The Future is Here: OpenGoo

Sometimes, it seems, the best and most promising pieces of Free Software can be found in the most unlikely places.  OpenGoo is no exception.  For those unfamiliar with OpenGoo, it is a GPL’ed web office and productivity suite, similar to Google Docs.  I don’t think that most people realize OpenGoo IS the future, not only because of its quality, but also because of its growing need and development model.

OpenGoo fills the largest gap in the world of Free Software today: being able to access and use one’s data equally from anywhere in the world.  This gap doesn’t just exist in the Free Software world, however.  Software as a Service (SaaS) has been trying to fill this gap for some time now.  Free Software and Open File Format advocates use the analogy of “packaging up your data and mailing it to a random company” as an analogy for why people should use Free Software and Open file formats.  People can’t understand or connect to this analogy, because the file is right there on their computer.  They feel this is just an exaggeration, since the document is sitting there on their hard drive.  With SaaS though, people are going to come to realize, after the first large server break-in/crash, that they are giving up all rights to their files.  What can you do, though?  If you want to access your data on the cloud, there seems to be only one choice: sending it off to some random company and praying that they return it when you need it.

As a self-hosted web application, OpenGoo is practically perfect.  The user’s data is accessible from anywhere.  That user can view and edit his/her data using only a web browser, and still have complete control over all of the data.  Pretty soon, the OpenOffice, Kontact, and even Microsoft Office that we know today will vaporize and be unneeded.  As more and more internet-connected devices hit the market, it will become so much more practical to put all of one’s information online instead of confined to a single computer.

The only major flaw currently in this system is the absence of an “offline mode”.  To make data truly accessible, it is important to be able to access it whether connected to the internet or not.  Most of the time, especially on desktop computers, people are online.  But what about mobile access?  Anyone who owns a laptop, cell phone, netbook, or pda will understand what I mean when I say, “Internet access isn’t always available.”  With this additional feature, OpenGoo would become the most accessible Free Software platform for productivity.  Coupled with the overwhelmingly large number of flexible features for a variety of practical usages, it would turn OpenGoo into a truly unique solution for almost anyone wishing to be productive.

Not only is OpenGoo itself innovative, but its business model is genius!  While a select number of project have been using a similar method, OpenGoo really nails it.  They have an option to “sponsor a feature” on their site.  Instead of spending money to restrict oneself with a proprietary package for a desired feature, why not pay someone to implement it in a Free Software solution?  This makes the features accessible to anybody, and carries a similar, if not slightly smaller, price tag for business users.  Since sponsored features appear in the normal releases, these releases are of higher quality than they would have been otherwise.  These features obviously benefit the end users, but they also help out the developers.  The developers have started a company called FengOffice to cater to businesses and provide hosting/maintenance.  It brings the accessibility of Free Software to those who do not have the time, resources, and/or interest to support it.

It may bring up the question of why other Free Software projects don’t adopt this business model.  The answer to that is more disappointing than it would seem.  In order to peak interest, one must have a solid piece of Free Software.  In order to have a solid piece of Free Software, one must have the financial means by which to develop it.  In order to have the financial means by which to develop it, one must peak interest in the product, spiraling the process into an infinite loop.

There are a few ways to get around this, however OpenGoo found their own way.  The one that comes to most peoples’ minds is the study of “Shuttleworthology”.  If an individual can get filthy rich by other means, like Mark Shuttleworth did, then there is certainly a starting point.  Anyone with that much money should consider using that money for good purposes, such as developing software to benefit the general public like Shuttleworth did.  While Shuttleworth didn’t end up using this business model, it is still a good example of how to get a Free Software project rolling.

Nobody from OpenGoo struck it rich in the stock market or had a long lost rich uncle die, though, so how did they get started?  It’s simple: by exciting people about a really cool project, and then opening up commercial services later.  Until recently, none of these commercial ventures were opened.  Now there are a large number of people working to help this company make money.  Ask Microsoft if that ever happened to them!  (Okay, that’s a bad example, people help Microsoft all the time with every non-coding related task imaginable.)  The spreadsheet component is a great example of 3rd party work bettering OpenGoo and FengOffice (even though it is not implemented quite yet).  The number of Javascript spreadsheet editors already available is very limited.  This component was created by computer science students as a project, and will be merged into the main trunk soon.

I strongly suggest anyone with even the slightest interest level check out OpenGoo and FengOffice.  It is really an extrordinary piece of software, and does not recieve nearly as much credit and recognition as it should.  Not only does it fulfill a desperate need, but it does it in style.

