This will probably be my last posting on this non-blog blog-substitute page :-) The OSS Watch team is embarking on a bold new venture. Well, not so bold or new given that millions and millions of people already have blogs. But new for us. You will be able to find our blog here Perhaps more useful to most, however, is the url for the RSS feed which is You can see from those addresses that this blog is part of a JISC initiative. We are putting a possible new service to the test. If it all goes pear shaped, no doubt I'll revert to this non-blog. But I suspect it will be peachy. This is a WordPress blog, naturally open source, released under the GNU General Public License.

This is a blog for the whole OSS Watch team, so look for items there from myself, from StuartYeates (who also blogs about open source in Europe for EDUCAUSE ), James A J Wilson, and all the rest of the OSS Watch gang. I hope it will develop into something useful for all.

The OSS Watch wiki has changed. Overnight it transformed from MoinMoin version 1.3.4 to version 1.5.3, the latest stable release. On the surface the change should appear minimal - there is now a new GUI editing mode, there is an easily accessible RSS feed for the RecentChanges page (very useful for those of us that like to keep an eye on how things are changing in the wiki), the login/logout procedure is a little different and there are slight changes to the overall design. But if I wasn't telling you about it right now, you might not have noticed any of these changes.

Sometimes you want people to notice change. If you drop a million pounds on a new brand identity, you definitely want people to notice. If you are moving your college's email user accounts from one server cluster to a new SAN, you probably don't want them to notice. Or at least you don't want them to experience the change in a negative way. Their failure to notice is often the only positive affirmation you are going to receive that you've done your job right.

Change is a fact of life. Managing change is our continuous responsibility.

Over the next day or two you may (or may not) notice further changes to the content of the wiki as we update pages such as GettingStartedWithTheWiki and OSSWatchWikiFAQ. There may be other subtle changes as well. That's just us adapting to our new environment.

Finally, I want to thank my colleague Barry Cornelius who has managed the change process for OSS Watch. Indeed this was part of a wholesale upgrade to more than 15 separate MoinMoin wikis hosted or run by Oxford University Computing Services. As far as I know, the upgrade went just as smoothly for the rest of them as it did for us. At least I didn't notice anything. Did you?

Back in February and March of 2006 OSS Watch was out pestering ICT Directors in colleges and universities across the UK. You can well imagine that these are very busy men and women. Yet a surprising number of them took the time to complete our questionnaire. For that we are most grateful. The data has now been analysed and a lengthy report is published, along with a more easily digestible executive summary :) Both are available from

In such a study there are bound to be a large number of interesting facts emerging. What counts as interesting will vary from person to person. What leapt out at me initially was the marked contrast between practice and policy.

* 77% of colleges and universities report that they regularly explore open source options


* only 25% of institutions report mention of open source in their institutional policies

It's a curious phenomenon. But what does it mean?

It could mean that IT officers regularly ignore their institution's policy. Or it could mean that institutional policies are simply running a few years behind best practice. Or it could mean that open source just isn't the kind of phrase that shows up in ICT Strategies. That last one is interesting. My own institution, The University of Oxford recently published its draft ICT strategy. More than 60 pages long, but no mention of open source anywhere. But come to it, there is effectively no mention of software anywhere in it either. Now that really does set one thinking. Maybe ICT strategies are simply not the right place to find mention of open source. Maybe they are written at too high or abstract a level.

But if I can't expect to find open source mentioned in an ICT strategy, then just where would I find it in an institution's policy set?

Plenty to think about there. And this is merely one of the oodles of facts to be found in the report.

What is your preferred collaborative tool? Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols argues in this editorial over at that Wikis Are A Waste Of Time. His preferred collaborative tool? Email lists.

You really want to get work done with a group of people scattered from hither to yon? I recommend a mailing list running off the open-source Mailman MLM (mailing list manager).

Mailman is an excellent tool and I heartily agree with Steven's praise for it. For a public development project, almost nothing could be more important than an indexible history of its development. Email lists, and the public archives they produce, are the ideal ticket. But that is not what wikis do - so it is hardly an effective criticism to say that they don't do that.

A further complaint being made about wikis is that people simply don't want to change their work habits to take up this new method of working. Again, that is probably true. Attempting to change people's work habits is well-acknowledged as one of the more difficult management challenges.

