Can Wireless Help Develop a Silicon Cape?

Free Software, Project Mayhem 2 Comments »

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The Silicon Cape in a nutshell

Cape Town is Africa’s own little Silicon Valley, or in some way at least, becoming that. We have many locals who are passionate about technology and what it can do for our country and our continent who are also completely willing to share their knowledge and help and teach others while at the same time, growing local industry. We have user groups such as the Cape Town Linux Users Group (CLUG) who provide regular talks on technical and beginner Linux topics twice a month. We also have the Cape Town Python Users Group (CTPUG), the Cape Town Ruby Brigade and the Cape Town Wireless Users Group (CTWUG) on which I’ll expand later. These are just a few of the local technology volunteer support groups we have and there are much more. There are also many technology companies that have development offices here, such as, Yola and Thawte (which was also founded in Cape Town). There’s always new technology and software startups all the time and there’s a few local venture capital firms that focus specifically on technology funding. A group of people who are passionate about making Cape Town more of a local Silicon Valley created the organisation called Silicon Cape, which aims to bring together local entrepreneurs and geeks to help make the Silicon Cape vision a realA large, free and open network that connects the city could do wonders for our local technology development.ity. Silicon Cape has also attracted interest from our former mayor and now the premier of our province, Helen Zille who realises how important technology is to our local economical development.

Cape Town Wireless Users Group

I joined CTWUG around 4 years ago, it used to be just small pockets of people connecting to each other, later these smaller groups were connected and today, CTWUG covers large parts of Cape Town where you can reach any part of the network from any node. It has even extended outside of the larger Cape Town area into areas such as Stellenbosch and there’s also a vibrant community in Paarl that are connected to each other and hopefully some day, directly to the rest of the WUG.

Many are quick to dismiss Wireless User Groups as networks where people just share files and pirate content. There is certainly a lot of file sharing happening on the WUG, and in some cases there will be some piracy, but as with any big network it’s almost impossible to police. The WUG does provide a lot more than file-sharing though. Across South Africa, Internet is quite expensive and in many cases, prohibitively so. We have many users that don’t have any Internet connection at home, and we don’t explicitly provide any Internet access on the network. Instead, some users run Internet-like services on the WUG. So some users who do have an Internet connection will do things like run an email server that allows users to send and receive e-mail to the rest of the WUG as well as the rest of the world. There’s also a Jabber server that federates with other Jabber servers on the Internet. I run a few services myself. There’s CTWUG Statusnet which is a Statusnet installation that brings microblogging to the WUG, there’s Wugtube which hosts user uploaded video content and also a Big Blue Button installation for video conferencing and chatting. Besides the 3 services I host there’s lots of other services hosted on the network which includes a Facebook clone, a Teamspeak server, many gaming servers, personal wug sites and repositories and CD images for many Linux distributions as well as Windows and OSX updates.

The wug certainly can’t replace an Internet connection completely, but it works great as a secondary network to the Internet and also for people who simply can’t afford an Internet connection. Even for those who do have an Internet connection, there’s still a lot of benefit to getting connected. By installing system updates, for example, you would only get about 419 KB/s on DSL (or at least, that’s what I get on my 4mbps line which is Telkom’s current fastest offering) while installing from the WUG would typically give you up to 1.2 MB/s (and even more) depending one your location and the mirror you’re using. Currently we only have around 500 people actively using the WUG. One of my personal goals is to get schools involved. We have a few hundred schools in Cape Town and most of them have no Internet or often, they have to share a 3GB monthly package among the whole school that typically only the admin staff and some teachers will have access too. Hosting mirrors of Wikipedia, Wikinews and other useful sites, along with the usual WUG services could have great impact for these schools in my opinion. There’s a seperate project for connecting schools together called Schoolwan that connected 35 schools to each other and to a centralised server for content, mail, etc. Even though it’s a really, really cool project, I believe that it would’ve been a lot better if it had decent funding and if the benefits of using a network such as this could be properly introduced with some good cultivation. With CTWUG schools could gain some benefit of connecting to an existing network with existing infrastructure and a large volunteer community. CTWUG has strict rules about pornography and adult content and users who share any such content publicly on the networked are disconnected without any warning.

There’s also a local project called Wizzy Digital Courier which started off as a Sneakernet e-mail service where schools could carry around their e-mail on USB disks and sync up using UUCP. With the Wizzy project also came the concept of a Wizzy server, which would dial-up after 19:00 when phone calls are cheaper and gets the content requested during the day and stores it in a wwwoffle proxy so that users could visit the websites they have requested the previous day. Many Schoolwan schools also had a Wizzy server. One idea is that some of the more resourced schools who have uncapped DSL could share their off-peak bandwidth to get and cache some data for the less-privileged schools using something like a Wizzy server.

There’s a lot I’d like to say on the topic and I’ve only touched a few things here, the point that I’d like to get to is that wide-area wireless networks can be extremely useful in areas where Internet is either slow or expensive, and probably too even so when a good Internet connection is available.

