Looking Ahead to 2012

I truely can't believe is has got to that time of year again so fast! It seems like last month I was writing up 2010. http://linux.or.ug/blogs/billynkid/2010/12/2010-how-did-we-fare

Well let's see how this year fared on our to do list.

  • Still a lack of community involvement

I think the community has really grown, we now have a very active Makarere Facebook Group, more and more we are seeing community members popping up on other IT Mailing lists to advise on the availability of FOSS. It really no longer seems unusual for someone to have knowledge of FOSS solutions.

We are now seeing new members blogging on the revamped website (Thanks Kyle) and this I really hope to see grow in 2012.

  • Policy and Government engagement;

Although we have had active debate in the field I would say overall we still need to do better. One big help has been the launch of VUU. http://www.virtualuni.ac.ug and look forward to seeing how we as a community can continue to support this organisation who have and use FOSS at there core.

We continue to try and foster good working relationships with the Ministry of ICT and look forward to continuing to do so next year.

How ever a plan is forming how we can formally engage government going forward, so watch this space.

  • Engaged business sector directly;

We did try and engage a couple of local IT Shops to use FOSS, but due to the differences and a lack of some basics this didn't get to far. How ever I see this evolving as more and more users switch over to FOSS based solutions. During TechFest http://www.techfest.ug we has some great conversations about FOSS and technology based solutions. It was a fantastic event and I thoroughly look forward to organizing next years event.

  • Did not do enough around gaming

We still have not managed to organize a gaming tournament, but it is very much on our radar so keep a keen watch on this. In other news how ever FOSS gaming is growing in leaps and bounds and I'd encourage readers to check our both http://www.humblebundle.com and http://www.desura.com who are making great strides in promoting Linux and FOSS gaming.

  • Outside Uganda

The continued growth of Android keeps a Linux based platform very much alive in the mobile sphere, although Google's source code release policy did have us questioning their commitment to FOSS principles. I think this will be one to watch, and monitor closely.

With Nokia's announcement to use Windows Phone OS. the transition of the Meego platform seemed doomed, but I having been following the Nemo Project http://wiki.merproject.org/wiki/Nemo and this looks like a very exiting FOSS project especially for my N900 phone, continue to keep running Linux.

The OpenStack Project http://openstack.org/ got a lot of great support this year and due to it's far more FOSS based ethos over that of Eucalyptus got my vote also. I still need to find time how ever to really learn this project along with Ubuntu cloud offerings and I'd like to try an organise a install-fest around this early next year.

HP's announcement to work with Canonical proved that Ubuntu is being taken very seriously by some big players. http://h18000.www1.hp.com/products/servers/software/ubuntu/index.html

Also HP's announcement to Open Source WebOS, although I think might prove to be too late, might also seed some interesting results, but probably not for HP or WebOS.

Also the announcement of Ubuntu being available on tablets and phones for some of us was no surprise, especially with the push on the Unity interface. This has not been a smooth transition for Ubuntu and I think they still have a long way to go in persuading the masses but I think the 12.04 release will hopefully go a long way to shore up peoples confidence.

One happy side is that once again the Linux community seems to have become enlivened with debate over different Windows Managers, such as XFCE, LXDE (Lubuntu), Mate and Gnome MGSE http://www.linuxmint.com. Recently I see the Cinnamon Desktop Environment http://smashingweb.ge6.org/gnome-shell-looks-like-gnome-2-cinnamon-desktop/ also seems to be making waves.

Personally I think this just shows the power of FOSS, I always think more is better. These other efforts in no way will stop Ubuntu's efforts, but they continue to give us all choices.

The IT community continues to grow in Uganda and I'd like to give out some shout outs to a few supporters; to Brian over at COSS/FOSSFA, Robert and his team at S7, D. and her team at VUU, Daniel at MoMoKla, Albert and his team at PCTech as always Reinier and his team at Mountbatten for hosting us. James and his team at RokeTelkom for supporting us during the UCC conference. Boaz at UGO for helping us find a new venue/friend at Finafrica. I look forward to trying to work with all of them in the new year.

Well that is it for another Year. I'll be on leave in January, but when we come back I look forward to helping organise some exciting events in 2012.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Ubuntu Vs Linux Mint Vs Debian Vs ?

I have been noticing a marked increase in the number of articles bashing Ubuntu and recommending switching to another distro. The problem I have is the tone some of these articles take, as how dare a free software company make a design choice we don't like. I think because Ubuntu has dominated for so long we have begun to forget one of the central tenants of using FOSS namely that we always have and should have a choice.

