NGO Team Plans for Oneiric

July 13, 2011 by

This blog has been quiet for a long time, so I think for all Planet Ubuntu readers it might make sense to explain again what this team is about.

The aim of the Ubuntu NGO team is to make it as easy as possible for charities, non-profits and other NGOs to benefits from what OSS and Ubuntu have to offer. The motto we chose in an earlier meeting was “helping others help”. We also have a team mailing list with around 150 people from all kinds of NGOs who make use of Ubuntu already, so it’s a great resource if you want to share ideas, plans or ask for feedback in this area.

The problem this team has always been facing is that it’s comprised of people who care a lot about not only Ubuntu, but also about their NGO or about general matters which keep them busy, that’s why at the last UDS we decided to choose some more realistic goals which might bring more activity to the team again.

Here’s our list of TODO items:

  • update our template for case studies that we publish
  • reach out to team member about his journey to Haiti and how the project went, so we can maybe get a report and discuss/publish it
  • reach out to team member about his journey to Sierra Leone and how the project went, so we can maybe get a report and discuss/publish it
  • organise monthly meetings
  • remind everybody on the mailing list to share their stories, so we can repost on the blog, etc.
  • try to get a story in Ubuntu User
  • investigate current ngo software packaging initiatives

If the world of NGOs, charities and Ubuntu have always interested you, join the team, the mailing list and help us help making things better.

Also: do join us on IRC in #ubuntu-ngo on

NGO-CaseStudy-Porto Seguro

June 7, 2010 by

About one year ago the Ubuntu NGO project interviewed Luigi Pertici a Catholical Permanet Deacon from Siena, Italy. He worked at Monte dei Paschi Bank’s Datacenter for long time until he switched to work as IT Engineer in the Bank’s Training Center doing end-to-end support, system administration and so on.

In 1998 he knew a togolese priest who talked to him about his country and then, in 2005, Luigi went for his first time to Togo. From 2005 Luigi visited Togo regularly to help the Aneho’s Diocese and in particular the village called Adbodrafò which has almost 4000/6000 inhabitants. Since 2007, when Luigi retired from his work at the bank, he has spent 4/- months a year in Adbodrafò. He started a project called Porto Seguro (this is the ancient portuguese name of Adbodrafò) which aims to bring media information to the village of Adbodrafò. At the time of the interview the newspaper was the only media available and it’s  very rare.

The basic idea was to set up an Internet Point available for everybody but mainly focused towards the high school’s students. Adbodrafò’s high school counts for about 200 students. With the help of volunteers  from the Siena Linux User Group they gather old computers from friends and acquaintances. Lug’s volunteers built fully functioning computers getting spare parts from partialy working computers and installing Ubuntu on them. At the end of the work they made a shipment with a lot of material: 36 fully functioning computers  with a lot of extra spare parts like monitors, mice, cables, hard disks, keyboards, etc.

Last week Luigi wrote an email in the Siena LUG Mailing list updating about the progress of his project. He arrived in Togo few days before and he found that his project with the public computer lab made an effect.

A few smart young guys, lead by the one in the photo called Elias, started their own activity installing and providing services with Ubuntu. Luigi wrote “do not think about him like an hardcore hacker” 😉

Ubuntu Fan

He just started and for real progress they are waiting for a decent Internet connection in the town (the only one available at moment is really slow and it cost a fortune so they can use it few hours at week) but things are starting  to move and people realized that with free software they can build their own business based on their own knownledge.

In this place, this is already a victory.

Interview – Informatici Senza Frontiere (local) – Comboni Samaritan of Gulu

March 28, 2010 by


Interview with: Maurizio Bertoldi

Name of NGO: Informatici Senza Frontiere (local) – Comboni Samaritan of Gulu

Location (city, country): Milan, Italy – Gulu, Uganda

Link: ISF – Informatici Senza Frontiere (local) – Comboni Samaritan of Gulu

Date Interview: March 2010


The project aim is to give an improved IT infrastructure to the Campus Comboni Samaritans of Gulu NGO, operating in Gulu, Uganda. The ISF, with support of local institutions and Sinapto, is managing project by providing PC for the NGO.


The no-profit Comboni Samaritans of Gulu NGO in Uganda has been founded since 1992 to stop the AIDS spreads and its dramatic impact on the population. Main activities are:

    • Provides assistance and support to about 4500 of people with AIDS (PLWHA – people leaving with HIV/AIDS), including 1930 anti-retroviral treatment (ARV).
    • Provides support to about 1000 child heads of household, orphans or children whose parents are seriously ill.
    • This area was created with two primary goals: prevention and awareness on issues related to AIDS and the business of peace building and reconciliation post-conflict.


All NGOs operating in developing countries needs improved IT infrastructure and Internet access to share/exchange information

  • remote support
  • small local infrastructure, services
  • ASP located in Italy
  • training and education to local staff
  • remote coordination and technological supervision

Opensource technology use is one most important thing in technological improvement of solutions in these contexts. Specifically, the project provide:

  • Approximately 30 PC client with these features:
    • IBM Netvista P4 1700 – 256 Mb Ram – 20Gb HD
    • Software:
      • Operating System Ubuntu 9.04 (it is thinking upgrading to Ubuntu 9.10)
      • Suite Openoffice
      • Mozilla Firefox
      • Mozilla Thunderbird
      • Skype
  • network server Ubuntu server 9.10 based


  • Can you give us a few examples of what you have done? Maybe you have some pictures you can share?
    • This will be possible soon, after next mission in Gulu due in late March.
  • Did you also use other linux distros?
    • Yes, the devil-linux distribution on a gateway/firewall/proxy system, that allows the use of a PC without HD.
  • Did you also use proprietary software?
    • Yes, especially software for the NGO management (accounting software, not easily available in opensource scope).
  • What do you suggest should be done in Ubuntu to better match your needs?
    • Currently just to continue so!
  • What would you like to see improved in Ubuntu resources like documentation?
    • Certainly documentation accessibility (eg. explicative videos) accessible even without a internet connection.