But that is not a reason not to use wikis. Rather it is a reason to be sensible about change management.

Perhaps the lesson, if there is one, is not to think that some new tool will simply replace, one for one, some other tool. New tools do change the way we work. They create new possibilities as well as new challenges. Our task, if we choose to take up those tools, is to try and learn how best to realize those possibilities, and then decide whether or we wish to continue using them.

Whew! Thank heavens that's done.

That must be the most common response of organisers once a conference is finally over. Not the glowing satisfaction that you met all your objectives. Not the despair that comes from knowing that so many things could have been better. Just relief that the event is now behind you.

Fair enough. Conference organising and hosting is a huge challenge. Especially when what you'd really prefer to be doing is either making presentations yourself or mixing it up with the other presenters, fermenting discussion. Most organisers, I think, really want to have organised a conference, as opposed to organise a conference. Unfortunately this means they miss out on all the fun during the months of planning and effort prior to the event.

Yes, there are sleepless nights. What of it?

Sleepless nights remind you that what you are doing matters. It makes a difference to you whether you meet your goals or not.

Yes, there are endless details. What of it?

This is your opportunity to show that juggling five, six, seven balls at once is all in a day's work. And you are not alone. If you have a great team around you, as we do at OSS Watch, you know you can rely on others. Planning and organising a large conference gives every member of the team a chance to shine.

I'm delighted to say that planning Open Source and Sustainability was tremendous fun. I gained newfound respect for the resourcefulness of my team. And it really was a team effort. Indeed, a multi-faceted event like this can be the making of a team.

How did the actual event go? So far all the reports coming back from delegates are excellent. The visual evidence is also impressive

Are there things you would do different next time? Definitely! I've not yet been involved in the organisation of a perfect event, or at least not my perfect event. But then perhaps everyone's perfect conference would need to be organised specifically and solely for that single person.

Not very likely. Unless... :)

When OSS Watch was formed in 2003 there was little or no information available concerning the state of open source deployment at universities and colleges in the UK. Not even our funders, JISC, knew the potential demand for our service. First step, then, was to get some hard data. The OSS Watch Scoping Study 2003 was our response. Professor Paul David of Stanford University and the Oxford Internet Institute - and a helpful member of our advisory committee! - put us in touch we David Tannenbaum, a D.Phil. candidate in Economic and Social History at Oxford. David was just the kind of researcher we needed to get us thinking about question sets and methodologies. Plus he had the drive to see it through.

The 2003 study greatly helped us sharpen our focus. It also made a real contribution to ongoing research in this field (I think).

Prior to the OSS Watch study there had been a small study of higher education institutions conducted in Australia. Around the same time Rishab Ghosh of MERIT was conducting a huge survey of free and open source software developers around the world, the FLOSS survey. More recently Rishab and others have been looking at open source deployment in educational institutions in a number of non-EU countries. The FLOSSWorld project is certain to shed new light on the actual state of free and open source deployment.

OSS Watch's Survey 2006 is aimed specifically at IT Directors at colleges and universities throughout the UK. Learning from our 2003 survey and also benefitting from the research that has been conducted since, especially the FLOSSWorld survey, we believe we now have much improved question set. If we get sufficient participation, we should gain significant insights into levels of awareness and engagement with open source software. Our thanks this time goes to our researcher, Ellen Helsper from the London School of Economics.

I don't know what the outcome of this survey will be. But I do know that it will have a direct impact on OSS Watch. And that can be no bad thing.

Survival. This conference is about survival. Project survival. Business survival. Maybe instead of titling it Open Source and Sustainability I should have called it The Survival of the Fittest.

It really is a matter of survival. An open source project either survives or it dies. But what makes one project survive and another die? Sometimes the answer is obvious. Usually it is not. Even the smallest project has so many facets that finding the key code for success is as unlikely as finding the proverbial needle. And yet some projects do survive.

Why would individual project survival be of interest to senior IT decision-makers at universities and colleges?

Because engagement with open source means assessing a project's chances for survival.

Put the question in context. You may be thinking of spending 10 million pounds of your university's capital reserve on a proprietary IT system. Wouldn't you investigate the company you are about to do business with before you signed? In an age of multi-national corporations with apparently indestructible foundations, we sometimes forget this essential step. How does the saying go? Nobody ever got fired recommending X...

