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TrueCrypt on Linux (Ubuntu) February 6, 2011

Posted by NAyK in Open Source, Ubuntu.

I’m in a security phase… encrypting everything. Working with Windows, TrueCrypt is an excellent solution. However I wanted to see how encryption would work on my Linux distro Ubuntu 10.10.

Downloading TrueCrypt was easy… if you know what to select. I selected standard 32bit.

Installation was a little more tricky. As I wasn’t sure what to do. I double clicked the icon but wasn’t quite sure what to do next to install.I first clicked run, but it didn’t work. Then I clicked “run in terminal” and that seemed to work.

I couldn’t find much help in the beginning (until later after figuring it out I found these excellent sites:


After installation, I wanted to create a TrueCrypt volume. When it asked which file format did I want to encrypt the new partition, I choose EXT4. However, when the formatting finished (and it is much faster to format in Linux than in Windows), I found that TrueCrypt was just not opening. It was giving me a file error saying the partition could not be mounted.

I decided to redo the process and this time choose to create a new TrueCrypt partition as an FAT drive. Again it was quite fast, and this time it worked.

I quickly mounted my drive and put in all the files I wanted to encrypt.

However, I realised that if I closed the TrueCrypt window, I was not able to unmount the partition, because it asked for root privileges. Updated later (after some comments suggested I clarify): There is an icon called truecrypt1 (mounted). And that gives the option to unmount. When I clicked to unmount, it didn’t do it. That was what I was noticing. Similarly, in the Nautilus browser, there was an eject option on the drive. But when I clicked it, it didn’t allow me to unmount with the following error: umount: /media/truecrypt1 is not in the fstab (and you are not root)

Of course there was a TrueCrypt icon in the notification bar. If I clicked that, the TrueCrypt window opened up and I was able to quickly unmount as I have been able to do in Windows. (Back to original post)

As a result, I have had to keep the Window open whenever I use the TrueCrypt programme, which is a pain, but not insurmountable.

I also preferred the windows Drive Letter way of mounting a partition. Somehow the number method felt more… alienating. It’s the same in a Mac (in which I also installed TrueCrypt). Doesn’t feel as inviting, but it does work.

But all in all, TrueCrypt, by itself, is an excellent encryption software. It’s linux version (and the Mac version) doesn’t seem to be as polished as the Windows version (which is surprising, because TrueCrypt is open-source), still it’s handy to use. So far I haven’t found any major glitches, so it is an excellent tool for security enthusiasts.

Another excellent help site: http://linuxandfriends.com/2010/02/03/how-to-truecrypt-setup-on-ubuntu-linux/


Revised Top 7 extensions (add-ons) for Firefox 3 July 15, 2008

Posted by NAyK in Confessions, Firefox, Linux, Open Source, Recommendation, Reviews, Software, Windows, Working with Linux.
Tags: , ,

After my previous list of Firefox extension (add-ons) favourites, I had to do some soul searching. I wasn’t actually using some of my supposed favourite extensions, but instead was using a few other extensions not on the list. Then came Firefox 3, and a few of my favourite extensions were not supported… out of the window they went, so it seems. So now, here’s my revised favourite Firefox 3 extensions (add-ons) (note that they are not in any particular importance, they are all pretty important to me):

1. Gmail Manager. This is is still one of my favourite extensions for Firefox and I’m glad Firefox 3 supports it. This extension allows me to check my multiple gmail accounts and is actually the first thing I see each day. Priceless!

2. AdBlock Plus. My previous list did not rate this extension highly… but eventually I realised that this was actually a (demi)god-send. It really helps in getting rid of pesky ads, but doesn’t do that good of a job getting rid of flash-based ads. For that you need to go to the configuration and manually block that frame or object. Still, excellent for a better web-experience. Ps. it also helps in making websites more “Safe for Work”.

3. Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer: This is a recent favourite… and after using it, I can’t imagine how I managed without it. Currently, I use four different operating systems on two computers… and so managing bookmarks can become a pain… unless you use Foxmarks. It’s an excellent tool that synchronizes all my bookmarks (including those on the toolbar) and so far I’ve had no complaints using it. Wow.

4. New Tab Homepage: For a while I thought of reverting back to Firefox 2+ just because it was not compatible with TabMix Plus; whose basic function I used was to open my homepage in the new tab. I really think this should be included and enabled by default… but that’s just me! Anyway… I found this small but extremely useful substitute and yes it opens my homepage everytime I open a new tab. Phew!

