Tag Archives: software

I love FOSS software!

For more than seven years, I’ve been using FOSS software for all my office software needs:

  • I use LibreOffice and OpenOffice for all word-processing needs on my laptop, including opening and editing Microsoft Word documents sent to me by other, for creating slide show/presentation/stacks and editing Microsoft PowerPoint files sent to me by others, for all spreadsheets, simple databases)
  • I use Thunderbird, from Mozilla, for my on-my-computer email client and Roundcube for my webmail needs via my laptop.

Open source software allows users (including online volunteers!) to study, change, and improve the software at the code level, rights normally reserved for the copyright holder – usually, a large corporation. Free software usually refers to software that grants you the freedom to copy and re-use the software, rather than to the price of the software, and is often referred to as FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). But in this case, I’m talking about cost-free-for-the-user software: it doesn’t cost a user money to use it.

It bothers me when I see people in countries where I work or visit – Afghanistan, Ukraine, Egypt, etc. – using pirated Microsoft software rather than LibreOffice or OpenOffice. Or when I see nonprofits struggling with expenses and spending huge amounts of money on proprietary software from multi-billion dollar companies rather than FOSS software. FOSS proves again and again to be just as secure, stable, frequently-updated, feature-rich and reliable as proprietary software. FOSS products are powerful, constantly debugged and upgraded, and feature-rich. The support forums for them are as good as anything large software corporations provide.

Sure, there are the occasional file translation issues — sometimes the fonts don’t translate ideally between FOSS and Microsoft Powerpoint, for instance, or the bullets in a word-processing document sometimes goes wonky from one software to another — you know, the same problems that happen between different versions of the same software from large, well-known corporations.

As I’ve said before, you evaluate and choose free software the same way you choose fee-based software:

  • how long has the software been around?
  • how often is the software upgraded?
  • how much documentation for the software is provided?
  • is there an online forum where users freely post questions and offer support to each other?
  • look for reviews of the software (these are very easy to find online). Read many different reviews from many different sources, not just one or two, and not just the “official” review from the software’s manufacturer(s).
  • is the software talked about by users on the TechSoup forum?

Beware of unsolicited email offers or web page pop-ups for free software. These are often associated with malicious software, viruses, and scams.

As I’ve said before, what’s most important in being able to work in the modern office is not a certain number of years using a particular office software. Rather, it’s for you to understand all that office software should be able to do, such as in a document:

  • using fonts appropriately and changing them as necessary
  • setting tabs and margins
  • creating and editing tables
  • adding headers and footers, page numbers, etc.
  • adding and editing tables
  • adding graphics and integrating them into a page’s design
  • recording and showing, or hiding or accepting, edits by other people
  • creating an automatically-updated table of contents based on headings and subheadings within a document
  • creating mail merges for customized text
  • etc.

What’s MOST important is that you understand the capabilities of word processing software, spreadsheet software, presentation software, web page creation software, etc. – having that understanding means you will be able to learn to use future versions of the software or any software produced by a different company that is designed to do what you want done, whether it’s to create a document or a web page or a database, whatever. The most important software skill you can have is the ability to learn new functions on upgraded software or ability to learn new software quickly or ability to figure out new software/upgrades, because software changes. And changes and changes. It gets upgraded. The IT manager decides to use something different. A board member can get a special deal on something different. The head of the organization has a personal preference. Whatever.

In short, don’t marry software. Because your relationship won’t last a lifetime. It just won’t. And it WILL break your heart at some point. Date it – and enjoy it while it lasts!

For more information, see these previous blogs and other web pages, where I talk more about FOSS options, including about entire country governments that have converted to FOSS use, and more about software choices:

Tracking distributed volunteers (& their distributed managers)

In the last two months, I’ve gotten the same request from two different organizations. I know how I would advise them entirely on my own, but I wanted to open this up to crowdsourcing.

Each of these organizations is based on just one region (they aren’t national), but have different work sites across the city/county. These work sites are sometimes offices, sometimes a garden, sometimes a farmer’s market, sometimes an airplane hanger… diverse! Each is well-established and growing, attracting lots of volunteers, from very diverse demographics. Their work is exciting, and their work cultures feel dynamic and fun, so they don’t have problems recruiting, nor retaining, volunteers – people REALLY want to be associated with these orgs because of the nature of their work (which could not be more different).