I recently rediscovered this by switching away from Unity and back to Gnome Classic. So far I am enjoying the experience, how ever at some point I would like to take a look at both Linux Mint and Debian again.

Personally I think this criticism is a good thing. I always get a little worried when someone is getting tons of praise and begins to corner a market. There is always the danger of starting to believe your own press and forgetting yourself and your customers.

So lets embrace this change in Ubuntu's fortunes as a good bit of competitive correction. They don't seem to be going anywhere and I am sure they will continue to plough their own furrow smoothing and ruffling feathers alike.

Personally I am very buoyed by the recent news of Canonical opening retail stores in China and their recent deals with both HP and DELL to provide OpenStack/Ubuntu based hardware.

Both these move show an increase retail maturity of Linux. Does Adobe's recent signalling of a move away from Flash to HTML 5 also signal a good turn for Linux especially in the mobile space is this something else we can now dominate and flourish choice as well? Tizen/Mer Anyone?

Using Ubuntu 11.10 without Unity

I recently decided to upgrade to Ubuntu 11.10. This is the second Ubuntu installment with the new Unity interface. Although I can appreciate that design decisions have gone into the interface in order to make it more compatible for multiple format interfaces such as tablet/mobile I can't get comfortable with it. It is little things like the Chromium interface which still has yet to fit. The choice to move the window controls over to the same side as the unmovable dash means a slip of the mouse opening the dash after a delay. Also the whole interface has slowed down, and this is on my beast of a laptop with 8 Cores, 8GB RAM and a ATI 5600 1GB Video Card.

Anyway the net result has been that I have been exploring alternatives. Firstly I tried to use Gnome 3. but a corrupted panel stopped that early. I then tried Lubuntu. I like Lubuntu it's fast and the window management model is the older Windows XP-esque paradigm. How ever the functionality of the default utilities is lacking. For example a good network browser nautilus isn't perfect but it sure beats pyneighbourhood.

After a while I decided to try Gnome 3 again. The display issues seemed to have been related to driver issues which upgrading to version 11.9 fixed. Although the Gnome 3 Shell works better than Unity it still has problems with hanging and random crashes caused by different applications such as Pentaho Kettle which I use daily.

So I have finally settled on the 2D version of Gnome Classic . This is working well, and with some adjustments using gnome-tweak-control to allow icons on the desktop, gives back that familiar Gnome 2 feel.

I will keep Gnome 3 and Lubuntu installed as fall backs, and might even pop into Unity from time to time, but I think for now Gnome 3 Classic is my config of choice.

Why software freedom really matters!

I recently caught up on some of the audio footage of OggCamp11. http://oggcamp.org OggCamp11 is a "un-conference" organised by the presenters of my two favorite podcasts namely Linux Outlaws http://linuxoutlaws.com and Ubuntu UK Podcast http://podcast.ubuntu-uk.org/

Two presentations really caught my ear. The first was the opening presentation given by Simon Phipps a computer scientist and Open Source advocate on why Software Freedom really matters!

Simon outlined why he believes (and to a lot of extent so do I!) how our world is more and more being defined by Software Freedoms especially as governments try and manage this constantly new and evolving online world. Essentially it is only through us maintaining our Software Freedoms is how we maintain our further freedoms.

The second talk was immediate after the first and took on a whole different look on Software Freedoms. Karen Sandler Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation discusses a topic very close to her heart literally!

Anyway I recommend listening and you can via another of my favorite podcasts full-circle podcasts http://fullcirclemagazine.org/2011/08/19/full-circle-podcast-23-oggcamp-...

I keep promising that one year I would love to attend this event in person, especially if the team keep up this level of presenters. I guess the only other option would be to hold our own local OggCamp and invite them over....hmm now there's an idea!

Quick guide to hosting an event

Several people have asked us about organizing events so I thought I'd pen a few pointers. Please let me know if you have any additional suggestions.

  1. Decide on the Topic or ask the community for ideas
  2. If you have a burning desire to talk about a FOSS topic chances are someone will want to listen. Otherwise just ask the mailing list for idea.

  3. Pick a venue
  4. The venue will depend on a number of factors. Do you require certain equipment such as PC's? Do you expect lots of attendees? As a rule we use venues that do not charge a fee, but feel free to promote them through the website.

  5. Decide when to host your event.
  6. Check the website to see if any event clashes with the date your thinking of. Make sure to allow enough time to promote the event. Ideally allow a couple of weeks for people to really have time to attend.