5. NoScript: This extension was not in my previous favourite list and I was scolded by a commenter for missing it. I still hesitate to put it up in my favourites… not because it is not useful… it certainly is. Yet it is also extremely irritating. There are some sites where you would want to block scripts, that’s true. But this powerful extension blocks the scripts of every single site and you need to manually enable each and every object in each and every site you trust. After a while, it makes you think you’re using Vista or something. Still, it’s saved me from a few viruses in Windows… and certainly reduced my headache in Linux… all in all, I would say, indespensible for security conscious surfers.

6. Flashgot: This is one really helpful extension especially when attached to a good download manager, like Orbit (in Windows). I’ve really enjoyed using this extension and would rate it as indespensible. In Linux, however, Orbit is not supported and somehow the download managers I have used do not fill me with a sense of security. Still, in linux I use DownThemAll… which has worked on a few ocassions… but I would just simply use the default Firefox downloader when I have to. I don’t really download YouTube/Metacafe videos, so I’m not the target audience for these extensions perhaps… but sometimes both extensions, especially Flashgot, are good to identify hidden links.

7. PDF Download: This is an extension that I have found extremely useful for me… though not everyone would want it. It basically allows me to choose how a pdf is treated in Firefox. I like to download my pdfs and then open them… so this adds that basic feature for me. The PDF Download 2.0 Beta (which I have been fortunate to test) is cooler still… and allows more PDF functionality to webpages… but most of those bells-and-whistles are above the needs of the common man. But still… this is a really good extension, and its getting even better.

(Extensions I thought I’d use, but never really did)

Zotero: In concept, it’s great. It helps in developing bibliographies. But actually I make my academic bibliographies through my word processor, so this is just a little out of my natural workflow.

Firefox Showcase: Occassionally I accidently press the Firefox Showcase button and see all my tabs in single view. But somehow I don’t NEED this extension, mostly because I know what my tabs contain. Still, I’m sure its useful (even indespensible) to many out there.

Customize Google: It was becoming a habit for me to install this add-on everytime I installed a new Firefox. But off late I realied that I never actually used the extra search items. The search-bar in Firefox more than adequately allows me to diversify my specific search needs. And most of the time, google is enough. So well… this one is no longer for me.

…so that’s it for now. I must say that because of most of the extensions (add-ons) in this list, I never use IE 7 or Konqueror or Opera… Firefox really does enhance my web experience.

The first 24-hours with openSUSE 11 (KDE 4) June 20, 2008

Posted by NAyK in Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Firefox, First Impressions, Flash 9, How-To, Linux, Open Source, OpenSUSE, Recommendation, Reviews, Software, Wallpapers, Working with Linux.
Tags: ,

This is the first of hopefully the first of a few posts on my experiences using openSUSE 11.0 (with KDE 4). This post features download experiences as well as the installation review.

Abstract: Using openSUSE 11, it’s clear that we are in the company of “men” as opposed to “boys” (Ubuntu and PCLOS etc). Sadly, I find myself more a “boy” than “man” while using this distro and feel that openSUSE 11 is certainly NOT a beginner friendly distro… but made for committed Linux users and experimenters.

Brief information about my system: I am using a Lenovo Thinkpad, with (ONLY) 512 RAM and about 10 GB partition for Linux. Oh yes, I mainly use Windows XP (thus I am dual-booting).

Part I: The Download Story

Last night, at 10:00pm, I began my attempt to download the openSUSE 11 DVD using metalink. I’ve been a strong supporter of metalinks and have personally seen them dramatically improve download rates and stability. Sadly, my attempt to download the openSUSE 11 metalink was faced with failure (much like my previous attempt to dowload openSUSE 10.3 using this format). It turns out that Orbit Downloader, the programme I use to download metalinks, seems to have a problem. Whenever I tried to download the DVD (4+ GB), it would allow me to download only 243 MB. It turned out an Orbit problem because the metalink worked with DownThemALL (Firefox extension) and GetRight (a paid download manager). Sadly, each time I tried to download the openSUSE metalink using DownThemAll or GetRight, my Windows kept crashing. This was all-too-mysterious for late in the night and I finally settled to reinstall Orbit Downloader and tried to download the DVD link directly (without Metalink). This time it worked (allowing me to download the full 4+ GB). Sadly, in the morning, about 8 hours later, I found out that Orbit had only downloaded 50% and was giving my speeds of 2 KB/s!!! No luck, I saw.. and resolved to finally download the openSUSE KDE4-Live CD instead.