Each has distributed managers of volunteers – people in charge of various programs at these organizations and that, in addition to their program work, also recruit and work with volunteers – and that’s been a BIG part of their success at working with and involving volunteers. Volunteers don’t feel like they are working with an HR manager – they are working with people in charge of programs central to the missions of these organizations (that’s not a slam against HR managers, FYI). But that blessing has become a challenge and a potential for problems: the official, overall manager of volunteers is supposed to track all of these different volunteers working in different programs, ensuring each is trained properly, supported properly, etc., and that volunteers contributions are being properly recognized and tracked. But it’s not happening. Those that are working directly with these volunteers hate bureaucracy, and each have their own way of tracking and supporting volunteers. There’s no central database of information – every attempt to do so as failed.

I think the very first step to take is for the overall manager of volunteers at each organization is to make it clear that the goal of her effort is to create an on-going strategy to implement policies and practice that will create a system where every volunteer involved is properly screened and tracked, but a system that DOESN’T add a huge layer of bureaucracy such that it kills the incredible success these organizations have had in recruiting and involving volunteers, and the current very positive feeling volunteers have. It has to be emphasized again and again that the goal is to better support volunteers, and to better protect clients, volunteers themselves and staff as a result of whatever system is development – not just to create burdensome procedures.

I also think each organization needs to get executive director buy-in for this goal and development of a strategy, that the directive to staff to explore and implement a strategy has to come from the ED, loud and clear and more than once. I think the executive director needs to communicate to all staff that a system is going to be put in place because, while volunteer recruitment and retainment are, indeed, wildly successful at both organizations, there are some very negative scenarios that could arise because of the lack of accurate volunteer tracking – and then name some of those scenarios.

Then I think the overall manager of volunteers has to sit down, face-to-face, with each person involving volunteers, talk to them directly, and create a map, literally or figuratively, of how different volunteers in different programs are currently recruited, tracked and supported.

And after all of the above is done, only then is it time to start developing the actual strategy, and that’s where I would love your crowdsourcing in particular:

— Having every volunteer meet with the overall manager of volunteers is unrealistic, IMO – Habitat for Humanity doesn’t do that, SOLVE here in Oregon, which recruits huge numbers of volunteers to clean up beaches and trails and parks, doesn’t do that, etc. Each of the organizations I’m working with needs to identify exactly what kind of volunteer can have minimal screening and tracking, and exactly what kind needs to be strictly screened and supervised, and everything in between – and this needs to be clearly communicated, in writing, and enforced – meaning there are consequences for managers that don’t do it. What do you think enforcement/consequences would look like? If you had to do this – how did you get buy-in?
(I know how to advise them re: what volunteers need what level of screening).

— Do any of you have similar scenarios regarding distributed management of volunteers, and therefore have a central database where every volunteer registers himself or herself? Do they register by an onsite computer? Their smartphone? What software do you use? Do volunteers also use the database to report their hours, or only to register as volunteers? How do you ensure all volunteers are in the database? (I have my own ideas regarding all this, but would really like to hear yours!)

— What other advice would you have for this organization to get all those working with volunteers to buy-in to a more formal system of tracking volunteers? and what other advice do you have regarding tools they can use?

I will compile all answers, including my own, and share them with the organizations – and via my web site or this blog.

Call for papers for FOSDEM: Free & Open Source Software Developers’ European Meeting

Call for papers for the Conference: FOSDEM 2015 Conference, which will be held in February 2015 in Brussels, Belgium
Paper deadline: 1 December 2014

FOSDEM is a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Developers’ European Meeting, a free and non-commercial two-day weekend event that offers open source contributors a place to meet, share ideas and collaborate. This year, there will be a design devroom at FOSDEM: a full day of talks around design work on free, libre and open source projects. The Open Source Design devroom will be Sunday, February 1st.

“We mean ‘design’ in the broadest sense, from user research, to interface and interaction design, typography, and usability testing – all in the context of open source projects, which we believe introduces unique challenges.”

It is quite likely that the talks in the Open Source Design devroom will be audio and video recorded. By submitting a proposal you consent to be recorded and agree to license the content of your talk under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.

