Friday, July 14, 2017

How I put Linux in the enterprise

I recently wrote an article for OpenSource.com that tells the story about How I introduced my organization to Linux. Here's the short version:

I used to work in higher ed. In the late 1990s, we moved to a new student records system. We created an "add-on" web registration system, so students could register on-line—still a new idea in 1998. But when we finally went live, the load crushed the web servers. No one could register. We tried to fix it, but nothing worked.

Instead, we just shifted everything to Linux, and it worked! No code changes, just a different platform. That was our first time using Linux in the enterprise. When I left the university some seventeen years later, I think about two-thirds of our enterprise servers ran on Linux.

There's a lot going on behind the scenes here, so I encourage you to read the full article. The key takeaways aren't really the move to Linux. Instead, I use this as an example for how to deploy a big change in any environment: Solve a problem, don't stroke an ego. Change as little as possible. Be honest about the risks and benefits. And communicate broadly. These are the keys to success.

Friday, June 30, 2017

FreeDOS is 23 years old

I have been involved in open source software for a long time, since before anyone coined the term "open source." My first introduction to Free software was GNU Emacs on our campus Unix system, when I was an undergraduate. Then I discovered other Free software tools. Through that exposure, I decided to installed Linux on my home computer in 1993. But as great as LInux was at the time, with few applications like word processors and spreadsheets, Linux was still limited—great for writing programs and analysis tools for my physics labs, but not (yet) for writing class papers or playing games.

So my primary system at the time was still MS-DOS. I loved DOS, and had since the 1980s. While the MS-DOS command line was under-powered compared to Unix, I found it very flexible. I wrote my own utilities and tools to expand the MS-DOS command line experience. And of course, I had a bunch of DOS applications and games. I was a DOS "power user." For me, DOS was a great mix of function and features, so that's what I used most of the time.

And while Microsoft Windows was also a thing in the 1990s, if you remember Windows 3.1, you should know that Windows wasn't a great system. Windows was ugly and difficult to use. I preferred to work at the DOS command line, rather than clicking around the primitive graphical user interface offered by Windows.

With this perspective, I was a little distraught to learn in 1994, through Microsoft's interviews with tech magazines, that the next version of Windows would do away with MS-DOS. It seemed MS-DOS was dead. Microsoft wanted everyone to move to Windows. But I thought "If Windows 3.2 or 4.0 is anything like Windows 3.1, I want nothing to do with that."

So in early 1994, I had an idea. Let's create our own version of DOS! And that's what I did.

On June 29, 1994, I made a little announcement to the comp.os.msdos.apps discussion group on Usenet. My post read, in part:
Announcing the first effort to produce a PD-DOS.  I have written up a
"manifest" describing the goals of such a project and an outline of
the work, as well as a "task list" that shows exactly what needs to be
written.  I'll post those here, and let discussion follow.
That announcement of "PD-DOS" or "Public Domain DOS" later grew into the FreeDOS Project that you know today. And today, FreeDOS is now 23 years old!

All this month, we've asked people to share their FreeDOS stories about how they use FreeDOS. You can find them on the FreeDOS blog, including stories from longtime FreeDOS contributors and new users. In addition, we've highlighted several interesting moments in FreeDOS history, including a history of the FreeDOS logo, a timeline of all FreeDOS distributions, an evolution of the FreeDOS website, and more. You can read everything on our celebration page at our blog: Happy 23rd birthday to FreeDOS.

Since we've received so many "FreeDOS story" contributions, I plan to collect them into a free ebook, which we'll make available via the FreeDOS website. We are still collecting FreeDOS stories for the ebook! If you use FreeDOS, and would like to contribute to the ebook, send me your FreeDOS story by Tuesday, July 18.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Help us celebrate 23 years of FreeDOS

This year on June 29, FreeDOS will turn 23 years old. That's pretty good for a legacy 16-bit operating system like DOS. It's interesting to note that we have been doing FreeDOS for longer than MS-DOS was a thing. And we're still going!

There's nothing special about "23 years old" but I thought it would be a good idea to mark this year's anniversary by having people contribute stories about how they use FreeDOS. So over at the FreeDOS Blog, I've started a FreeDOS blog challenge.

If you use FreeDOS, I'm asking you to write a blog post about it. Maybe your story is about how you found FreeDOS. Or about how you use FreeDOS to run certain programs. Or maybe you want to tell a story about how you installed FreeDOS to recover data that was locked away in an old program. There are lots of ways you could write your FreeDOS story. Tell us about how you use FreeDOS!

Your story can be short, or it can be long. Make it as long or short as you need to talk about how you use FreeDOS.

Write your story, post it on your blog, and email me so I can find it. Or if you don't have a blog of your own, email your story to me and I'll put it up as a "guest post" on the FreeDOS Blog.

I'm planning to post a special blog item on June 29 to collect all of these great stories. So you need to write your story by June 28.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Please run for GNOME Board

Update: the election is over. Congratulations to the new Board members!
Are you a member of the GNOME Foundation? Please consider running for Board.