  7. Get additional help and equipment.
  8. Organizing events is hard work, and time consuming if your want the event to go off smoothly and well organised so try and speak to fellow LUG members if you need help on the day. You can also try and ask member to lend you equipment such as projectors if you need them. Think about any additional materials you might need such as handouts or flyers?

  9. Promote the event
  10. Let people know the event is on when, where why they should come. What is being offered. i.e. free drinks etc. Reach out to as many networks/mailing lists as possible. But don't cross-post as that is bad netiquette.

  11. Have fun!
  12. Once you actually doing it, remember to sit back and smile. It's a lot a fun and very fulfilling to do. People will respond better if your having fun.

  13. Document the event
  14. Try and take pictures and video of the event or write a blog post to say what worked and what didn't!

  15. Lather, Repeat, Rinse!
  16. Keep at it. As all things you need to pull off a couple to work out what works and what doesn't.

Desura Gaming Website

Desura is a community driven digital distribution service for gamers, putting the best games, mods and downloadable content from developers at gamers fingertips, ready to buy and play


As some of you know I am a long time gamer. One area Linux has much to improve an ultimately dominate. Whilst good strides are being made to improve the performance of Graphics cards, not much was being done to get games into the the hands of gamers. For the longest time we have been waiting for Valve to deliver the mythical Linux client for Steam. Well it looks like we won't have to wait for it now, as Desura a competitor have taken on the challenge of delivering a Steam-like platform for both Linux and Windows. Already it is possible to get all the Humble-Indie Bundle Games through the website, and a growing collection of both Windows and Linux Games.

Why is this significant? Well if Linux gaming is going to really take of we need distribution platforms. If you look at the latest trends far more copies of popular gaming titles sell online that retail box copy. Also if your a budding indie developer it has to be cheaper to go the online route instead of bricks and mortar retail publishing deals. Try persuading GAME or HMV to stock a Linux title!

How ever the Linux client is still in closed beta so no quite out the door yet! How ever it is a good deal closer than anything Steam has to offer. If this keeps up we might even get the year of the Linux Desktop ;-)

Happy Software Freedom Day 2011!

Just a quick note to say Happy Software Freedom Day 2011! I had planned to try and pull off some kind of event to celebrate this day but time has been a little tight lately.

I continue to be amazed at the growth of FOSS in all aspects of IT and beyond. Even if Linux has not yet overtaken Windows on the desktop ;-)

I continue to look forward to encourage the growth of FOSS in Uganda.



My 24 Hours with a Samsung Galaxy Tab

I was recently offered the use of a Samsung Galaxy Tab for 24 Hours, in return for penning my thoughts on the device, so here goes.

I guess I should start by saying I am a technical person so if this seems very geeky thats why. Also I especially wanted to review it with a view to my working environment, so tried out a few Enterprise applications so see what my experience was like.

First lets start with the look and feel. The Samsung Tab is the older 7" model it has a black finish on the front which conceals a forward looking 1.3MP camera.

Yes it is a lot like an ipad, the weight is good and overall finish feels polished.

The back contains a 3.2 MP Camera, which is a little poor in low light conditions, but seems fine during the day.

After resetting the device to get an out of box experience I promptly entered the MTN APN and was off surfing in no time. I also enabled wireless which worked very seamlessly as all Android devices seem to do.

The speed is good, although the orientation sensor can be a little slow to pick up the change from portrait to landscape, but the screen is responsive. I would however say it feels a little inaccurate compared to an ipad.

The onscreen keyboard works well and am glad to see the awful X9 predictive text is set off by default. I really hate this feature on android as it seems very unintuitive compared to other predictive keyboards (Nokia).

I found Chrome to be much the same as it's desktop counterpart and rendered websites well. I also tried Opera and Firefox which have Android versions, and overall think it's the best of the three.

I tested it with Gmail, Zimbra and OpenERP to assess how usable it was for work. Gmail worked well and the interface was clean, and fast.

Zimbra was not detected as a mobile device and I had to set that manually, but once done was much the same as my phone but with more real estate which made it very easy to use. I how ever was unable to download attachments, in Chrome and had to switch to Firefox. I guess this might be a bug in my Zimbra version which is a little old.

OpenERP 6 worked well, although the menus where a little small to press with your figure by default, a stylus would have helped and you can zoom in but this kind of makes the interface clunky. Again more of a criticism of the application than the Tablet.