Investing the equivalent of 10 million pounds in resources in an open source deployment demands the same level of investigative rigour. Should your institution move to Moodle? Should it commit itself to Sakai? These are real open source projects. Real decisions need to be made about them. Learning how to evaluate their chances of survival could mean the survival of your university's senior decision-makers. Probably worth attending a 3-day conference in Oxford to learn more.

Open Source and Sustainability 10-12 April 2006 Oxford

I doubt that we are subject to wikimania here at OSS Watch. But we are proud of our wiki, especially when it gets featured in the national media. Steve Mathieson's article Public sector catches wikimania explores some issues around trust on the web the role wikis can play in a research environment. It's a good article, made somewhat better by the fact that they didn't print any of the photos they took of me :)

OSS Watch is not alone. Other countries also have national advisory services on free and open source software. Today our team had the good fortune to meet up with Pia Waugh of ASK-OSS. ASK-OSS is the Australian Service for Knowledge of Open Source Software (ASK-OSS). It provides a national focal point for advice, management, governance, storage and dissemination of open source software (OSS) for research and higher education. ASK-OSS provides unbiased, pragmatic guidance on: selection of appropriate OSS for research; choosing appropriate OSS licences; management/governance for OSS development; and storage and community development of OSS.

It was a delight to meet Pia, who is full of good ideas and the energy to bring them to fruition. Clearly OSS Watch and ASK-OSS share some common goals. How we can best work together to reach them remains unclear. But it's nice to know that we aren't alone.

Why would a national funding body - the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) - enact an open source software policy for JISC projects and services? It's a good question. Today, in a talk to my colleagues in the Research Technologies Service, I will attempt to root out the origins and context of the policy, go through the policy itself, and briefly consider three scenarios revealing ways in which projects, services and those bidding on a JISC invitation to tender might work with the policy.

Gosh, a talk about policy, you'll be thinking, I bet that's just riveting. Would I detect a tone of sarcasm there? It's true that policy isn't always the most exciting of subjects. But I would argue that is a good thing. Good policy shouldn't be exciting, it shouldn't be setting out to change the world, it shouldn't be radical. Good policy listens, it reflects, it consults, and then it moves to codify best practice. Indeed I argue just this point in the lastest issue of JISC Inform.

The JISC policy is readily available. As is my talk.

One thing I have learned managing a national advisory service like OSS Watch is that people tend to take what you publish very seriously. Almost worryingly so. I find direct quotes from OSS Watch briefing notes showing up in all sorts of places. Often these are used uncritically - if OSS Watch has said it, it must be true. No doubt it is my background in analytic philosophy that causes me not to accept anything as true without serious scrutiny and considered judgement - or maybe I'm just a cynic. Nevertheless there is clearly a need for OSS Watch's published material to be both (a) the best that it can be, and (b) constantly reviewed to ensure that (a) is true. That's why some time ago we introduced a six-monthly review of each and every briefing note on the OSS Watch website. It means that every month there is a set of documents that need reviewing, updating, editing or, concievably, archiving. Elena Blanco, our Content Editor, manages the process, assigning us our respective document(s) to review each month. The process is described briefly in the colophon for the website.

Today I was reviewing What is version control? Why is it important for due diligence? This was already a good document back when StuartYeates wrote it around this time last year. Today, I've tried to make it even better. It's not something we draw attention to on the OSS Watch website. It's just something we do. But I think it makes a difference.

There are a raft of potentially interesting articles in issue 10 of the Free Software Magazine. I've been catching up with FSM past issues recently. The articles are usually written to a high standard making them well worth a read.

Starting a non-Blog -- RandyMetcalfe 2006-01-16 14:44:06

The OSS Watch Wiki does not have the facility at present to support blogging. So, in place of a blog I thought I would simply edit this page. I will always add future entries at the top of the page, so that it will be easy to find my latest posts.

OSSWatchWiki: RandyMetcalfe/ThisIsNotaBlog (last edited 2013-04-15 13:56:16 by localhost)

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OSS Watch is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and is situated within the Research Technologies Service (RTS) of the University of Oxford.