Thursday, July 27, 2006

red diamond Google offers search for the blind

Google has a new lab project "Google Accessible Search" which ranks the results for ease of accessibility.

This new service (currently on Google Labs) adds a small twist to Google web search: in addition to finding the most relevant results from Google as usual, Accessible Search further prioritizes results based on the simplicity of their page layouts. When you search from the Accessible site, you'll get results that are prioritized based on their usability. This tends to favor pages with few visual distractions, and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off. Google Accessible Search is built on Google Co-op's technology, which emphasizes search results based on specialized interests. (from Friends of Google newsletter)
Search for "tutorials" on Google (regular) and you find 468 millions of results and on top are some that are reach in graphics. The first item is Section 508 compliant. However, the second item, Sun's Java tutorials violates this important accessibility test.

Search for "tutorials" on Accessible Search and you'll find a different set of supposedly clear cut text based websites with no or little images. In my test this is not to obvious. Number one, the University at Albany, has only a header image. However number two, CProgramming.com, does create pop-ups, is quite image rich and fails the Section 508 test as well.

I'm not sure if this is so helpful for blind people or those with other impairments.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

red diamond French central administration adopts OpenOffice.org

The European commission reports on its eGovernment website that the central administration of France charges ahead in migrating 400,000 users to OpenOffice.org.

The administration created various tools, such as an installation CD, SCORM compliant training and migration guides as well as online support services.

This is the largest migration I have seen so far announced. The plan calls for finishing the migration in 2007.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

red diamond Firefox extension for ODF

There is a new ODFReader for Firefox available. This Firefox extension does read ODF text documents and is being developed by the OpenDocument Fellowship. The ODFReader is a companion of the ODFViewer, using the same XSLT style sheet to convert XML into (X)HTML.

Currently the ODFReader for Firefox does support Firefox 1.5.0.X and claims to be Firefox 2.0 ready.

red diamond ODF Viewer avaliable

The OpenDocument Fellowship announced today the availability of an ODF Viewer.

This small application allows to view ODF documents even if no office suite supporting ODF is installed. For example, with this tool you can read ODF e-mail attachments or ODF documents download from the Internet without having installed OpenOffice.org or one of the other suites supporting ODF.

The application is currently in beta testing and does not yet support ODF 1.0 fully. I'd expect frequent updates. It is probably best recommended for power users or environments where it can be installed and updated by an IT department.

The ODF viewer is based on a XSLT style-sheet to transform XML to (X)HTML. The transformation infrastructure and the user interface are based on XUL and XULRunner.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

red diamond OpenDocument (ODF) compatible with GPL

Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) has found the Open Document Format to be compatible with free software licensing, such as the General Public License (GPL) and the Apache License. SFLC wrote an "OpenDocument Opinion Letter" on behalf of the Apache Software Foundation and and the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The letter is signed by the SFLC's legal council, Eben Mogley. The opinion concludes with the following findings.
  1. Under the relevant OASIS patent policy, all Essential Claims held by OASIS Technical Committee Obligated Members are available to all implementors of ODF on terms compatible with free and open source software licenses.
  2. Sun’s license terms for access to its Essential Claims are fully compatible with free and open source software licensing.

    • Sun’s terms are compatible with contribution and licensing under the policies and license of the Apache Software Foundation.

    • Sun’s terms are not in conflict with Section 7 of the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public License, and are not otherwise incompatible with the GPL.
This means that "Free Open Source Projects" can use the format. We can expect more OSS development teams to adopt the format and see more applications supporting it or like the Plone foundation using it in some other way. This is also another confirmation supporting the State of Massachusetts' decision to use it for longterm storage.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

red diamond Striving for total innovation is bad business

I found an interesting read that furthers the debate of "making new products to similar" which I have written about. The "Emergence Marketing" blog does summarize a very applicable article in the Harvard Business Review.

For a product like OpenOffice this would mean that closely resembling the market leader in functionality and user interface is actually beneficial and does increase the chances of adoption.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

red diamond Talking about OpenOffice.org's compelling features

In a Linux Journal article today, Nicholas Petreley writes that Linux Office suites need to gain more compelling features for people to switch. He argues Microsoft did win their customers not by emulating their established competition, but by offering certain advantages and making it still easy for them to switch.

I'm not sure if he is advocating for the Open Source/Free Software community to emulate the bad business practices of Microsoft in exploiting their virtual monopoly and driving competition out of business by undercutting their distribution channels?

One key to Microsoft Office's success was, the secret integration between Office and the OS (where MS had a very strong position). The other key was that they had a virtual monopoly on the distribution channel through pre-loading with new PCs. At the time MS strong armed PC manufacturers to bundle the OS and Office suites with every new PC. So from the standpoint of a new PC buyer it was "for free" and meant spending extra money to buy one or more packages and also to install them and support them separately. So convenience and monopolistic tactics won over features and compatibility. By the way, the office suite idea was novel at the time as well and best executed by MS, just to give them credit.

I don't think that a single convenience feature such as "strong" links would win me over from one proprietary package to another (i.e. EIOffcie, as Nicholas Petreley suggests). That said, OpenOffice.org has already the compelling feature that makes it superior to MS Office. It is the support for Open Document Format (ODF) or ISO 26300.

Not everybody might yet have realized it, but not only the State of Massachusetts has a problem with long term storage of electronic documents that are so prevalent today in an office environment. You can't read a 20 year old Wordstar document these days (even if the storage media, i.e.tape, is perfectly readable). I know because my master theses and a couple of my publications are in that format. Non of the current packages does fully support it.

The seemingly obvious does not work. You can't keep the old packages around, because they won't install on the new OS (16 bit --> 32 bit --> 64 bit --> ...). You can't keep the old OS around, because it won't install on the new hardware (see above). By the way, the old software won't play well with the new printer either. And building a virtual museum of old technology artifacts that even has to work just in case someone needs access to an older document is not the direction we want to go anyway. We want new and old documents accessible through the Internet and quickly.

According to the State of Massachusetts, only an open and free (as in speech) document format can guarantee long into the future that you have access to your actual document. It must be open and documented, so anybody can write a program against it. It must also be free so nobody can prevent you from doing so, just because they want to leverage certain monopoly effects or stifle a particular competition.

OpenOffice.org (OOo) uses ODF as its default format and is the package with the largest installed base for supporting this format. It certainly is not a short term convenience feature, but it will com in handy if you want to review your high school writings from your arm chair in retirement. And it sure is essential if your grandson wants to research the title to his grandfathers goldmine in the archives of the State of Massachusetts.

Certainly, OOo is not a product that can leverage monopolies nor has it to, in order to undercut the price of the competition. And as free (as in speech) software anybody can always do something about the missing killer feature, implement it or organize funding for its implementation. You say that is so hard? Look at what a couple of guys do with NeoOffice to get the support and integration they want for Mac OS X.