Part II: The installation story

By 11:00am, I had my openSUSE 11 iso burned and ready for installation. I took detailed notes on each step and the following is a step-by-step guide to what happened.

11:15am – MEDIACHECK

The Mediacheck (checking CD for defects) took about 5 minutes. And thankfully the download and burning was ok (phew!)

Sadly, when it said “press any key to reboot” I pressed any key and the computer didn’t do anything, it was just frozen. I had to do a force restart. (bug or just me?… hmmm… not a good start).

11:21am – Starting LIVE CD

Since my laptop is a little slow (512 MB), it took about 4 minutes for the LIVE CD to launch.

11:25-11:42 – Experimenting with Live CD and beginning installation (partitioning etc).

I spent some time with the pre-installation configurations, especially paying attention to the partitioning table. Interestingly, openSUSE did an excellent job to present a default partition table, but I just had to make sure that everything was alright… so I did my own configuration manually.

Interestingly for me, my time-region was not Calcutta (India), but Kolkota (one of the only distro’s I have seen to have the politically correct name of the time-zone).

11:42am to 11:51 – Installation

I was quite sad that I was using the CD instead of the DVD because there were no software options in the installation configurations (the openSUSE DVD installer has always been exceedingly excellent and powerful, giving users full control over what they want). Still, the installer was fast and the installation process was fast as well. I couldn’t imagine that the openSUSE installation could take about 10 minutes!!! earlier versions have seen me sit for over three hours during openSUSE installations. Things have changed… and that’s great.

11:51am – Reboot

As usual, the openSUSE GRUB was excellent giving me no problems. I’m quite confident that it could have recognised other distros if I had them.

Upon rebooting, the autoconfiguration got going and in about 7 minutes I had completed my openSUSE installation.

11:58am – Problems begin… mainly no internet!

I am spoiled by the “boy” distros, where internet connection is so easy, especially Ubuntu and PCLinux (and of course Linux Mint). But openSUSE really gave me the run around.

Firstly, there was no short-cut, upon installation, for configuration tool. Therefore, becasue I remembered, I went to YAST. But no matter how much network configuration I did, I was just not able to get my internet going.

I decided to use the local wireless to configure and interestingly, there was no wireless problem for openSUSE. That worked seamlessly.Except I couldn’t update on “battery” I was told! whaaat?

Anyway, I figured out that I had to use Knetworkmanager to configure, but even then I realised that I had to allow auto-host through DHCP. Well… that was a lot of trial and error and ultimately by 12:48pm, my wired network was working.

Off to lunch!


Back after lunch, I chose to do my personalised configurations… like wallpapers and flash-plugin for firefox. But the flashplugin would install, I’d restart my browser, and find it not installed. I decided to install using the multimedia codecs downloads. But the repositories were all too slow for me… I had selected about six… so I brought them down to four: OS, NON-OS, General update, Packman And that helped.

The configuration, like Desktop etc was quite different from KDE 3.5 and needed me to get used to… still I’d rather work on this than 3.5. (Plasma, the KDE4 desktop thingy, has crashed ONLY once for me! :) )

For non-free codecs (yes, yes, I’ve sold out), the openSUSE community website has a one-click link for multimedia proprietory codecs, which was a relief.

Then began the other installations, like SAMBA and HP drivers (to allow me to work on my network) and also the other small packages, including some KDE games. But all that took a lot of time, because the repositories kept crashing (I had to keep retrying and sometimes start the whole process again)  Even as I write, that special software process is still going on, and I’m hoping it will finish in a few minutes so that I can go home.

The biggest disappointment after installation was that the repositories didn’t seem to have Firefox 3, and I had to install the manually through the Mozilla site. I haven’t had the heart to install the manual version at the moment, for fear of doing some damage. I’ll wait for all my updates and then get my Firefox updated as well.

The time now is 6:00pm… and I’m tired… and guilty… because I haven’t done much of my ACTUAL work. But still, this was fun, and openSUSE looks good, looks really good. But like I said above, the distro is not for the faint-hearted or pure beginners. I have installed openSUSE earlier, and that experience helped (because openSUSE is not like other distros). I’m still a newbie or a noob, though, and so, I have struggled where others might fly through. Still, I think the distro looks/feels solid and I can’t wait to actually start working with it… tomorrow!