Published in: on April 5, 2009 at 2:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Software Company “Infinite Campus” Lies

Recently, there have been two comments on my blog about Infinite Campus, both of which praise the quality of Infinite Campus.  They were both made within an hour and a half.  Hmmm… I thought I’d better look into this one a little bit more.

They were a lot worse than I initially thought.

The emails were both fake, unless you believe “info4nancy@comcast.net” and “jeff@jeff.com” to be legit email addresses.  The two comments said nothing but good things about this “amazing” company.  They were both apparently from people with authority in large school districts; at least, they implied being from different school districts.  The comments were written in different styles of writing, so one may think they were from different people.

I agree that one should not jump to conclusions.  I won’t.

I thought I would check the IP addresses.  What a surprise.  They were the same.  Why not look that one IP address up on an IP locator out of curiosity?  Hmm… The IP was “207.225.137.8″, so the location is “Minneapolis, MN”.  That’s interesting.  That is where their headquarters is located.  Oh!  This is even more interesting!  The ISP field says “Infinite Campus”.  Do I need a screenshot to prove this?  This commenter believes I need to “check my facts” before writing, so this screenshot will give the reader an opportunity to do so for his/herself.

Response

One of two conclusions can be drawn by this.

  1. Just recently, another school district opened in Minneapolis.  Both this school district, and the existing school district in Minneapolis have broken into a single computer at the Infinite Campus HQ and tunneled through it to steal their bandwidth.  The company Infinite Campus has no idea this is going on, because nothing has been done to stop it.
  2. Infinite Campus, as a company, LIED to the general public to try to get more business.

I’ll assume the latter.

It is scary to me, though, to know that proprietary software companies as well known and widely used as Infinite Campus must LIE to retain their status.  We trust these companies with so much, especially those who make a Student Information System.  Every known piece of personal information about students and their families is put into this system, including a picture.  How can we, in all honesty, know that they haven’t lied to us again?  It is very possible that there is an intentional security hole in there so creepy employees can stalk random students.  This would put more control into their hands than even MySpace or Facebook has.  There is no way to find out, but I can tell you one thing: I don’t want my information in there!  I don’t want my school to unintentionally exploit a creative way to bypass information privacy laws!

This all just goes to show that money comes first for greedy proprietary software companies like Infinite Campus.  Money comes before education.  Money comes before freedom.  Money comes before morals.  Shouldn’t education software companies in particular actually come so far as to think about the morals that educators are trying to instill in their students?

Hey, employees at Infinite Campus!  Give some ethical software a try.  You can take your first steps with one of my previous blog posts.  Even if you never went to college, just like your CEO, you might just learn something!

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 11:50 pm  Comments (16)  
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Corporations are idiots!!!

Everybody has his/her own reason for using Free Software.  Unfortunately, my favorite reason seems to be among the most “FUDed” by proprietary software companies.  (Behind “Lowering the TCO”)  I personally believe the most important aspect of Free Software is the advancement of society.

Proprietary software companies in power today will probably tell you just the opposite.  “Society can never advance without proprietary software,” they say.  “Nobody would pay developers to write the software if money could not be earned directly from its sale.”  I could go into how companies have managed to get rich by doing exactly that, but I won’t.  Instead, think of it this way.  The cost to develop the software is actually very low.  Take a look at any company you want.  You will see that the actual programmers make up a very very small percentage of the staff.  Most companies don’t release enough data about this kind of thing to actually make that well known.  I sure wish I could reveal what percentage of a certain proprietary software company’s staff are developers. (cough Infinite Campus cough)  I have, however, been inside the headquarters for a small to medium sized publicly traded proprietary software company.  I can assure you that the support team, a group of 4-6 people sitting in a cubical room, was about the same size, if not a little bigger, than the team of developers in the development cubical.  The other 85% of the company went to managing everything.  I wish I had the exact numbers, but I don’t.  I can assure you it made the developers themselves seem irrelevant, which they may have been.  I would be willing to bet that the rest of that team could sell you the next version of that flagship piece of software with no technical changes whatsoever.  In fact, I could almost guarantee it.