Submissions should be for a 30-minute presentation, with 15 minutes for questions and discussion. All submissions are made in the Pentabarf event planning tool. When submitting your talk in Pentabarf, make sure to select the ‘Open source design devroom’ as the ‘Track’. If you already have a Pentabarf account from a previous year, please reuse it: create an account if, and only if, you don’t have one from a previous year. If you have any issues with Pentabarf, do not despair: contact belenbarrospena at gmail dot com

What to do with old/vintage software

I’m betting you have a shelf or drawer full of old software that won’t work on your computer – and hasn’t for YEARS. You’ve got disks, you’ve got books, but it’s all completely unusable, and has been a long time. What are your options for out-of-date software that will no longer work on any computer or device you have because of a change/upgrade in operating systems, other than throwing it away? And do user agreements mean you have to just throw it away?

First, let me say that this blog is not a legal document and I’m not offering you legal advice. I’m presenting you research I’ve done and what it means to me. If you are that worried about being sued by a company for reselling software, you should stop reading now – and destroy the software before throwing it away, period.

There is NOT ultimate legal agreement regarding reselling software. There’s not even agreement from software companies about reselling software. For instance, Adobe says “if you upgrade from Adobe Acrobat 6 to Acrobat 7, you cannot sell Acrobat 6 to someone else. If you purchase a new license, rather than upgrade your old software, you are permitted to transfer your old license. That is, as long as you did not purchase the original license with a volume licensing arrangement.” But in the case of Vernor v. Autodesk, the courts said that because Autodesk had said, explicitly, that old software had to be destroyed – that Vernor never owned it, merely licensed it – he was not allowed to resell it. One wonders if Vernor had thrown the software into the trash, and someone had retrieved it and starting using, rather than Vernor trying to sell it on eBay, if Autodesk could have sued Vernor for not truly destroying the software.

So, before you sell old software

  • Search for legal cases concerning that software on Google or Bing. If you see a case where the manufacturer of that software has sued a reseller, destroy the software and then throw the software away.
  • Make CERTAIN it is truly vintage, as in version you have is NOT available for purchase from the original software manufacturer, is no longer supported by the company, and is NOT available from BestBuy or other resellers; also, that it does not work with the current Mac or Windows operating systems.

Once you’ve met that benchmark:

  • Look to see if the version you have is being sold on eBay or Craigslist. If it is being sold by others, you will probably be safe doing it as well.
  • Put all the original disks and books together. Old software is of more use when the original documentation is available.
  • If there is detailed information online about this vintage software, such as on Wikipedia or a tribute page, link to it on any online information you post, and be detailed about what the software will work on – and what it will NOT work on – in terms of hardware and operating systems.
  • Try eBay and Craigslist for reselling.
  • I’m uncertain about using social media – I’d hate for you to attract attention for an over-zealous lawyer who doesn’t understand that what you are selling is no longer supported by the company and no longer works on modern hardware or operating systems.
  • If you want to donate the software, try Craigslist, your social media accounts, any freecycle-type online forum or group in your community, and clubs for vintage computers. Note if you are willing to mail the software and pay those postage costs yourself.
  • Take your items to a local swap meet and hope for the best.
  • Look for a working vintage computer that the software would work on, buy it and set it up in your house with your vintage software as a conversation piece/play thing.

This web page, EMS Old Software Exchange, says it buys and sells “the world’s largest selection of old/used/out-of-print software for the PC and other microcomputers.” But I can’t tell if it’s still in operation. And note that it has info on how to find out if your user agreement forbids you reselling a particular software tool.

Here’s the wikipedia entry for abandonware.

Also see my page on how I use my lime green clam shell iBook, bought in 2000. It also has advice on using these old Apple laptops that I’ve found from various sources online.

What’s your advice? And have you ever looked for older versions of software for a vintage computer?

global survey on volunteer management software

Last year, Rob Jackson (robjacksonconsulting.com) and Jayne Cravens (coyotecommunications.com) — ME — drafted and circulated a survey regarding software used to manage volunteer information. The purpose of the survey was to gather some basic data that might help organizations that involve volunteers to make better-informed decisions when choosing software, and to help software designers to understand the needs of those organizations. We also wanted to get a sense of what organizations were thinking about volunteer management software.