For now, here’s a quick look of my desktop.


7 Firefox extensions (add-ons) I can’t live without October 24, 2007

Posted by NAyK in Confessions, Firefox, Open Source, Software, Working with Linux.

(UPDATED on 1 December, 2007… with links to the extensions. I should have thought of that earlier!)

One of the pains of installing so many distros is configuring Firefox exactly as I would want it; especially this means loading the right extensions (add-ons). Seriously, there are some firefox extensions (add-ons) that I can’t live without and the following is the list that I need. It’s personal (of course), suited only to my need, so this list is not normative for anyone.

1. Tab Mix Plus: this extension is important for the simple reason that it allows me to set the new tab as my “home page”. I have my own home page and I need each new tab to open as my homepage, and for now I only know Tab Mix Plus that enables me to do this. Earlier this extension was useful for session saving as well; but now Firefox does it by itself. Still, this is by far the most important feature for me; and one I can’t live without.

2. Gmail manager: I’m not sure about the legality of having more than one gmail account, but I do have more than one. Plus, I manage my spouse’s email account as well as our home account. For that I need an extension to tell me whether I’ve gotten mail or not; and this extension is a life-(time)-saver! It is better than the “Gmail notifier” extension simply because its configurability power. I especially like the fact that a snippet of the mail is visible so that I can choose to open the email immediately or wait.

3. PDF download: A strangely popular extension (I wouldn’t expect it would be), but one that I certainly need. When dealing on-web research, especially within the PDF format, I’m surprised that Firefox doesn’t give options of what to do by default. Regardless, this exension allows me to choose to download a PDF file or open it directly. Extremely helpful.

4. FlashGot: Somehow it seems downloading videos from video sites like youtube.com etc is a big thing… and Firefox has many extensions useful for that (I think Downthemall is very popular too). I don’t usually download videos, however. It’s not my scene. Instead, I find this extension is useful for any download that I am doing… especially when it gives me options to download multiple links simultaneously and links directly to my Windows download manager Orbit and my KDE manager KGET (somehow KGET isn’t as sharp as Orbit, but that’s another story).

5. Firefox Showcase: Since IE7 has is naturally (and I think even Opera does it naturally), I hope Firefox will have it naturally too. But Firefox Showcase, as an extension, is especially useful for seeing what’s on multiple tabs. I don’t use this much, but when I do, it’s indespensable.

6. CustomizeGoogle: Of course google.com is the king of search! But CustomizeGoogle adds certain links to the google.com search page that allows me to search other sites for the thing that I need. It’s always good to have options, I guess.

7. AdBlock plus. I just recently added this extension to block ads after browsing a CLEAN site with some surprisingly embarrassing ads. Doesn’t help if your mother in law is watching you work! :)

Of course there are many more extensions that I use, and sometimes don’t, but the above really improve the browsing experience for me.


MinimizeToTray: This is one extension I’ve only just started using and I’ve been wondering why I didn’t use it sooner. It really helps save screen/desktop space.

GSpace: I haven’t actually tried it (though I’ve installed it). This extension allows your GMail account to be used as an online harddrive. The promise of an online harddrive is attractive, though I don’t know about the legalities about this. I would be more put at ease if Google itself launched an extension like this… so for now, I think simple file transfers/backups would be the order of the day.

DeepestSender: A wordpress blog editor; which allows you to update wordpress blogs without actually going into wordpress. I’ve used it off and on, and sometimes it is helpful because of its speed.

Getting Open Source help for schools (a comment as post) September 7, 2007

Posted by NAyK in Article Watch, Blogging, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, OpenOffice, Other Distros, PCLinuxOS, Piracy, Recommendation, Software, Windows, Working with Linux.

The following post is not written by me, but was a comment on a previous post about the real-life problems facing Open Source implementation in the fact of Microsoft loaded schools. This unusually large comment has a host of links that are geared to help individuals/institutions to grow in their awareness of Linux and MS. I’m posting this comment here as a post because I believe it could be helpful to more than me. The author of the comment goes by the name “Jose”. So thanks Jose, here’s your ‘comment’ as post.

(disclaimer: I don’t know anything more of Jose than this comment. So his views are his own, not mine. Similarly, I’ve not had a chance to test all his links, so even though I think I trust Jose, please click with caution).