Cape Town to get City-wide Wireless

ITweb reports that there are plans to roll out fiber-backed wireless throughout the city. A R400m (about €41.2m) plan to roll out this fiber network was planned when Helen Zille was still the mayor of Cape Town. This alone will save the city about R90m a year in costs to Telkom and other operators to our municipalities.

There’s little information available on who will be able to access the network or with which networks it will peer with, but it has great potential and I hope that it will grow in to a network that will add value to as many people in the city as possible.

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This Operating System Has Everything!

Free Software 5 Comments »

This morning I found this in my feed reader and found it quite amusing:

Shortly thereafter when I closed Liferea, I noticed this in my notification area:

E-Mail and bacon- this operating system has everything. Who am I kidding… it had me at Supercow Powers :)

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Ubuntu-ZA Cape Town Lucid Release Party

Free Software 2 Comments »

Saturday I attended the Ubuntu-ZA Stellenbosch/Cape Town release party. I’d say it’s the best one I’ve been to so far. Maia Grotepass (maiatoday) did a great job of organizing the event, providing the venue, organising a real good-looking Ubuntu branded cake and badges! I was a bit skeptical at first about it happening in Stellenbosch (just a bit outside of Cape Town), but the turnout was very good and the weather played along nicely.

It was great putting some more faces to names, especially on the Stellenbosch side. Thanks also to everyone else who helped Maia in organising this!

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Edubuntu 10.04 has arrived

Free Software 3 Comments »

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS has been released, so has Edubuntu 10.04 with other derivatives soon to follow! Thanks to everyone who helped made the Lucid release cycle one of the best ones ever!

The logo above is also the new Edubuntu logo, and replaces the old 3-colour logo we used to have. I think it’s way less cheesy than the old one and it’s much more sleek, it looks great in the system too! We’re working on a new Edubuntu website and we’ll have some nice screenshots there!

I was planning to be in Canada this month, but one upside from visa issues is that I can at least attend the Cape Town release party! (ooh, and also thanks to Raoul for our Loco team’s cool new site!). If you’re in Cape Town and surrounding areas, be sure to come along!

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Then and Now Meme

Free Software, Humour, Jonathan 9 Comments »

Maybe it didn’t exactly start out as a meme, that doesn’t mean I can’t make it into one :)

My Very First Time

My first GNU/Linux desktop was installed in 1999 on a 486DX4-100 with 16MB RAM. It was Red Hat Linux 6 (Hedwig). I still have the CD, it has “Linux 6.0″ written on it which sounds extremely futuristic considering I’m on Linux 2.6.32 now in 2010. I don’t have any of my original screenshots, but I found this one which is a typical RHL 6.0 desktop:

Today I run Ubuntu 10.04 LTS on my desktop, laptop and netbook:

Not too much to see though since I generally keep my desktop clean. I usually use my desktop to store some files temporarily while I work on a task, afterwards they are stored somewhere safe just in case I need them again. I also keep my window list on the top panel, it saves some screen space especially since I only have 2-3 windows open on a desktop space. The space saving is also great on my netbook, since I don’t use the Ubuntu Netbook Remix on there.

Then and Now Edubuntu Edition

Earlier this week, I posted about new futures available in Edubuntu 10.04. This evening I put together a wiki page showing some of the artwork differences in Edubuntu between Karmic and Lucid. I also added some additional information that might be useful to the website and marketing teams similar to what the Ubuntu branding page has done. It’s still early work but I’ll copy and paste it in a page for Maverick and continue to improve on it there. For now I’m getting some sleep since I have a CTWUG meeting early in the morning, seems like blogging just before 2am is becoming a habit :)

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7 Days

Free Software 1 Comment »

It’s just one week away! If you still haven’t added your countdown banner yet, it’s not too late! There’s also a Facebook app if you’d like to add it to your profile.

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What’s been happening with Edubuntu?

Free Software 9 Comments »

I don’t blog nearly as much as I’d like to (but more about that in another post), which is why I think it’s about time that I make a catch-up post on what’s been happening in the world of Edubuntu during the Lucid release cycle. Edubuntu 10.04 is due for release on the 29th of April. It’s just about finished and tomorrow’s daily build should be pretty close to the actual release.

New Stuff in Ubuntu and Edubuntu 10.04

1. Reworked Edubuntu Disc

Edubuntu 9.10 was our first release that returned from being an add-on CD to a full installation disc. It had a big problem though, it was almost double the size what it needed to be. The alternate installation that shipped with the disc required for LTSP installation meant that every program and its files were shipped twice on the image, resulting in a very bloated disc. It was unavoidable at the time though but for Lucid we have managed to integrate everything that’s required for a full Edubuntu setup into the desktop LiveCD, so no more alternate installation is required. The effective overall gain on the Lucid installation media is about 1GB. We don’t want to waste space since the current 2.2GB image is already quite heavy on mirrors, but at it is good to know that we have some more leeway when we want to add more features.