  • What is the biggest difficulty you encountered with Ubuntu?
    • Lack of support for some older devices (a very little problem) and performance improvements of graphic environment on PC with old graphic cards. There are also problems with users that used to have proprietary operating systems and platforms.
  • and what do you think is the best trick you learned along the way?
    • The easy “cloning” of workstations! Once prepared a master, it is easily to clone and use it on different PCs.
  • What would you suggest to our readers that are interested in an initiative like yours?
    • Starting with small projects (a single PC for a small association, a samba server ….)
  • How can interested readers help your organization?
    • Going to our website, registering as members and giving their own contribution, even small!

What would *you* put on a harddrive going out to Africa?

November 26, 2009 by

When I was in Kenya in July 2008 with Camara teaching people how to use Ubuntu Linux, I brought a hard drive mirror of apt with me. Over in Africa bandwidth is slow and expensive, I was able to use this apt mirror to install new software easily over in Kenya. I gave a talk at OSSBarCamp about Using Free Culture in an Internet Free World.

I’m doing it again. A friend of mine in Kenya asked for a new harddrive.  So what would you put on a harddrive going to Kenya?

I asked on the Ubuntu NGO mailing list, and got some great responses, from Ubuntu Screencasts, printer drivers, and wikipedia dumps. What else in the free culture world is there?

Qimo 4 kids – NGO Interview 5

November 18, 2009 by

After a short hiatus I’m back with the NGO interviews.  This time I spoke with Michael and Michelle Hall of Qimo 4 kids.

LC:  Can you tell me about your organisation?

MH: QuinnCo is a very small not for profit located in Central Florida.  In fact, it’s just the two of us, Michelle and I, operating out of our house and garage.  We take in second hand computers, fix them up if they aren’t working, then put Ubuntu or Qimo on them and give them out to kids and families in need.  We given out approx. 50 computers this year.

LC: What is the mission of your organisation?

MH: We believe that every child, regardless of physical, mental or financial abilities, deserves the same access to technology and education.  A child with a computer has a much better chance of success in school, and knowledge of computers is a requirement for almost any job these days. Our mission is to provide a computer for those children in our community who wouldn’t otherwise have access to one.

LC:  So what made you get involved in this?

MH : When our son Quinn was 4, he was already showing an interest in our computers.  I had an old tower that I wasn’t using, so I installed Ubuntu on it for him along with some OSS games, and he took to it like a fish to water, teaching himself how to do things I never showed him. Because of that, I bought another computer from a yard sale, set it up the same way, and gave it to his daycare facility.  About 3 months later, I had one of the kids from his class run up to me out of the blue and thank me for their computer.  Talking about it to Michelle that night, she convinced me that we should start up a charity to do this on a larger scale, and QuinnCo was born.

LC : Can you give us a few examples of what you have done? Have some pictures you can share? (Dholbach likes pictures )

MH: We recently held a community build day, where we had members of the Ubuntu Florida LoCo and several local LUGs come out to a local children’s home to help fix up our backlog of broken computers.  We had as many kids there as adults, learning how to fix up computers and installing Ubuntu and Qimo on them.  Pictures of the event can be found on our website:



LC: Perhaps you can explain to use the issues you’ve come up against?

MH : Our initial problem was two-fold.  First we needed an operating system that was easy for very young kids, most of whom would not be reading yet, to navigate and learn to use on their own.  There were educational distros like Edubuntu already available, but their interfaces required navigating menus, and being able to read.

Second, all of our donated computers at that point were Pentium 3’s or older, with less than 256 MB of memory.  We needed an operating system that would be responsive enough on this older hardware, so that the kids wouldn’t get impatient waiting on their games to load.

Xubuntu met the second half of our needs, it ran quite well on the hardware that we had.  But we still needed an easy to use interface.  Luckily, being open source meant
that I could change that.  So I took an Xubuntu LiveCD, and following instructions on the Ubuntu Wiki, created Qimo:

LC: What are the challenges you’ve faced within this project?

MH: Our biggest task has been managing inventory.  We get lots of computers in, most are missing parts of have bad parts.  We also get a lot of boxes of parts.  We need a good way of tracking what equipment we have.  However, most of those kinds of applications are implemented as web-based server solutions.  Well we’re not that big, we don’t have an internal server for these purposes, so to use them we would have to install and run a webserver on one of our laptops.  For organizations as small as ours, desktop solutions are easier to get setup and use.

LC:  What kind of solution did you come up with to make this all happen?

MH: Aside from donated computers, we use Ubuntu Server to host our websites http://www.quinncoincorporated and I use Ubuntu on my personal laptop, which is the one I used to make Qimo, and Michelle has it on her netbook.  We use them when giving presentations on QuinnCo and Qimo, but for the most part they are for personal use.

LC: Do you use any proprietary software now ?