By Jose, 7 September, 2007

If the schools asks for help, I am sure there are some fairly cheap offerings. LTSP is both practical (saves headaches managing it once you understand Linux) and cheap.

Nice story btw. Scouting (bringing problems like this one into the open) is very important in order to figure out what problems exist and how they might be tackled (word of mouth market research).

I think I understand you not wanting to impose your views on the school nor risk losing credibility in the process. If you have a good track record and can accept rejection, you may want to approach your supervisors with a plan for a pilot. You (with help maybe) can work on possible solutions off-line in order to make a presentation. Maybe you will also find a way, in the interest of student education and well-roundedness, to encourage students that may like Linux/FLOSS (w/parents’ help perhaps) to put initiatives forward. Do you want it or do the students want it? Reports show that Linux is growing, including for example, job offerings on Dice.com as a recent survey revealed. It seems a bad move for educational institutions to ignore Linux just on account of this momentum statistic (I’m not even considering all the other benefits of FLOSS to anyone, much less to an educational institution).

This is an educational institution to serve the students. It seems short-sighted not to offer a Linux option especially being free and with students willing to do their own research (after school club if nothing else).


There are sites dedicated to schools and linux. There are commercial and free Linux distros that focus on schools. There is a modest amount of FLOSS that is useful specifically to teachers and administrators.

Here is a very recent story dealing with libraries and Linux: http://www.linuxtoday.com/infrastructure/2007090700526OSPB

There are many sites for newbies.

How can you go wrong with a LiveCD? Have they tried PCLOS? Do they know that you can customize many LiveCD distros and then burn another LiveCD so as to have that exact setup matching your needs and preferences wherever whenever?

Can something like this, http://olpc.tv/2007/05/19/preview-60-minutes-about-olpc/ , be all that bad and scary? [OLPC may be a great advocacy tool, browse around olpc.tv for neat videos.]

Would you be a fanatic? an advocate? or just someone finding it very difficult to ignore a good thing whose “business case” just keeps getting better and better?

Microsoft has a long tradition of illegal (court of law) and unethical behavior, assaults on OPEN and FREE software, and on extremely aggressive lock-in techniques (a part of “embrace, extend, and extinguish”). Expect Microsoft licenses to only keep getting more draconian and more expensive. Expect Microsoft products to keep getting more disrespectful of the end users’ privacy (I think this is a big concern for most people). Vista phones home with a lot of personal detail (it’s part of the license too.. you sign away many rights).

And with the lawsuits and bad news mounting, what will the school do if, heaven’s forbid, Microsoft should go out of business? What is the backup plan? Will the kids have continuity and an ability to go further with whatever they might be building.

Has the school done a cost analysis just of licensing costs for the next ten years (Linux downtime is much lower and management is easier in many ways.. again, look at LTSP offerings)? Do these take Microsoft’s steady price increases into account and the requirements for hardware buys? How about all the many and powerful Linux software that costs $0. What would that cost for Windows over 10 years for all computers? Ouch! [Note, students may want to put up their own websites and such]

There are many success stories (even of grandma’s) which should help inspire confidence, but I think the key is a presentation/pilot program to show before everyone’s eyes that it can work. [And don’t forget that the kids needs and wants will trump most other concerns.]

Linux commercial support is growing fast. The communities are in abundance. In fact, you can probably find rather easily 20 websites with volunteers pushing Linux. Why so many people willing to help out for free? [And yes, it can be fun.]

Would the school be doing its duty in not providing at least some support for the greatest educational tool of all time?

You own Linux, really. You help define Linux.. and there is so much that is new and free!

More links:

It may even work to seek out stories on Linus and others that would bring a human dimension to Linux. Tux is the penguin mascot. Top supercomputers (eg, from IBM) run Linux so Linux isn’t just cute. Shrek likes Linux, too: http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/9653 . Even the US military trusts Linux when they don’t trust Microsoft.

It’s also too easy to beat up on Vista (stories of Bad Vista abound). There are also horror stories of XBox360 problems.. which comes back to the point of how trustworthy is Microsoft and will they be around in 5, ten, or fifteen years? And what will their prices be like (can’t repeat this enough times).


And wow them with some Beryl/Compiz. Yes, this is Linux, too. [This should open eyes, of the faculty, but also students’ eyes.]
http://youtube.com/watch?v=T67kricXYRE sabayon is popular, too.