Serving on the Board is a great way to contribute to GNOME, and it doesn't take a lot of your time. The GNOME Board of Directors meets every week via a one-hour phone conference to discuss various topics about the GNOME Foundation and GNOME. In addition, individual Board members may volunteer to take on actions from meetings—usually to follow up with someone who asked the Board for action, such as a funding request.

At least two current Board members have decided not to run again this year. (I am one of them.) So if you want to run for the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors, this is an excellent opportunity!

If you are planning on running for the Board, please be aware that the Board meets 2 days before GUADEC begins to do a formal handoff, plan for the upcoming year, and meet with the Advisory Board. GUADEC 2017 is 28 July to 2 August in Manchester, UK. If elected, you should plan on attending meetings this year on 26 and 27 July in Manchester, UK.

To announce your candidacy, just send an email to foundation-announce that gives your name, your affiliation (who you work for), and a few sentences about your background and interest in serving on the Board.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Can't make GUADEC this year

This year, the GNOME Users And Developers European Conference (GUADEC) will be hosted in beautiful Manchester, UK between 28th July and 2nd August. Unfortunately, I can't make it. I missed last year, too. The timing is not great for me.

I work in local government, and just like last year, GUADEC falls during our budget time at the county. Our county budget is set every two years. That means during an "on" year, we make our budget proposals for the next two years. In the "off" year, we share a budget status.

I missed GUADEC last year because I was giving a budget status in our "off" year. And guess what? This year, department budget presentations again happen during GUADEC.

During GUADEC, I'll be making our county IT budget proposal. This is our one opportunity to share with the Board our budget priorities for the next two years, and to defend any budget adjustment. I can't miss this meeting.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

GNOME and Debian usability testing

Intrigeri emailed me to share that "During the Contribute your skills to Debian event that took place in Paris last week-end, we conducted a usability testing session" of GNOME 3.22 and Debian 9. They have posted their usability test results at Intrigeri's blog: "GNOME and Debian usability testing, May 2017." The results are very interesting and I encourage you to read them!

There's nothing like watching real people do real tasks with your software. You can learn a lot about how people interact with the software, what paths they take to accomplish goals, where they find the software easy to use, and where they get frustrated. Normally we do usability testing with scenario tasks, presented one at a time. But in this usability test, they asked testers to complete a series of "missions." Each "mission" was a set of two of more goals. For example:

Mission A.1 — Download and rename file in Nautilus

  1. Download a file from the web, a PDF document for example.
  2. Open the folder in which the file has been downloaded.
  3. Rename the dowloaded file to SUCCESS.pdf.
  4. Toggle the browser window to full screen.
  5. Open the file SUCCESS.pdf.
  6. Go back to the File manager.
  7. Close the file SUCCESS.pdf.

Mission A.2 — Manipulate folders in Nautilus

  1. Create a new folder named cats in your user directory.
  2. Create a new folder named to do in your user directory.
  3. Move the cats folder to the to do folder.
  4. Delete the cats folder.

These "missions" take the place of scenario tasks. My suggestion to the usability testing team would be to add a brief context that "sets the stage" for each "mission." In my experience, that helps testers get settled into the task. This may have been part of the introduction they used for the overall usability test, but generally I like to see a brief context for each scenario task.

The usability test results also includes a heat map, to help identify any problem areas. I've talked about the Heat Map Method before (see also “It’s about the user: Applying usability in open source software.” Jim Hall. Linux Journal, print, December 2013). The heat map shows your usability test results in a neat grid, coded by different colors that represent increasing difficulty:

  • Green if the tester didn't have any problems completing the task.
  • Yellow if the tester encountered a few problems, but generally it was pretty smooth.
  • Orange if the tester experienced some difficulty in completing the task.
  • Red if the tester had a really hard time with the task.
  • Black if the task was too difficult and the tester gave up.

The colors borrow from the familiar green-yellow-red color scheme used in traffic signals, and which most people can associate with easy-medium-hard. The colors also suggest greater levels of "heat," from green (easy) to red (very hard) and black (too hard).

To build a heat map, arrange your usability test scenario tasks in rows, and your testers in columns. This provides a colorful grid. You can look across rows and look for "hot" rows (lots of black, red and orange) and "cool" rows (lots of green, with some yellow). Focus on the hot rows; these are where testers struggled the most.


Intrigeri's heat map suggests some issues with B1 (install and remove a package), C2 (temporary files) and C3 (change default video player). There's some difficulty with A3 (create a bookmark in Nautilus) and C4 (add and remove world clocks), but these seem secondary. Certainly these are issues to address, but the results suggest to focus on B1, C2 and C3 first.

For more, including observations and discussion, go read Intrigeri's article.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Not running for Board this year

After some serious thinking, I've decided not to run for the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors for the 2017-18 session.

As the other directors are aware, I've over-committed myself. I think I did a good job keeping up with GNOME Board issues, but it was sometimes a real stretch. And due to some budget and planning items happening at work, I've been busier in 2017 than I planned. I've missed a few Board meetings due to meeting conflicts or other issues.

It's not fair to GNOME for me to continue to be on the Board if I'm going to be this busy. So I've decided to not run again this year, and let someone with more time to take my seat.

However, I do plan to continue as director for the rest of the 2016-17 session.