MH: We were given a tablet PC, which is running Windows XP.  It is very useful for taking hand-written notes while away from home.  It was heavily used to track
things during our children’s home build day.  I don’t know of any good tablet note-taking applications for Linux, so I haven’t tried installing it on there.

LC: What would you like to see improved in Ubuntu resources like documentation?

MH: We desperately need some good new-user documentation we can give out with our donations.  I have been including the PDF version of the Ubuntu Pocket Guide, but an intro/tour type documentation would help us.

LC: So what is your experience of this good or bad , have you picked up any nice tips?

MH: Explaining to the people we’re donating computers too that they don’t have Windows on them. How to create a custom distro!

LC: What would you suggest to our readers that are interested in an initiative like yours?

MH: Just do it.  There is no barrier to entry, you probably have or know somebody who has an old computer that isn’t being used.  You probably also know a family, school or daycare that can’t afford to buy computers.  It takes literally an hour of your time, at most, and will have a life-long impact on those you donate too.

LC: How can interested readers help your organisation?

MH: If you’re in central Florida, send us an email and we’ll let you know when we are holding build events.  If you have Pentium 4 or newer computers, we will arrange to pick them up from you.

If you’re not in central Florida, visit and find one that is near you.  If there isn’t one near you, then get one started! Again, the barrier to entry is non-existant.

LC: Finally, any good or funny stories, best lessons that you would like to tell to the world.

MH: Don’t worry about starting small.  As soon as people hear about what you are doing, they will want to help.  We went from having 3 computers to having almost 30 in about 2 week’s time.  We put out a call for volunteers to help us fix them, and our last event had 75 people come out.  Start with a single
computer, and go from there.

Thank you for taking part, it’s been very interesting!

Belize Botanic Gardens – NGO Interview

November 11, 2009 by

I’m enjoying these interviews, and I hope folks are too.  There is some great feedback with these interviews and already we have had an organisation mail us asking for advice, suggestions and help to move to an Open Source environment. Which is in fact GREAT!  Other news is that people are trying to help with the issues raised to work out where they can help, and offer solutions.

This interview is with Brett Adams from the Belize Botanic Gardens.

Native Orchid House
Native Orchid House

Czajkowski, Brett can you tell me a little about the Botanic Garden?

Belize Botanic Gardens is an organization based just outside of San Ignacio, Belize. The missions of Belize Botanic Gardens is to protect the floral biodiversity of Belize by existing as an information resource for the community, government, industry and science and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy. The missions of Belize Botanic Gardens is to protect the floral biodiversity of Belize by existing as an information resource for the community, government, industry and science and to be a place of beauty for all visitors to enjoy. We are a 45-acre botanic garden with a small staff in a beautiful location.

Czajkowski, so how did you get involved in such a project? The area is very pretty.

I had a short computer programming career after finishing university in Texas.  After our company went out of business I was looking for something different to do. So I came to Belize to volunteer at the botanic gardens. After 8 years I am now the Foreman of the Gardens and am in charge of all the plant collections and gardens.for a month.

Czajkowski, so tell me about some of the work you’ve done there.

The land where the gardens now lie were purchased in 1993. At that time the land had been mostly bulldozered for a citrus plantation. Since then we have worked on improving our plant collections and displays to be as educational, attractive and useful to the greater botanical community as possible.  Specifically we have constructed a several ornamental displays including a Native Orchid House to show off our collection of native orchids and other plant from Belize,  amassed an impressive collection of native and exotic tropical plants, hold horticultural workshops in Belize and regularly provide educational tours to school children about the importance of plants and their conservation.

Specifically we have constructed a several ornamental displays including a Native Orchid House to show off our collection of native orchids and other plant from  Belize,  amassed an impressive collection of native and exotic tropical plants, hold horticultural workshops in Belize and regularly provide educational tours to school children about the importance of plants and their conservation. We work with the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin in Dublin quite a lot. In the middle of the house is a small thatched building that I organized and built.

Czajkowski so how do Open Source fit into this very green and pretty picture?

I developed a software application for managing plant collections called Bauble.  Bauble is now used by a couple other gardens around the world to manage their plant collections. Bauble is open source. After reviewing the existing software I decided to create Bauble. The existing software for managing plant collections was proprietary and very expensive. So Bauble makes it easier for smaller gardens and especially those in poorer countries to manage their plant collections effectively. It is an application for managing what plants you have in the garden, where they are, where they came from, their status (living, dead, etc) among other things. It helps you maintain the data about your collections like wild collections info and relationships between botanic concepts like families and genera.

Czajkowski so what other software do you use?

Although the other 7 desktops in the office use Windows, I use Ubuntu everyday. We also have a an Ubuntu server which uses Samba for the Windows clients to authenticate against and for a file server. Of course the usual culprits, OpenOffice, Gimp, Inkscape, Emacs.

Czajkowski, do you think the other 7 machines will switch over at some point to Ubuntu?

We share an office with the adjacent duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge( and they mostly require Window for accounting and payroll. Old habits die hard and with all of my other work with the gardens I don’t have the time to switch over and train people. If there was a good open source alternative to Quickbooks then I think there would be parades in the street.

Czajkowski, so have you any other issues with switching over fully?

The accounting is the main issues and payroll requires MS-Access. Hardware compatibility is always an issue as well. Particulary with printers. n Belize we don’t have the selection of computer accessories that other larger and more industrialized countries might have. Its also expensive to ship packages and import duties are high. This means that we are often stuck with a small selection of hardware we might need, particularly printers.  What would help us would be to improve hardware compatibility with as many devices as possible. We also seem to have fewer computer technicians and particularly those that are well trained in using, configuring and administrating Linux.