2. Live LTSP

Edubuntu now provides the fastest way to get an LTSP server up for experimental or demo purposes. Simply boot from an Edubuntu Live Disc or USB MSD, select “Start LTSP Live” from the Other menu and choose an interface it should run on. About 2 minutes later you’ll have a working LTSP environment you can try out. Stephane made a screen cast demoing how easy it is to get an LTSP server up and running in less than 5 minutes running an Edubuntu live DVD and thin client in two virtual machines.

3. Easy LTSP Installation

If you have poked around Edubuntu and the Live LTSP environment and you decide that you’re ready for the real thing, you can install Edubuntu and an Install LTSP option will also appear on the desktop. It pretty much only asks you on which interface you would like to run LTSP on, just like the LTSP live environment. All you need to do is click on OK and sit back for 10 minutes while it does everything required to get the LTSP environment set up.

It’s notably faster than installing from an alternate CD similarly to how installing from the Ubiquity (Desktop CD installer) is faster than installing from the Debian Installer (alternate CD installer, more on this in another post) since it extracts the files from a pre-built squashfs image rather than installing a few hundred debian packages one by one.

4. Edubuntu Menu Editor

The Edubuntu Menu Editor is a new tool that allows administrators to create custom menu profiles and apply it to users and groups. This is written by Marc Gariépy who also works with me and Stéphane at Revolution Linux (which sponsors pretty much the bulk of Edubuntu-specific development at this stage)

5. Easy Netbook Mode

Installing Edubuntu on a netbook? Choose the network interface to get the latest Ubuntu Netbook interface on Edubuntu. It’s a lot faster than previous implementations, I even got great performance from it in a virtual machine with no hardware video acceleration at all.

6. Qimo Packages

Qimo is an entirely different educational distribution for young kids based on Ubuntu. I’ve been talking to the Michael Hall who develops it for a while so that we can get Qimo in Ubuntu so that Ubuntu users could install it easily. Since then Michael has joined our team and since I became a MOTU it became a lot easier getting his packages into the archives. Michael will probably also become a MOTU and an Edubuntu-Dev member over the next development cycle. We don’t include the Qimo packages on the Edubuntu DVD since it also depends on Xfce, so it is probably better starting with a minimal Ubuntu system or a Xubuntu system if you don’t want too much bloat on your system. Or just get the Qimo beta directly and install.

7. New Artwork

We have a new wallpaper created by Mads Rosendahl, we now use the Breathe icon theme which feels a lot fresher compared to the Gartoon icon theme that used to be the default (which is still available and included). We also went with the new Ubuntu window control positions which hasn’t been without controversy, but if some users strongly prefer the old window positioning or work in a mixed environment then it can be changed back by simply choosing another theme under the appearances menu.

Community Changes

1. New Edubuntu Council

Shortly after the Karmic release a new Edubuntu Council was elected. The role of the Edubuntu Council was also modified and now has more responsibility in the Edubuntu project. Previously it acted as a delegate for the Community Council, now it also acts as a Technical Board delegate for Edubuntu-dev as part of the archive re-organisation that continued to take place during this release.

2. New Website and new Website team

For the first time ever we have some dedicated people (Susan Stewart and Vikram Dhillion (along with others)) who will be looking after our website. Previously we only had one person at a time (mostly me who alternated with another person) who really didn’t have time to maintain it in the first place. The new website isn’t up yet but we aim to have it up around release time.

3. LP Team Restructure

We fixed up the plethora of Edubuntu teams on who all had different owners of which some haven’t been around in a while, now most of the official teams are owned by the Edubuntu Council in addition to current administrators. With some teams we had to completely re-invite all the members since we didn’t know who they were and if they were active any more. We’ve had a generally good response in doing that. There’s still some work here, but the bulk of it has been done.

4. Team Reports

We now follow the standard Ubuntu team reporting structure for the Edubuntu Reporting (eek, the March report is overdue, will do tomorrow), which are basically just a few bullet points that summarizes some items from our meetings. It works okay and as time goes on we’ll continue getting better at it.

5. Hug Days

We had wiki and bug hug days where we gave special attention to certain areas that have been neglected on the wiki and where we gave some attention to some long-forgotten bugs. Scott Balneaves and Ben Crisford hosted these, Ben is also currently working on reviving the Edubuntu Advocacy team and we’ll probably see a lot happening in that area over the next release cycle.

Is That It?

No, there’s more, but it’s past 2am now and I need to get this posted so I guess you’ll have to download a daily build or wait for the official release announcement next week to get the full scoop :)

Also, the work never stops, we’ve already started planning for Ubuntu 10.10 (Maverick Meerkat), I sent some of my preliminary ideas to the edubuntu-devel mailing list yesterday. We have a meeting on Wednesday evening UTC where we’ll plan some final wrapping up of Lucid and also put together our ideas in a Gobby document that will end up somewhere on the wiki for discussion at the next UDS.

There’s a lot of people who put in effort to make this release possible, but I think we owe a special thanks to the Ubuntu Release Team who have been extremely quick to reply to feature freeze exception requests and when we have requested new builds to test last-minute bug fixes. If the release team wasn’t as efficient as they are I shudder to think of the problems I would’ve had to worry about right now. You guys rock!

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