TheOpenCD project started with two articles on NewsForge in April
of this year. The idea was to make a compilation of mature open source
software (OSS) for windows users as an easy introduction to OSS.
The project was inspired by a question which is frequently asked in
Linux forums: "Given that we now have this fast, secure,
desktop-ready, free OS, why doesn't everyone switch?"
answer is complex, but includes elements like:
- It is a major hurdle for an intermediate user to scrap their entire OS
to try an unknown system, filled with strangely named applications like "grep."
- Most people do not care which OS they use, but rather what their programs can do,
and there is a perception that Linux apps are not as capable as those in Windows.
- Microsoft's OS bundling has been extremely successful encourages people to
regard their current OS as free (as in beer).
- Software piracy, while apparently depriving proprietary software makers of
profits, in fact simply serves to cement the commercial products as "the standard,"
by making home users familiar with these packages, and by locking everyone into
proprietary file formats.
These cover the largest and most commonly cited reasons. The first two of these points are
the most serious: the perception of Linux applications as difficult to use, hard to learn,
and inadequate to their tasks encourages people to continue buying (or pirating) Microsoft
products, not just Windows, but also Office.
TheOpenCD aims to attack the issue on these first two points, by providing end users
with access to a collection of Open Source programs that run under Windows, that compare
favorably to proprietary competitors, and are reasonably easy to use. By encouraging
people to adopt open programs in the comfortable familiarity of their existing OS, the
project hopes to persuade them that open source programs are just as good as the ones
they already use. Once they've seen how well it works in their current environment,
switching to a totally open environment later on will be easier.
To this end, the disc is aimed squarely at non-techies. The primary audience is expected
to consist mostly of people who use computers regularly for their work, but are not power
users. That said, the disc will probably appeal first to power users, who will hopefully
find it a useful vehicle by which to introduce OSS to their less computer-savvy friends.
As you might expect, the headline acts on the CD are OpenOffice.org, AbiWord and Beonex,
with other solid programs such as WinVNC, Audacity, and Celestia in supporting roles.
Many will doubtlessly be surprised and outraged at the exclusion of their
favorite program. (Dare we mention Mozilla, or The Gimp?) In each case, however,
there is a good reason for the exclusion. In the case of Mozilla, for example, the
mozilla.org developers contacted the project and specifically asked that Mozilla not
be included, because their binaries are provided for testing purposes only. As the
project lacked the technical resources necessary to customize Mozilla, it was not
included. The next version is likely to have a slightly different line-up, and the
program review process for this is
TheOpenCD features a CD browser application that allows for easy
browsing of the programs on the CD. It also includes a selection of
essays about Open Source philosophy, and links to other programs that
might be of interest.
A Community Effort
In addition to being an introduction to OSS for novice users, this project also has the
potential for being an introduction to open source community participation for intermediate
users. While most OSS project primarily have a need for developers, testers, and debuggers
(as do we), TheOpenCD also needs contributers to review candidate applications, write
supporting documentation where appropriate, assist novice users in the forums, and
finally spread the disc far and wide! However, this wide range of possible modes of
contributions to the project is a double edged sword, as soon became apparent.
Probably the most difficult part of the creation of the disc was selecting which programs
would be included. There are literally hundreds of Open Source projects that run under
Windows. A surge of interest followed the initial announcement of the project, and a
great many programs were named -- sometimes a single visitor could reel off as many as a
dozen different programs that ought to go on the disc. Having established a fairly
rigorous set of criteria, we set about evaluating the programs that had been named -- and
this is where the project got bogged down. There were too many programs, and too few
people reviewing them to see if they met the standards. As the review process dragged on,
people started losing interest, and the project nearly died of apathy.
Another problem the project suffered from was fragmentation of resources. At one point,
we had two mailing lists, and IRC channel, and a forum. The developers stuck mostly
to the mailing list, and the program reviewers mainly to the forum. As a result, the
few developers never had any idea what was going on with the program selection process,
and the program reviewers had no idea whether there would actually be a CD browser app
as planned. Eventually, all the developers got fed up and left.
The way forward has been to tighten frames of participation somewhat, as can be seen in
the program suggestion process. In order to quench the flow of spurious
program nominations, we now require that you do a full review for each program you want
to nominate: you can still nominate any program you wish, you just have to give us a
selection of detailed information about how well it meets our standards and why it's so
great. In this way, the effort of reviewing all those programs is spread evenly across
the community. We have also divested ourself of the mailing list, and communicate mainly using a
forum, with occasional emails on the side.
The project welcomes anyone who would like to participate. Program nominations for our
second edition are welcome; please refer to the
nomination guidelines. In addition, we need:
- Developers! Currently our CD browser app is written in Visual Basic 4. This
is a bug, not a feature, and we want to replace it in the next edition with something
else. We are especially interested in writing a XUL-based CD browser, for its ease of
customization to other non-English languages (which is planned).
- Mirrors! If you would like to host a mirror for TheOpenCD, please
email us or drop by our
forum. Currently the ISO is just under
300 MB, and could conceivably grow to a full 700 MB.
- Artists! We would love to be able to provide some printable CD labels and covers.
The CD is meant to be an evangelism tool; first impressions count, and a blank labelled
in felt-tip marker just doesn't make the same sort of impression as a clean, professional-
looking label. There is also a need for a range of clean and consistent artwork for the
next installer and web-pages.
To ensure that we now stay on track as the project matures towards the second edition, we would
encourage project participants to prepare installer code, artwork or documentation to some level of
minimum functionality (alpha) before submitting it to the wider community for discussion and testing.
In that way the discussions can center around actual viable contributions and not merely plans, of
which there are plenty :)
Finally, we hope of you will find this first edition of TheOpenCD useful and that many in the
community will join us in raising the second edition to new heights!