We are a small organization with very few resources so everything we do has be considered against the cost and benefits.  This often means that we get sub par or non-existent
Linux support.  Having a good web based administration tool would be great, especially one that made Samba administration easy and automated.  And of course to make the documentation as accessible and extensive as possible. good source of centralized documentation from all the disparate sources across the Internet and cross references would be helpful.

Czajkowski is there an Ubuntu community for you, do you use IRC/Forums/Mailing lists for help?

I don’t know anyone else in Belize that uses Linux at all. I use all the available resources I can find to troubleshoot. One of the main reasons I use Ubuntu is that there seems to be more people using Ubuntu than most other distros so you can almost always find answers to your questions in the forums, mailing lists, IRC, etc. Its very rare for me to encounter a problem that someone else hasn’t already written about somewhere.

Czajkowski how can Ubuntu better match your needs?

Like I said before, hardware compatibility, Window interoperability, web based admin, extensive cross-referenced docs…With those things I think Ubuntu would sell itself and convincing others to mover over would be alot easier. Well, getting Samba setup just right always requires a couple aspirin and a stiff drink. And the video regressions in 9.04 were a pain in the neck. Those are specific issues. I’m not in university anymore, I don’t have time to tinker. I just want things to work.

The only thing left would really be to have the ability to expect any printer to work without hassle.We go through quite a few printers around here. Other than that I think its feasible. Especially if we had a technician besides me that could do the work. We accept volunteers. We also have a wish list.

Thanks to Brett for taking time out to tell me about his really cool project. If anyone knows of a LoCo near him please let us know!

IntraHealth International – NNGO Interview series

November 11, 2009 by

The 3rd interview in the NGO series, was with Mark Hershberger (MH), Jeff Strope (JS) from IntraHealth International. I’m really learning a lot from these and someone asked me the point in them. Well, a lot of NGOs are using Open Source where they can and a lot are using it 85% of the time.  I’m trying to ascertain why not 100%, find the pitfalls of where oss lets them down and see if we the community can help them.

How I’ve gone about this is asking NGOs to take part and overall the reception to this has been great as they want to tell everyone about how great it is, and also where they are let down by.  In the end I’m going to use these interviews to go to other NGOs who don’t use oss and show them that they use it just as easily as their current choice without much effort and there is a community of friendly people to help them when they need it.

Students and staff gathered around one of the few working computers to upload field internship reports at L'Ecole d'Infirmiers de Gao. Photo by Danny de Vries in August 2007.
Students and staff gathered around one of the few working computers to upload field internship reports at L’Ecole d’Infirmiers de Gao. Photo by Danny de Vries in August 2007.

Czajkowski Can you tell us more about your organisation and how you use Ubuntu?

JS : IntraHealth International is a (mostly) US-government funded non-profit tasked with (mostly) promoting better health care systems in the developing world. Systems is used in a broader sense, not a technical one. We work with governments and regional leadership to ensure an adequate number of health care talent exists and that these individuals are well trained and equipped.

MH : We’re in the process of wrapping up the Capacity 2 funding cycle (yesterday was the End Of Project thing at the World Bank) and beginning on the country-specific AAs (Associate Awards — follow-ons for Capacity). There should be additional funding soon… but all that is kinda sketchy atm. But most of our work right now is around health care capacity in developing nations. Training and tracking providers. Our Mission statement is here . But one thing we do is the iHRIS Suite. Which I can go into more detail on. Jeff  will be able to tell you how we use Ubuntu internally. But when we deploy our open-source iHRIS Suite, we tend to use and develop on ubuntu. iHRIS is an open source human resources for health application that Mark and his colleagues developed. It is now in use in many regions in the world.

Big problem in developing countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, etc, where we’ve been working, is that health care providers (doctors, nurses) are out there, but no one really knows where they are or all the information is in paper files literally kept in containers. Not the easiest thing to look through when you have an Hep G outbreak. What iHRIS does is gives the Ministry of Health or Nursing Council a way to keep track of all that information by putting it in a digital format. (Actually, while Internet is spotty, there is electricity and thus, computers, at the health care centers. )

“no one wanted to touch them they were so dirty” so, of course, first you have the problem that it is paper and hard to get to, then it is dirty and no one wants to touch it. Just digitalizing the records would be a boon, but Uganda is now rolling out iHRIS to each of its districts and we’ll hopefully be working with them to integrate it with OpenMRS, running on Ubuntu where possible.

Rita next to files in Uganda
Rita next to files in Uganda

Czajkowski can you perhaps tell me some more about the challenges you come up against?

MH : Challenge: finding people in-country to support the software. We have one really really great guy in Uganda (and others in Kenya, etc) who is really interested in OSS, but he says most of his peers are MS focused. and we’re trying to work with Unis in-country to develop educational programs (see Intrahealth Open here was a really good story in the Linux Journal maybe 10 years back that talked about training people in-country to use accounting software he realized that the software would be no good if no one could maintain it or the computers… so he backed up and taught them dbl entry book-keeping.

But I think the biggest problem is finding people on the ground who are willing/able to even learn to maintain the software…. (as far as software use goes) and getting the right people trained on using these methods (not all of which means the software). We have workshops, but the first few of those have been attended mostly by managers and not the people who would actually be doing the work. Hopefully that changes.