Bad Microsoft.. long rap sheet
Recent MS abuse of power and unethical behavior with OOXML. Last minute gold partners joined up on MS’s “request.”
Despite all this, OOXML failed to get accepted.

As for the Gates Foundation, I wrote this little bit up recently. I joke around, but it’s no joke that Microsoft gives to biomed research and MS software, both areas where he has significant private interests. The Foundation has made many contributions of MS software, so the Foundation subsidizes Microsoft [Bill’s left pocket pays his right one]. I mention this just in case (if it comes up) people put up with Microsoft because they think Gates is a nice person and that they are doing the right thing even if it is expensive. http://www.linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2007-09-01-006-26-OP-CY-PB-0011

And if you get down, or if you simply want to show others that it’s not supposed to be a walk in the part to go through change, here is a review of Linux by someone. What is striking is how this person’s perceptions changed over just 5 months http://www.linuxtoday.com/infrastructure/2007080900326OPSW . He isn’t the only one, btw. If you give Linux a little bit of time, it really grows on you (it takes a while to undo the brainwashing of Windows and realize that there is such a thing as freedom and control and it can be easy and fun if you give it a little time). Many people that have not heard of Linux have no clue how extensive support is for Linux and for open source (we have a huge community).

A link to the GPL may also be useful (four freedoms etc).

Sorry, to put up so few links, but I still have to organize my files.

Finally, if you have doubts about whether or not you are doing a good thing presenting a FLOSS alternative, ask youself how much of a good thing it is for the kids for them to stay along the current path [I don’t mean to pressure you, only to help overcome doubts and guilt should you want to do something.]

How a Microsoft Piracy Threat almost led us to Open Source… Almost! September 5, 2007

Posted by NAyK in Confessions, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Linux, Linux Mint, News, Open Source, OpenOffice, PCLinuxOS, Piracy, Software, Windows, Working with Linux.

Once upon a time there was a ‘school’ that used predominantly Microsoft software. This ‘school’ used PCs with Windows Servers and Windows XPs. The fact that this was a poor ‘school’ meant that they couldn’t afford MS Office. They wanted to, but they couldn’t. So they installed the academic licenses of StarOffice 7. All was good in the world.

Around that time, a new technology entered the world; the wi-fi. And soon, students began to connect their laptops to the ‘school’ wi-fi connection. All was good in this world too.

Then, one day, there was a warning. The ‘school’ servers received a notice from Microsoft that they were using pirated software; using MS products beyond the slated licenses. The IT department was shocked… because according to their internal audit, they were not. Could, heaven forbid, Microsoft be wrong?

As it turned out, Microsoft was not entirely wrong. Many of the students using the wi-fi connections were using pirated software, either operating systems (Windows XP professional) or Office 2007. Since these pirated systems were connected to the ‘school’ network, evidently it looked like the ‘school’ had over-shot their license.

The ‘school’ freaked out and decided to enforce a no-piracy law on all wi-fi users. Every system would be audited and only if it was entirely piracy free would the system be allowed to connect on the wi-fi network. They even devised an audit form and everything. The students were told that they would have to buy their own copies of OS and Office, or install a “Free” Linux Operating system.

Much frustration/guilt/anger/shame from the students followed. But the ‘school’ stuck to its hardline policy.

Immediately, there was a huge demand for information about Linux systems; “what is it?” “is it as good as Windows?” “Is it too different?” “Will it allow me to load my (windows) programmes?” “is it really free?” etc etc.

But then something happened; some call it grace/providence. And some call it simply bad business. But the ‘school’ decided to be gracious and at its own cost procured licenses of Windows XP Professional (academic edition) and lease them very very cheaply to the students. There would be no hope for the ‘school’ to recover its cost, but the school justified this by arguing that their primary concern was for the students.

Before this decision was made, some students had decided to use Linux as a piracy free partition on their pirated machines. Ie. they would dual boot with Linux when on the ‘school’ network, but when at home they would revert to their pirated systems (Smart? They thought so).

But the ‘school’ felt that because there was no way to ensure that the students would ONLY use Linux on the wi-fi network (because students could/would revert back to Windows behind the ‘schools’ back), they decided that in case of Linux implementation, the user must either do a full install or dual boot with only an ORIGINAL Windows partition.