We promoted the survey every way we knew how – emailing our contacts directly, posting to various online discussion groups, posting repeatedly to our social networks, and asking others to share the survey with their readers and networks. Then we published the results of the survey here (in PDF); it includes an executive summary of our findings, as well as the complete responses to questions and our analysis of such.

Software companies and designers: you can learn a LOT from this report to improve your products and your communications with customers!

We learned how much managers of volunteers love spreadsheets, even those that have specialized software for managing volunteers.

We also learned a lot from this report that has nothing to do with software. In the survey, we asked a lot of questions that didn’t relate directly to software, like about how many volunteers these organizations managed, as well as what volunteers did. And the answers about what volunteers do at various organizations were surprising.

Rob and I did not have time to analyze all of the comments made in answer to some questions; for all questions, we listed the comments made, but we did not always offer any observations about such, or group the responses into categories. We welcome the efforts of other researchers to offer their own analysis of the data provided.

Managers of volunteers love spreadsheets

In a recent survey of nonprofits, NGOs, and other mission-based organizations regarding the online tools they use to support volunteers and track their information, Rob Jackson and I found that:

  • the most-used tool reported tool used by those surveyed to track and manage volunteers was spreadsheets – that could be Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice, GoogleDocs, or any other  spreadsheet program

The results of the survey are here (in PDF). Rob and I didn’t ask what these organizations were using spreadsheets for, specifically. I would guess:

  • to more easily produce graphs/charts with data generated with the volunteer management software
  • to more easily produce some kind of report (a list of volunteers that will attend an event on Sunday, with their full and last names, email and phone number)

It’s something that software designers need to consider: software needs to at least export selected data easily into a format that can be read by a spreadsheet.

Here’s a question I wished we’d ask on this survey:

What does software – whether on computers or your smart phone – allow you to do now regarding supporting and tracking volunteers, that is absolutely fabulous: how does it save your organization money, how does it help you be more responsive to volunteers, how does it free up your time to do other things (and what are those other things you do?), how does it help you show volunteer impact, and on and on.

So – why not answer that question now over on TechSoup?!

Be sure to say what software you use, whether it’s a specific volunteer management software or a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Docs, OpenOffice, whatever).

You have to register in order to be able to post to the TechSoup community, but registration is free, and it will allow you to

What’s so fabulous about software tools for volunteer management?

Last week, Rob Jackson and I published the results of a survey (in PDF) regarding software used by nonprofits, NGOs, charities, schools, government agencies and others to manage volunteer information. The purpose of the survey was to gather some basic data that might help organizations that involve volunteers to make better-informed decisions when choosing software, and to help software designers to understand the needs of those organizations.

Here’s a question I wished we’d ask on this survey:

What does software – whether on computers or your smart phone – allow you to do now regarding supporting and tracking volunteers, that is absolutely fabulous: how does it save your organization money, how does it help you be more responsive to volunteers, how does it free up your time to do other things (and what are those other things you do?), how does it help you show volunteer impact, and on and on.

So – why not answer that question now over on TechSoup?!

Be sure to say what software you use, whether it’s a specific volunteer management software or a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Docs, OpenOffice, whatever).

You have to register in order to be able to post to the TechSoup community, but registration is free, and it will allow you to

Results of survey re volunteer management software

At last! The results of the survey of volunteer management software launched by Rob Jackson (robjacksonconsulting.com) and Jayne Cravens (coyotecommunications.com) — ME — are compiled and ready for release!

In March and April 2012, Rob and I drafted and circulated a survey regarding software used to manage volunteer information. The purpose of the survey was to gather some basic data that might help organizations that involve volunteers to make better-informed decisions when choosing software, and to help software designers to understand the needs of those organizations. We also wanted to get a sense of what organizations were thinking about volunteer management software.

At long last, we’re publishing the results of the survey here (in PDF). It includes an executive summary of our findings, as well as the complete responses to questions and our analysis of such. Rob and I did not have time to analyze all of the comments made in answer to some questions; for all questions, we listed the comments made, but we did not always offer any observations about such, or group the responses into categories.

We welcome the efforts of other researchers to offer their own analysis of the data provided.

Software companies and designers: you can learn a LOT from this report to improve your products and your communications with customers!

Have a comment about the survey? Offer it below, or via UKVPMs.

Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey!

 

Nonprofits & volunteers – time to brag on Techsoup!

There are a LOT of opportunities right now on TechSoup for nonprofit employees and volunteers to share experiences and offer advice. Here are some recent questions and topics oh-so-ripe for your comment:

Nonprofit looking for Best Practices for Gathering Emails, other Info from New Donors.

Nonprofits, libraries, universities, others using Moodle? There’s someone looking for advice from you!

How does your nonprofit, library, other mission-based organization deal with “bad” tech etiquette?

What’s your experience with ICTs for rural economic development?

A small nonprofit maritime museum books sailing trips – & needs software advice for reservations

Are you a nonprofit or volunteer using Ubuntu Linux?

Nonprofit that collects veterinary medical supplies seeks inventory management software for Mac.

Firing a volunteer over insulting musings on Facebook re: a nonprofit or library?

Software for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment?

Nonprofits & libraries: are employees, #volunteers using Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, other cloud apps? Share!

Nonprofit with network question: Some entries in NPS logs are in Hex others in plain text. Help?

SMS Engagement for civil society, the humanitarian sector, nonprofits, government programs – your experience?

what’s most important about software experience

Back in the mid 1990s, when I found myself jobless and was temping, my agency sent me to fill in for an executive administrative assistant that was going on vacation for two weeks. I read over the job description, and it said I needed to know Microsoft Powerpoint. I looked at the recruiter and said, “Oh, I haven’t used this much. I’ve used Aldus Persuasion for slide show presentations.” She shook her head and said, “Same thing. You know that, you’ll do fine with PowerPoint.” I went to the job terrified they’d boot me as soon as they figured out that I didn’t know Powerpoint. But the recruiter was right: it was most important that I knew how to lay out a slide show presentation properly; I figured out PowerPoint in just a few minutes, and put together slide show presentations for two weeks per the company’s specifications.

I’ve taken one software class in my life: it was for a new version of Aldus Pagemaker (oh, how I loved Aldus products back in the 1990s!). The class was all about how you did things differently in this version versus the last version – but it didn’t teach me anything about design. And during that hour-long class, I realized I could have figured everything out about the upgrade on my own – a book about the upgrade would have been cheaper, and always there, ready for reference.

I bring this up because of a discussion on an online community where someone said they were from a nonprofit that didn’t have the money to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office, a very old version of which they used to train their clients regarding how to prepare résumés, write formal correspondence, create simple business documents, etc. I responded that a great alternative for this nonprofit was OpenOffice or LibreOffice, both of which are free, both of which provide very powerful word processing, slide show/presentation, spreadsheet and database software, both of which are frequently updated, etc. I use OpenOffice myself.

Other people thought that the advice was outrageous, that if this nonprofit were to use anything but Microsoft, it would handicap their clients. But I stand by my advice: what’s important is not to teach someone how to use Microsoft Word or Microsoft anything. What’s important is for people to understand all that office software can do, such as in a document:

  • using fonts appropriately
  • setting tabs and margins
  • creating and editing tables
  • adding headers and footers
  • recording and showing, or hiding or accepting, edits by other people
  • creating mail merges
  • etc.

What’s MOST important is that you understand the capabilities of word processing software, spreadsheet software, presentation software, web page creation software, etc. – having that understanding means you will be able to learn to use future versions of the software or most any software produced by a different company that is designed to do what you want done, whether it’s to create a document or a web page or a database, whatever.

I bring this up not only because of that online community debate, but also because I see so many job postings asking just for advanced experience with Excel – rather than asking for experience with creating calculations on spreadsheets or producing a variety of graphs using statistical data. Or someone asking for experience with such-and-such database instead of asking for experience creating fields or customized reports in a database.

Another software skill that is just as important: ability to learn new functions on upgraded software or ability to learn new software quickly or ability to figure out new software/upgrades, because software changes. And changes and changes. It gets upgraded. The IT manager decides to use something different. The price gets too high and some board member can get a special deal on something different.

Give me a nimble learner over someone with 10 years of experience with ANY one software package! Give me a person who understands the basics of document design who has used a typesetter and hot wax for the past 20 years over someone who knows how to use Microsoft PowerPoint to create really ugly slide show presentations!

Also see:

Embrace FOSS and Open Source