April 30, 2002

TheOpenCD project hopes to convert Windows users by giving them a taste of Free Software

- By Grant Gross -

After a strong response to his guest commentary on NewsForge/Linux.com, a Ph.D. student in astrophysics from Great Britain is launching TheOpenCD project, an effort to convert Windows users to Open Source software by passing out CDs with Windows versions of popular Free Software packages on them.
Henrik Nilsen Omma's story on his idea for a Free Software CD drew more than 40 comments, with many readers providing additional suggestions or offering to help. This weekend, Omma sent us notice of the launch of TheOpenCD project.

Omma, now joined by a handful of other volunteers, wants to burn copies of some of the best Open Source/Free Software programs onto CDs to give to Windows users, with a new CD released every three months or so. Among the programs Omma has targeted: AbiWord, OpenOffice, The Gimp and Mozilla. Since his original article was published on NewsForge/Linux.com just over a week ago, Omma says he's received close to 20 emails from people interested in helping with the project, and about 30 people have subscribed to a discussion forum at Opensourceware.net.

"I would say we are still some way off reaching critical mass, but then
we have not had very much exposure so far, and the idea itself is only
just over a week old," Omma says. "So, in short, we welcome more people, including developers with a central position in the community. We also look forward to
cooperating with the application project teams."

Omma's original idea for the project was to provide a convenient ISO image, so Open Source advocates could burn their own CDs to give to friends and schools. While he believes that's a good way to start, he thinks there may be a market for mass-produced CDs as well. "I think that the companies already specializing in this
sort of burning will fill this need, so there should be no need for a
centralized production at the moment," he says. "We can simply link to those companies. This saves us from having to deal with real-world logistics
and real-world expenses and incomes, and makes it easier to treat this
simply as a community project and not as a business."

On TheOpenCD site, Omma asks for help with graphics for an installer, Web design, ease-of-use testers and free legal advice, among other things. The highest priority depends on the early direction of the project, says Omma, who says he doesn't qualify as a hacker even though he's working on a numerical analysis and programs in FORTRAN 77 and 90 (!) and C++.

"If we decide that we need to write a waterproof installation shell from the ground up, then we will be in great need of developers capable of this," he says. "However, we can
hopefully find something to build on. We might even decide to do the
entire install shell in HTML, since it only needs to provide information
and then launch the applications' individual installers.

"In any case, we need people skilled in web design so that we can make a
high quality public portal which will be placed on theopencd.com and
further improve the development site. We also need testers to test the
applications for ease of use and installation."

Omma's first project goal is to have a first CD released early this summer. Project volunteers will first have to agree on the criteria for including applications, and "then make a nice way of presenting them on the CD and on the Web, which will
include some form of installation shell," Omma says.

Asked about his ultimate goal, Omma says it's more mass acceptance of Open Source software. "Many end users simply don't know that there are free quality alternatives. We also hope to stimulate further development of mass market quality software.
AbiWord, for example, is now in version 1, and does still lack some
features to compete with Word. We think that they would benefit from a
larger user base and attention for the work on their next versions."

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