My point is  that very little money actually goes to funding development.  The money you spend on proprietary software is used, mainly, to try to get you to buy the update in the future.  There are plenty of people in the Free Software world that could get you to use and/or donate to a certain project.  Just do a Google search on “Best Open Source Applications” and see how many you get.  People promote their favorite Free Software applications because they think they are great, and that enough people don’t know about them.  To properly understand the quantity of promotion that goes on, do a search under “‘you should use firefox’” (in quotes).  At the time of writing, 16,900 results are returned!  Even the phrase “‘I hate george bush’” (in quotes) returns less than half the number of results from the former search.  Remember, though, that this is only one way of saying you advocate for a single piece of Free Software.  (Wording it as “‘I love firefox’” in quotes returns 206,000 results at the time of writing.)  The marketing expense that costs proprietary software companies so much money is annihilated.  Packaging is gone as well, with prepackaged versions only generating additional income.  If the only thing that was paid for was the programming and packaging cost, Microsoft Office would most likely be under $20.

The problem is that companies are sticking to old-world techniques, partially because the government is allowing them to do so.  Companies are treating their software as if it is a commodity.  They have yet to take advantage of the efficiency that can be achieved now.  While using these old methods, society will never advance.  Instead of everyone working on developing similar applications, they keep reinventing the wheel.  According to Michael Tiemann, Red Hat Vice President, the world loses over $1 trillion ever year due to proprietary software.  When you think about it, though, this is not that big of a number.  Think of any software industry.  They all have two or more big proprietary “overlords” that do essentially the same thing, with several other less powerful proprietary alternatives which are often either more lightweight or add some significant feature.  Take the media player market for instance.  iTunes/Quicktime, Windows Media Player, and Real Player dominate this market.  Other than support for various format and services, these players differ very little.  They all just reinvented the wheel.

Had all of the money these media player developers received from their products been used to develop the software, it may be a different story.  Instead, though, a huge amount of money goes into the costs associated with competing against one another.  On top of those costs, of course, we have the cost of actually programming the nearly identical application.

There is another problem with their theory, though.  They call what they are doing “advancing society’s technology” to give their employees a warm fuzzy feeling that they are actually doing something for the benefit of the general public.  I suppose it is kind-of sort-of possible to confuse the advancement of technology with developing proprietary software, but the two are so different!

Think of it this way.  Lets say we figure out how to send things back in time.  We send a modern high powered computer back to the year 1900 (along with a “using computers for dummies” book for the sake of this example).  This would, in many ways, be like the proprietary software we have in society today.  The people that received the computer would have access to something that does wonderful things.  It would not, in any way shape or form however, advance their technology.  The people would hail it as a miracle, and be able to do a few useful things with it.  No matter what happened, these people would never really figure out how that computer worked.  Without the skills and equipment to create it, those people would never be able to actually create another computer like that.  When the cheap hard drive died, everyone would be back in the same position they were in before it was invented.

How about we magically solve this problem?  Instead of sending just one computer back in time, lets send 1 million of the most high powered desktop computer we have today.  Wouldn’t that work?  In reality, this may have a negative effect.  With such a high quantity of computers available, people would see no need for developing the technology.  No early computer would have ever existed, because what would be the point of something like ENIAC, especially with so many higher powered computers available?  Without these groundbreaking discoveries, related inventions would have never happened either, because the required technology would have never been developed and fully understood.  The communication age would never have taken place.  In addition, when the last of those million computers finally died, the world would be left with less than it started with.  Do you really think “computing machines” would continue to be developed after so many years of living with their extremely high powered descendants?

Proprietary Software works exactly the same way.  When we use proprietary software, our lives are being dictated by a corporation.  We are not able to build on what has been created by those companies just because they believe it will make them a little bit of extra money.  We are not able to study and understand was has been created for the same reason.  What is money worth?  Obviously quite a bit to some people.  The other less obvious thing that it gives that company is power.  With the computer time-travel example above, imagine what would happen if all of those computers were put in a large locked warehouse, and only one person was given the key?  It would give that person power.  More power than he/she would know what to do with.  It would give him/her the amount of power that proprietary software companies have today.

To get to the point, am I advocating for socialism?  No.  I am saying that proprietary software corporations are idiots.  In American history, it was the goal of progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt to limit the power of corporations by making it wise for them to serve the public.  The same must be done in today’s society.  No government has managed to achieve this yet, and I’m not holding out much hope that it will ever happen.  Therefore, we must take it upon ourselves to use only Free Software, and convince everybody possible of its importance.  Once the general public understands, companies will adapt to society with no government intervention necessary.  We already have a gigantic web of software that is, in many cases, better than its proprietary counterparts.  It is not enough, though.  The mass of proprietary software is bigger.  To stand a chance, it’s going to take some elbow grease.

P.S. – Please keep in mind that not all corporations are guilty of the above charges; however, the vast majority are at fault.

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 10:27 am  Comments (12)  
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