JS: Trying to apply Western technologies into the developing world is probably the largest challenge, generally speaking. That and getting Western people to think in terms of the technologies that do exist in the developing world. We recently had meetings with a number of sister NGOs that have similar missions and financial tracking was the #1 issue for all of them.

Czajkowsk So what made you start this?

MH: Then USAID first started saying “we want to build capacity” and they were looking around for some HRIS software intrah started talking to consultancies to get a price for it the consultancy said something like $500k for the initial development + $100k/country/year after that  which, when you’re talking to developing countries… is just ridiculous.So they had a developer at the time, Luke Duncan, and he and Dykki started working on the first version of the software think that was for Rwanda and Kenya saw it and re-implemented in Java .

Czajkowski what made you chose Ubuntu/OSS ?

I think it was just because back in 2005 or so that was what Luke was using. That Canonical was behind it and pushing its LTS helped. so, time goes by… by the time they’re working on version 3, I come along and Carl L. comes along. Carl really pushed the software forward made a really complete framework. (I was mostly working on other OSS  projects) the MoH in Uganda uses Suse on their servers (maybe even the iHRIS ones) because they bought it pre-installed, but mostly we’re talking about Ubuntu. (When I went to Rwanda, I took a USB HD with a mirror of the Ubuntu repo on it so that made it easier)

Czajkowski Do you use any proprietary software?

JS: We’re still a primarily Windows shop. We have 500-ish Windows workstations + an AD/Exchange environment.

MH: There is a small component inside iHRIS that isn’t strictly open source, but that is replacable — and I hope to replace it 😉

Czajkowski you say 500 are Microsoft Workstations, that’s a lot, how many are running Ubuntu so ?

JS: A dozen or so. Servers are probably 50/50 ms/linux.

MH: While we tried to get internal HR to use iHRIS, we’ve run into an HR problem. Hard to get them to want to eat their own dog food enough to pay for additional devs….

Czajkowski do you see that as an obstacle, your own people not using OSS , how do you expect others to?

JS: We do use OSS and I don’t think we “expect” others to use it either. We expect (or hope) people to use the most appropriate tool for the job.

MH: The concept of OSS is good, people get it, but its hard when they already have MS installed and are used to it. Hard when most people aren’t technical and don’t get all the “political” arguments for OSS. Remember 500 PCs … most of which are used by people with medical, not technical, backgrounds  unless I’m wrong about the backgrounds, jstrope?)

JS: Not wrong at all. Few of the people here are technical.

MH: Other projects, like OpenMRS, have similar problems. OpenMRS depends on MS’s proprietary form software. Users at one site in Uganda said “we could run everything on Ubuntu and save lots on MS licenses if it weren’t for that requirement in OpenMRS”

Czajkowski what can Ubuntu do to help you?

JS: Laura — you hit the nail on the head there about training. Why would IntraHealth want to save $50,000 on licensing when it would cost us $1,000,000 in retraining to do so? That’s really why Ubuntu should focus less on desktop and more on web-based services. That’s how Microsoft is going to lose its grip. Because my MS users here might not be comfortable in a Gnome desktop, but they are (for the most part) very comfortable in a browser. It would be very, very nice to see better AD integration. AD stinks, but it’s not going anywhere. Focus on smoothing out the server and that will really help desktop adoption

MH: I would like to know what is needed to get some things into Ubuntu proper. what do I need to do to contribute things I’ve packaged? Debian Med is a micro-distro, for example, focused on Medical stuff that I’ve thought about and may still contribute my iHRIS packages to. Is there a possibility of something similar for Ubuntu? (would they be interested in the packages)  JS is working on some Asterisk stuff… getting that easier to deploy on the server side would be good.

I see Canonical/Ubuntu very focused on the desktop and doing great things there, but the server side could use the same attention. Many things (e.g. AD integration, Apache single-sign-on) could be really, really simplified. And the AD stuff could really, really easily be automated and packaged w/o relying on any proprietary stuff. Make it simple to join a domain, etc. Make it possible, on the server side, to set up SMB and LDAP and Kerberos to work with or replace AD. I think this is possible now, but takes a lot of fiddling. make it fiddle-free.  Did I mention I’d like to see a lot more love for the server side? I mean, it helps if the people we train in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, etc don’t have to deal with so much… Debian has done a lot of good there, but Ubuntu could take it so much farther.

So I’d like to thank once again Mark and Jeff for taking part in the evening of interviews. I’m learning a lot during these meetings, and also being able to share with you and others in the community aspects in which I hope we can address, already I’ve passed on some of the server comments to people so lets hope we can help them in some way.

Milieudefensie Friends of the Earth Netherlands – NGO Interview

November 11, 2009 by

Following on from the last blog post with interviewing NGOs, the next interview is with Milieudefensie Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Jan Stedehhouder and I spoke with Paul Roeland regarding his work with Milieudefensie as an NGO who uses Open Source in an every day working environment.

Czajkowski so the mission behind your organisation?