There is no OpenOffice document reader under Android that I could find which I thought was a massive negative. I use LibreOffice entirely and this would make is useless to review and edit documents for me.

ThinkOffice app is included which has Microsoft Office compatibility, but I guess with the release of Google Docs for Android that might be the preferred choice.

Voice searching is both accurate and kind of fun, but maybe more use if your hands are otherwise occupied.
I enjoyed using All-share to both stream movies and music to and from the device, the screen is good and copes with full screen HD video well, but the default speakers and small and a little tinny, plus on landscape orientation are on one side which is not good for movies.

The Mobile AP feature worked well and allowed several devices to share the 3G link over Wi-Fi. Although not for long when you have only 300MB.

The build in GPS device also worked well and Google maps was accurate to 70meters.

The device was fitted with a 300MB data sim, but not voice so I could not test that function.

I enjoyed having device immensely but a) think I'd prefer it's bigger brother the 10.1 and b) can't afford the 1.3mill price tag. So I'll be waiting a little while before I run out and buy it, as it would mainly be an entertainment device to watch youtube videos/surf on the sofa with.

2010 How did we fare!

As 2010 comes to a close I have been thinking over the year and especially with regard to my actives on and for the LUG. As traditionally this is the time for lists, I thought I'd write two of my own;

What did I think went well this year and what went not so well;

Did Well List

  • Another year when we held a meeting every month; I have to say this did prove tough at times, but we did manage it, even if a few were snap meetings!


  • Held several extra events; Although none were necessarily Linux/FOSS only we did manage to pull of a couple of large scale events, and I am looking forward to doing more in 2011.


  • Grew the community; We now have at least got members outside of Kampala, they may not hold meetings as often as us but the idea has been born. For 2011 we need to look at strengthening and growing this outreach. Expanding into the Universities and Schools.


  • Grew the brand; I think due to some high profile events and collaborations the LUG is now far more widely known. Again more of the same next year. Including having events in public places such as Nakumatt Mall.


  • Continue to meet interesting people; I have made some new friends this year and had some very entertaining and at times thought provoking conversation in our meetings.

  • Formed ties within the industry; I think it would be fair to say those in the know, know us. Especially the IT Media which is important. A special thanks to them continuing to have an active role in promoting FOSS in Uganda.

Did not so Well list

  • Still a lack of community involvement; We still have a core of non-Ugandans running the events each month, editing the website, providing the ideas. I guess this is maybe about time and more work, I am interested to know how we can change this, and maybe by reaching out to the Universities that will change a bit.
  • Policy and Government engagement; We have done little to change the government policies or influence regarding FOSS, especially in education and area I think we all agree is important. More effort is definitely required.
  • Engaged business sector directly; We still need to raise the visibilty of FOSS in the SME/NGO sector and the solutions page I think will go a long way to fix this. Also by encouraging local IT Businesses to use FOSS, such as pre-installing it onto laptops.
  • Secure funding; At the moment this is mainly being funded from the pockets of those involved, but if we are going to do great things we might need to look at how can fund events etc.
  • Did not do enough around gaming; Having seen the reaction the children who attended our this is uganda lan party,  http://linux.or.ug/node/922# I was reminded why I think this is such an important tool in the introduction of IT to youngsters.
    It might not be obvious at first what value gaming brings youngsters, but you examine closely and soon something else. Teamwork! Hand Eye Co-ordination Skills improving in front of your very eyes, as well as just a general interest in IT and how it works. Several people I have spoken to have confirmed to me that their early experiences in gaming lead to their IT career choices later in life.
    It brings together so many aspects of the IT field. Networking, 3D Design, Hardware Knowledge, as well as just so being so much fun! So expect to see a lot more of gaming themed events in 2011.

Well those are my thoughts for 2010, I am looking forward to 2011 and seeing how we can push the barrier further and further. We still have lots to do to encourage the government and business to look at FLOSS seriously, but everyday I see signs that this is a battle we are winning. I wish you and yours a Happy Holidays and FLOSStastic New Year!


Techzine Article September 2010

Here is an article I did for Techzine Magazine in September 2010.

When Techzine was thinking about giving away a free copy of a Linux distro with this month?s issue we turned to Simon Vass, Technical Manager at E-Tech Uganda, for help and advice. E-Tech is one of the leading open source solution providers in Uganda, and Simon is a keen proponent of OSS and a well known and active member of the Linux User Group. We asked him to give us his thoughts regarding the developing trends of open source software in Uganda.

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