This final decision was a deathknell to Linux implementation. In conjunction with the almost-free Windows OS, it was not worth the trouble (most students felt) to fully install (or partly install) Linux as well.

Thus most/all students adopted Windows as their first-choice OS.

The score: Open Source zero. Microsoft one.

However, there was a minor twist in the tale. This provision by the ‘school’ was only for the Operating System and NOT the MSOffice 2007 suite, which many students had pirated. The college was not willing to subsidize Office and students had to either use free software or buy their own. Without college support MS Office did look really expensive.

As a result, most students in this ‘school’ decided to install OpenOffice or StarOffice 8 (Academic License) instead of MS Office.

The point tally here: OpenSource (and alternatives) one. And Microsoft zero.

So the long and short of this story is that Microsoft Piracy threat almost led people to Linux, but when the students didn’t have to shell out the HUGE amount of money for it, Linux was just too inaccessible. But when the had to shell out money (as in the case of Office), they opted for the cheaper (free) alternatives.

On a brighter note for Open Source advocates, many more students are now aware of Linux and a few are willing to experiment with it as long term alternatives. The distribution that they’ve been given is PCLinux 2007.

The end. Or only the beginning?

Running from Open Source: or how my ‘school’ is avoiding Open Office implementation July 7, 2007

Posted by NAyK in Confessions, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Open Source, OpenOffice, Recommendation, Software, Windows.

(this page has been edited on 17 July, 2007)

I have a real open source crisis at my hands. My ‘school’ IT department has been pushing for the implementation of Microsoft Office 2007 in our 60 machines. The funny thing is, since our IT head is also our supplier, he too is pushing for this because he probably gets a commission. I’m the only one who has offered an alternative, Open Office, naturally. But for now I’ve only been able to delay the purchase; and it could only be a matter of time before MS Office hits our desktops. But let me start at the beginning.

A while back I wrote about why my school would not adopt open source. (Post is found here) At that time, I did not have any influence in our IT affairs. Only in the past month I’ve got representation in our IT Committee; and the first major issue I had to discuss was the purchase of 60 Microsoft Office 2007 licenses to replace our current Star Office 7 licenses!!! Why was Office being pushed? Because Office 2007 has grammar check and Star Office doesn’t!

When I heard about this proposal, I spent half the day preparing for the meeting, downloading articles about the positives of Open Office as an alternative, as well as an article about how grammar/spell check deteriorates the language of students etc etc etc. I then drafted a two-page document arguing for Open Office adoption, partly hinting that by Open Office 2.4 they are expected to get Grammar check… blah blah blah.

Well, the IT head, seemed to suggest that “Office 2007 is ‘better’ for the students”, because “it’s faster” and had “better features” etc. And I really had a tough time to get anybody to understand, let alone adopt, my argument.

I eventually got the committee to stall the purchase. Partly because it does COST money, and any caution and the possibility of an alternative was welcome.

Better still, I soon discovered after the meeting that Star Office 8 is ‘free’ for academic institutions, and so at least for now we can upgrade all our Star Office 7s into 8s. Interestingly, our IT guy had told us that Star Office 8 is a paid programme and didn’t do his research that it is free for academic institutions!!! So with this new development, I’m sure I can buy some more time for our ‘school’.

But I have the feeling that since my tenure at the committee is limited, it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable eventually happens; we will probably settle for MS Office 2007!

My thoughts, during/after the incident

When I thought about it, keeping open source philosophy aside, I think if someone was to give us Microsoft Office 2007 for free, we’d take it. I like the new interface, and it really feels like a very good programme for academic writing. That’s what makes the argument in the favour of open source alternatives so difficult. When Open Source advocacy happens outside the philosophical-moral discussion about a “free”/”better” world, the battle is reduced to which programme has the better features. When I compare, MS Office to other programmes (especially if I pretend I am a beginner), it really ‘feels’ better. And I say it again, if I got everything free, even I would find it difficult to despise Office 2007.

This makes it all the harder for academic institutions that use administrative budgets to buy programmes without hurting their own pocket. In effect, it does look like we are getting something free! So why not, people will argue, choose for the best!