Paul Roeland

Our mission is to improve the environment and create a sustainable future. We aim to do that by involving as many people as we can, as we believe people are our most important ally. Milieudefensie is part of an international network called Friends of the Earth. Within that network, we place great value on empowering people in the so-called ‘third world’ and bridging gaps in knowledge and power the issue of using Open source was actually first brought up in the international network. The sister organisations in for instance Latin America are quite aware of the importance of OS of course, it was also important for us that we could save a lot of money. Money that is brought in by our members, and that we rather spend on actions than on software licenses  it’s always difficult to give an exact number. We do know that for the last 6 years, we have every year decreased the IT budget. We’ve estimated that we have saved about 30-50.000 a year, but please don’t pin us on the exact number. Perhaps a more useful metric: we also manage to serve 150 users with a 3-people IT department, whereas before we needed 4 people to service 50 people.

Jan Stedehouder “  Looking forward to an update on the open source strategy of Milieudefensie. Two years ago Arjen Kamphuis explained something about  it and explained some issues with migrating to open source across the board”

We decided a couple of years ago (about five) to work as much as possible with Open Source for multiple reasons: security, costs, but also ideological it would be a balance between open source desktops and web based applications, some of which proprietary. in principle we wanted a completely open desktop, but it would have to remain workable and (certainly at that time) there were no open source options for some of our most crucial applications: finances, bookkeeping, donor/customer relations.

One of the bottle-necks was the financial administration and the time frame in which it needed to be implemented there are several problems with financial software: it’s not as ’sexy’ for geeks to develop :-) There are  dependant on a lot of external factors: banks, accountants and of course it has to work perfectly. We can survive a few days of non-working website, but we can’t afford to not be able to access our bank accounts for about 80-90 % of our staff, we have already transferred them onto Ubuntu desktops.

Jan Stedehouder “  If I remember correctly there were some ideas about approaching the government with various other non-profit organizations in order to tailor made open source ERP software for the Dutch situation, that’s a lot already. Perhaps, you can explain which staff members/functions migrated first and so on? “

Yes, that was the plan. But it proved to be difficult to get all the non-profits in line.  Some of them had just invested large (and I mean LARGE) amounts of money in a new proprietary system, and first need to earn that money back, so to speak. So it’s a huge lock in vendor. We started (after the IT department) with a few departments doing mostly communications and research. “Knowledge workers”, so to speak.

Some, back ground into the Milieudefensie Friends of the Earth Netherlands,  the first people were our campaigners. They mainly rely on email, web and wordprocessing to get their job done, so that was relatively easy. A big help was also that we implemented a very good open source CMS for our website (Plone). That meant that they could update the website from their browser, eliminating Adobe/Macromedia software. The Plone site started 4 years ago, and a few months later we migrated the first 20 people.  here were some hiccups then, but these people were volunteers,and knew there would be some rough edges. At that time, about 110 people working on this.

Jan Stedehouder ” How would characterize the volunteer group? Why did they volunteer?”

They were mainly the younger people, who had some computer experience. And some of them had been exposed to open-source activists :-) at the time, there was an active group in Amsterdam called “ASCII”. They ran a volunteer-run internet cafe.

Jan Stedehouder “Can you tell a bit more about the experiences, good and bad, of this first group and how did it influence the migration of the second group?

We did have regular surveys to ask the first group about their experiences all in all, as we also expected, they had no problem at all using browsers and email. In fact, they loved that part, since it was much more stable than the previous Microsoft programs. There were issues using Openoffice. Word Processing was not the main problem. Of course, sometimes there were cases where interoperability was difficult but not much worse than between different versions of Word. The main problem is spreadsheets.

Some people have amazingly complex spreadsheets, and they do not work. Not all functions are compatible and Calc is definitely weaker in the area of PivotTables (or DataPilot, as Calc calls it). Some of the more complicated spreadsheets are now re-implemented as Intranet solutions. The data is in Postgres or MySQL  and we have started using Pentaho to do complex reports although it still doesn’t create as pretty graphs as Excel does. That is actually the only thing Microsoft Office is good at. Excel is the only good program in the whole suite. It makes it very easy for end-users to make pretty graphs well, actually, yes they are. Sometimes we have rather dry measurements on air pollution. But project those on a map, and suddenly it all makes sense.

We’ve resorted also to use Google Maps now. Not exactly open source, to say the least, but it works…. The reason for not using Open Street maps  is again, prettiness is an issue if you want to present it to the general public…

We did learn some stuff from the first group that were valuable:  make sure that fonts, templates, logo’s and the like are available as Openoffice templates  always make sure that there are different people in your pilot group we first made the mistake of assuming that people only do simple stuff in Office) never underestimate the amazing things that secretaries do,creating mail merge letters and such stuff that we geeks never do.

Jan Stedehouder “How long before the pilot group was expanded?”

About six to nine months. We took some time out to actually watch over people’s shoulders to see what they do in Office, and how they do it (or failed to do it) in Openoffice. Some of the issues were easy to solve once we did that for instance, train people to use style-sheets instead of manually formatting stuff  but also we made detailed bug reports to the Openoffice site, saying how their mail merge wizard used impossibly geeky language. The OS is actually secondary, once you put the menu bar on the bottom instead of the top :-)

We did want to stress the fact that we were using something different we used the “Max Havelaar” analogy.  Saying that Milieudefensie, being what we are, wouldn’t tolerate anything but Fairtrade coffee in our cantina so why should we put up with anything else on our desktops? People seemed to get that point quite easily.

Czajkowski Can I ask what made you chose Ubuntu as your choice for this project?

Well, we started out before using Debian on our servers so it was a logical step from that we did tests to determine if we would use Gnome or KDE and KDE lost, big time, I’m afraid to say. It was just way too configurable. Too many options  the servers are still using Debian. We probably also won’t change that anytime soon the reason is that it’s much easier (still) to find documentation, how to’s etc on using Debian.

