an issue with different school websites not posting frequent updates. This was often due to under trained staff and lack of time to update pages. Since implementing Drupal, they now have a robust and easy to use content management platform to communicate with teachers, students and parents. The system is so robust, there is even a mobile device component, allowing parents and students to access school information from anywhere.

Read the Deputy Minister’s article from the link below.

School district boosts Web strategy with open source software

New Brunswick’s School District 16 website

Posted by: acoss | March 10, 2010

A Talk With Tomek Obirek – Robotnik Computers

Robotnik.com offers a line of budget computers with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled.

Robotnik.com offers a line of budget computers with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed.

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Tomek Obirek, the public and customer relations agent for Robotnik Computers Inc. Robotnik is an independent computer retail and service business in Nova Scotia, located at the Bayer’s Lake industrial park in Halifax. The company was started in 1998 and Obirek remarks that Robotnik’s “claim to fame is to make everyone happy”.

Obirek and I met to discuss, among other things, their pre-installed Linux computers, the Basic Barebones system. This budget system comes with a choice of an Intel processor or an AMD processor, as well as basic hardware components that can be upgraded when ordering. You can either have the system installed with Ubuntu Linux or without an OS. Robotnik specifically developed the system to be compatible with Ubuntu Linux, which Obriek explains was because they found it to be “very friendly, easy to use”

Obirek talked about the customer reaction to the Basic Barebones systems since they began offering them around 4 years ago. He says it has been well received, especially with some businesses. Obirek pointed out that one company had “contact[ed] all the vendors and no one could sell them a box that does Linux. They needed 200 units”. Robotnik was the only company in the area that was able to met their needs with a machine that was specifically developed to run with a Linux installation. He explains further, “We took all the testing out of it, they got a box they could put their own distribution on, we proved the hardware worked with Linux”. He explains that they are not often asked to install Linux on the machines because “a lot of these guys are loading their own software, they’re customizing Linux”

Obirek describes Robotnik’s system design process for Linux systems: “A company calls and says “we want a Linux box”, they give us the specs and we go build the machine that we test , make sure it works, then we send them the sample, they’ll use it with their application and they’ll say “ok it works fine, we want to have this many units”. This is the kind of process we’ve figured out that makes everyone happy, because a customer doesn’t want to order 50 or a 100 units and find out it doesn’t work. That’s the process we use, it’s worked out very well for us.” When asked if demand was growing he said the systems were at “[…] the bottom rung of our business” but that “We do find it is growing with some of the orders, it is making headway.” He points out a benefit of being an independent company like Robotnik is that it has more freedom to experiment with business models, where as larger companies are restricted by pre-existing contracts and expectations.

We discussed any potential for other systems being offered with Linux pre-installed at Robotnik. When asked, Obirek explained he didn’t see any additional systems being developed right now, mainly because many of the customers who purchase the systems are people who are technically educated with the software and are more likely to customize the systems themselves. He says “[…] there’s the Linux people, they’re like the mechanics, they like to tinker with it, they know what they’re talking about.” Discussing further, he says “Is there a gaming system we could build with open source? We could if there was a need for it but there is no demand”. “Hobbyists don’t want an expensive machine to fool around on,” he explained further, “they’re going to add their own parts.”

Talking about open source software (OSS) more broadly, Obirek explains Robotnik’s position on installing OSS on customer’s computers. He says “if the customer comes in and they are building a system, they can pretty much request anything they want in their system, if it’s legal and free”. He gives the example that Robotnik will often pre-install OpenOffice and Mozilla Firefox for people.

Another issue was of system and software support for Linux. Robotnik offers support for Windows and Apple systems, but not officially for Linux. When asked why, he says “[…] because we can’t find a good remote support system for Linux. Linux remote support doesn’t work as well”. That said, he does say that for customers buying a system to put Linux on themselves instead of their Ubuntu install, Robotnik would “certainly help them with the install and with minor problems”, but for more complex problems they do not have the tools or resources to offer full support.

We finished the talk by discussing his thoughts on the future of the hardware market. Obirek feels the future for companies like his is “[…] moving more towards repair, maintenance, that kind of stuff”. He feels that independents need to focus on staying technically trained to offer superior repair services. He later clarified by email that Robotnik is “[…] doing more service contracts/repairs…But the retail/internet part of our business is still huge. We will push sales as long as long it is profitable.”

ACOSS thanks Mr. Obirek for taking the time to talk about Robotnik’s experiences with open source software. You can contact Mr. Obirek by email at tomek@robotnik.com or you can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robotnikdotcom.

*Robotnik logo image is from the Robotnik twitter account: http://twitter.com/account/profile_image/robotnikdotcom?hreflang=en

Nova Scotia Flag

Steven Zinck is the Senior Unix Architect with the Nova Scotia Provincial Government

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Zinck, Senior Unix Architect with the Nova Scotia Provincial Government. Responding by email, Mr. Zinck highlighted some of the free and open source software in use by the Chief Information Office that provide data services to the provincial civil service.

One product in use of note is Reductive Labs' Puppet, an open source data center automation system. Puppet is a cross platform system, so a sys admin can create an automation task(i.e. bulk user creation or system modifications) and Puppet can perform that task regardless of the server operating system, be it Linux, Solaris or AIX. The cross platform flexibility that Puppet provides is a major asset when a sys admin manages very large, heterogeneous data centers.

Read the intervew with Mr. Zinck below. Hyper links in the interview have been added by ACOSS.

Please describe your role in the NS provincial government.

I’m the senior unix architect with the Chief Information Office, which basically means I’m responsible for the design, implementation and administration of IT services deployed on Unix platforms. We support a mixed environment of Solaris, AIX and Linux, and deploy on Power, SPARC, Intel and VMware.

What free and open source software (FOSS) do you use in your position?

We use all the big names like Linux, ApachePHP, Tomcat, MySQL, and the list goes on and on. I’ve also come to rely on some lesser-known tools, like reductivelabs.com‘s puppet for automation and configuration management.  All in all, I would say we use dozens of open source packages on a daily basis.

What operational problems do the FOSS solutions you use solve?

Puppet, in particular, has really helped streamline server deployments. I can deploy a base OS image, and then have puppet take over and deploy all the custom configurations the server needs.  puppet doesn’t care if the OS is Solaris, AIX, or a variety of Linux distributions.

As far as I know, there is no commercial equivalent that has the same ease of use, flexibility and user community. We also have the option of purchasing support from reductive labs if we need it.

How long have you been using FOSS in your position?

I’ve been with government for 7 years and have been implementing FOSS for that entire time.

Are you aware of any future FOSS that will or may be implemented in your office in the future?

We’ll keep implementing open source when and where it makes sense.

Has there ever been a situation where you had a FOSS solution in place and had to replace it with a proprietary product, and if so why?

I can only think of one situation where this has happened. We replaced Nagios with a monitoring product called up.time.  Much of the technology that up.time is built on is actually open source, but the product itself is not.  For our purposes, uptime is simply a better product.

Are you aware of any other FOSS in use in other government agencies that you can comment on?

Many web sites are built using PHP with a MySQL backend.  I’m seeing more and more interest in the open source web frameworks like Drupal.

ACOSS thanks Mr. Zinck for giving us a peek at FOSS use in the Nova Scotia Provincial Government. You can follow Steven Zinck on Twitter at http://twitter.com/szinck.

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