Of course, feature-wise speaking, I eventually discovered that MS Office 2003 (we have some copies of that as well) is not the best in everything. It’s grammar check is terrible. It catches only the most basic of errors, but more sophisticated errors are usually missed. (I guess that’s why other suites are a little slow in adoption of grammar check because it is difficult to implement.) I must say in contrast, I prefer and love WordPerfect X3 for all my academic writing, though I found find it difficult to recommend it to simple/normal users. It’s power for full control, as well as it’s long-document stability is quite admirable. Plus, it’s grammar check seems more accurate and powerful.

Ultimately, however, WordPerfect cannot even be considered because it’s a paid programme and why would anyone ‘pay’ for anything but Office 2007, because, with the academic license, it’s only “a few dollars more”!

All this to say, I feel I’m fighting a losing battle. For now we don’t have Office 2007, though we might pretty soon. We will only settle for Open Office if Star Office makes us pay for its software. So, all in all, not a pretty picture for open source implementation in our ‘school’.

Five reasons that prevent my ‘school’ from adopting Open Source: (from a non-western perspective) May 30, 2007

Posted by NAyK in Article Watch, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Linux, Mac, News, Open Source, OpenOffice, Recommendation, Software, Windows, Working with Linux.

Recently the NZ government aggressively pushed the adoption (some say too early adoption) of open source software (NeoOffice) for their Macs (news-report here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10442388) I found this a fascinating discussion but in the end unrelated to my situation because while my heart goes out for the permeation of open source for the sanity of the global IT customer/user, my own school (in a non-western country) is ions away from moving towards open source awareness let alone adoption.

A bit about my ‘school’: My school (without naming names) is a small set-up for advanced learning; with about 50+ computers for faculty and students. All computers run Microsoft Windows 2000 or XP. All computers use Internet Explorer (except a few faculty who have chosen the adoption of Firefox. The Firefox option does not exist for the students). For office software, all student computers have Star Office 7. While the faculty have either Star Office or MS Word 2003 (education version). Some faculty have their own MS Office solutions, through OEM licensing when they bought with their laptops. The same is true for students with Laptops, though students with desktops (usually assembled of local one-room shops) may have some pirated software, but all MS oriented. In the entire campus, there is only one Mac, and that sits in the Publications Office.

There are at least five reasons why for the next five years my ‘school’ will probably still be dependent on Windows-based products and not touch anything from open source.

1. Our institution is not government funded, hence management policies are determined in-house and by the Board. While currently, finances are not preventing positive IT implementation, there are still enough financial constraints to give the impression/feeling that “we can’t take risks” with open source.

2. Since our IT supervisors (we outsource our IT solutions and support) are MS Windows oriented, their recommendations will obviously be Windows-based solutions. In fact, one deterrent for resisting the implementation of Linux in student computer labs is that, according to these IT-guys, the Windows server does not (cannot?) recognise which site a student on a Linux computer is browsing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but in a school situation where internet monitoring is important, such arguments are clinchers.

3. Our management (raised in the generation of typewriters) is not IT friendly, and any adoption of new technology (even if it is windows-based) is not thought of positively.  For example, out of all the faculty, I know only one has a blog. And that too he needs help to manage it.  Of course there are exceptions; we have probably two-three IT geeks hidden in the faculty/management. But they are still in the Windows mold and trust Windows enough because it works for them.

4. There is also a false (in my view) impression that grammar check and spell check improves grammar and spelling. That is why, there has been a push for the adoption of Microsoft Office on all our student machines; because it has grammar check. (Currently we use Star Office). There is also the false impression that the software with more tools means greater productivity. In actual fact, neither student nor faculty, in my experiences, uses the computer for more than writing academic documents (which require footnotes, table of contents and indexing). Still, the idea of ‘better’ software is always, ‘potential’ to do more.

5. Finally, there is no understanding of open source philosophy. Open Source philosophy, of free (as in money) and free (as in for cooperation/transparency) is unheard of.  Linux is probably just a catch-phrase out of context. And right now, people feel they have bigger and more important things to worry about than the operating system and software running on their computers. I say this because this lack of understanding of the ideology of Open Source exposes how despite being an advanced educational institute that focusses on the discussion/critique and development of ideological thinking among students, they fail to understand the ideology (and politics) that control their decision to continue with Microsoft, or the alternatives the lie, waiting for adoption.

In summary: as you can see, we’re far away from implementation. I almost wish that the government was funding our institution and would then force us to adopt something like what the New Zealand government is doing. But alas, I realise that even if our government was funding us, they will still push for Microsoft, because what is here below (the people) must reflect what is there above (our governments that reflect our people).