Czajkowski How do you find the documentation for ubuntu? language/use ?

For desktops, Ubuntu is way superior in terms of finding help the ubuntu documentation, forums, mailing lists are great, and friendly for servers, the requirements are a bit different. Stability is key.

Jan Stedehouder  I’d like to go back to the desktop. You started with a pilot of 20, and now you have 90 desktops. How did it scale? What new issues came up?

it scaled quite well. We are using a centralized setup. All users are in LDAP, and we use remote-mounted home-dirs so that people can login on any computer in the building. Some issues came up as new Ubuntu releases came out. All in all it took about 2 – 2.5 years. That was not so much a technical issue, but more a capacity problem we only switched a new department when we had time to assist them personally during the first few days and some departments took more time than others. It took us a while, for instance, to get Multimedia right we decided to be pragmatic, and also give out ‘tainted’ code like mp3, flash, Acrobat reader, mplayer, VLC not to forget Skype. Closed source, but it is used a lot to contact our sister organisations in Indonesia and other countries. I mean, you can ramble about Ogg Theora all you want, but if people can’t see our own videos on youtube, they will rebel.

Czajkowski What kind of issues did you run into in ubuntu ?

We had big issues when Ubuntu switched to Pulseaudio  it does not handle this issue well and, for instance, now we are testing Karmic they switched the GDM greeter to something with a face-browser. Nice idea, but not with 120 users in LDAP, and especially not when you can’t easily configure it to not do this.

Jan Stedehouder Why don’t you stick with the LTS versions? That would save a few issues?

We are for the most part, but for instance Openoffice 3.x does bring substantial benefits  and back porting Firefox is also no fun even on the LTS, it does seem that Ubuntu sometimes forgetsthe ‘corporate’ or mass-deployment situation. We always have to recompile Openoffice to make sure it handles concurrent access correctly that is, when somebody else has a document open and you try to open it, you should get a notification on that, and be offered to open it read-only upstream openoffice does that correctly. But for some reason Ubuntu’s version presents you with a blank document or, depending on the version, with a rather cryptic error message.

Czajkowski Do/Did you also use other linux distros?

No, as a whole we’re very satisfied with Ubuntu as for software, we use pretty much standard Ubuntu. Some software that people really like:  Inkscape and Scribus. gthumb. It’s great for simple image manipulation, for which Gimp is complete overkill. VLC It consistently plays every multimedia format you throw at it. For calendaring, we use a nice server called Davical. It is a calendar server that works very well with the Lightning plugin for Thunderbird  it integrates with LDAP, so all our users are known.

Czajkowski What do you suggest should be done in Ubuntu to better match your needs?

The main thing is indeed to keep in mind the fact that Ubuntu is used in organisations with lots of users  so that tests are done to ensure that new sound-daemons also work when your home-directory is remotely mounted. And that maybe face-browser login screens are not smart with hundreds of users :-) The documentation is actually good. Although is a bit chaotic at time

Jan Stedehouder Am I correct to conclude that 10-15 desktop haven’t migrated yet?

The last Windows desktops are still used for the financial stuff  we are at this moment implementing OpenERP, but it will only go into production on January 1st, when the new fiscal year starts.  OpenERP is a client/server solution for business software. It can do bookkeeping, Human Resources, sales, CRM, you name it but it is NOT a simple solution. This is not it’s fault, it isa full-blown business suite and they are always complex we did investigate all solutions, including proprietary closed software. They cost at least 300.000 euro so we finally convinced management that it’s actually smarter to spend 100.000 on getting things translated/localized and GPL’ing that plus, some of the people writing OpenERP are from Luxembourg,and actually speak Dutch in addition to French. That makes communication a lot easier.

Czajkowski what piece of advice/trick have you best learned from this ?

Best trick: be careful about what hardware you buy. One example: we got brand new fancy colour copier-machines. Turned out they had network ports, and were fully Postscript compatible. All Linux users could print to them about 3 minutes after they were plugged in. The windows users had to wait for driver installs, and even then had problems…. Also, Ubuntu got so much better in energy preservation. We uselow-power machines (Fujitsu Q-series). They look basically like a Mac Mini. Completely silent and very small vey fall asleep during lunch break, and wake up within 5 seconds very impressive.

I’d like to thank Paul Roeland and Jan Stedehouder for this interview it was great to learn so much from them, and also get some feedback to show others.  It’s a bit long but there wasn’t anything I could really cut out !

An interview from a NGO Association Manager’s Perspective

November 11, 2009 by

So last May at UDS, the discussion of NGOs and use of OSS came up and I wanted to learn more. Did they use oss,?if so what did they use, their issues and how they have over come them? What benefits they see from using oss, and how others can follow suit? I’ve emailed a few NGOs and will be interviewing them and letting folks know how they are getting on. So the first one is from An Association Manager’s Perspective.

Q: What is the mission of your organisation?

How to start? we act as staff for several NGOs. I work for a for-profit company that does government relations and association management. We’re able to offer our services for less cost than their having a dedicated staff And a much wider range of services than a small staff could provide.  Our mission statement is here

Our main clients are: Maine Nurse Practitioner Association, Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals, and Maine County Commissioners Association. Each is at a different level of maturity and activity . The most interesting is probably the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals, having newly formed in the last few months

Q: What software do you use?

Primarily Quickbooks, MS Access, Thunderbird, Firefox, MS Word, MS Excel, OpenOffice

Q: How do you use OS or Ubuntu for your NGO ?

I’ve been using Ubuntu as my primary desktop for years. I also am in the process of moving our storage server over, plus maintain a small server at a Xen-based ISP . I keep a couple Windows instances running on another server using VirtualBox, though I want to move to KVM soon for that.

Q: What do you suggest should be done in Ubuntu to better match your needs?

There is a LOT that needs to be improved that would let me get rid of proprietary software. I mean, before I could get rid of it. The two most important applications here are Quickbooks and MS Access. Quickbooks is the most popular software in US for small business accounting.

Q: So ubuntu would need to be more compatible? or does it work at all ?

MS Access will work under Wine for the most part. Some very small weird glitches though — main problem is that the online help doesn’t work. Ubuntu/Debian now has good tools to get at MS Access data, I think the package is called mdbtools.  But it has nothing like MS Access itself in its repositories. There is Kexi — but without printed reports what good is it? There is ooBase too. Not very understandable at all. Doesn’t do what Access can. If they had gone with SqLite we would have had so many more options.

Q: How do you find the documentation? We will be working on these on Ubuntu Global jam day.

For the most part the wiki’s are adequate. My major gripe is that they are hard to search, and sometimes you find obsolete pages. They need a cleanup very much. Many of the topics that have received good attention are excellent, and the format is very readable.

I’ve found the online help in the distro itself to be very nice. But so many applications (perhaps they’re not in “main) just don’t have help installed along with the application. It’s a separate install or non-existent.

I do want you to know I am a fan! It’s just nice to be able to feedback these problems that’s kept me from full adoption!

Q: What is the biggest difficulty you encountered with Ubuntu? Would you say some of the help has not been easy? or overall you’ve found it relatively ok ?

It’s disorganized. But the community very much makes up for it — both on IRC and the forums. That is the primary reason for my choosing Ubuntu over all other distros.

The biggest difficulty is understanding the changes between versions. There’s a big lag between a new release and the documentation in the past. I haven’t upgraded recently though, so I don’t know if that’s still the case.

Q: What do you think is the best trick you learned along the way?

Best trick? pdftk, command line tool to bust apart pdfs, recombine them, add an overlay or background. It’s like my secret weapon here!

Q: What would you suggest to our readers that are interested in an initiative like yours?

My suggestion for your readers adopting Ubuntu is to get a separate computer to migrate to; don’t bother with dual-booting. Try the different flavors of Gnome

(default Ubuntu), Kubuntu, and Xubuntu. Once you’ve played with it, network it to your Windows computer and move your workload slowly over.

Q: Any other feedback or comments?

The Term NGO – In the US, the them “NGO” doesn’t get used much, if at all. I had to look it up when I saw dholbach’s blog post. You’ll get better response from USians if youuse the term “non-profit organization” (or organisation I mean)

Now my big topic: accounting software.  Quickbooks is the most-used accounting software in the US. It only runs on Windows, and not in Wine. It is the ultimate in vendor lock-in.

The export features won’t export everything that Quickbooks holds. The best you can do is custom-design reports with all the fields checked, and export them into Excel. But it won’t export all the relationships between items.  I’m not sure that Ubuntu/Canonical would be up to that challenge, though it’s a major roadblock to adoption in the US by businesses and NGO’s.

Q: How can interested readers help your organisation?

Well, we’re not looking for help — nonprofits are driven by membership. To get Ubuntu into nonprofits, you need to give them the tools to give the members accountability. Cut down on theclerical work by giving the staff good publishing tools, using their member databases and accounting software as leverage.

So it’s good to know we’re helping people out there, but there are still areas we need to help them in.  I’ll hopefully have a few more interviews done in the next week and will update the wiki when I get them all done.  But we’ve all the information on the group here, and you can find us on #ubuntu-ngo.

Ubuntu NGO : What is it we do again?

November 11, 2009 by

Aloha, we seem to have been a bit quiet here.  We’re a new group having formed last May in Barcelona at UDS, and trying to find our footing and what we should be doing.  Tonight we had our IRC meeting and one of the points raised was perhaps a slogan would explain what we do better.  A number of slogans were suggested but we thought we’d ask people what they thought.  In the past few months we’ve been working on some packages, CiviCRM and the NGO Interview series, (Interview 1 234 ) which haven’t gone away we just need more NGOs to interview.  We are also looking the issues NGOs face when they use open source or reasons they don’t fully 100% use it and how we can help.

The aim of the Ubuntu NGO team is to make it as easy as possible to make use of Ubuntu in charities, non-profits and NGOs and benefit from the best free  software has to offer.

The idea behind a slogan, would be a one sentence that sums up what the Ubuntu NGO team does so others understand it, as it is NGO means Non Governmental Organisation in some countries and Non profit elsewhere. Some of the slogan suggestions are below, but we’d like some help on choosing one, or perhaps you can suggest a better one.

  • Ubuntu NGO: Helping Integrate Freedom
  • Ubuntu NGO Team, helping others to help
  • Ubuntu NGO: Helping Your Charity Donations Go Towards What’s Really Needed
  • Ubuntu NGO: Taking Software Freedom From Theory To Practice
  • Ubuntu NGO: Taking Freedom From Theory To Practice
  • Ubuntu NGO: helping NGO’s to short digital breach

Thanks, and if you want to help out in any way, all the information is HERE