Saturday, 26 November 2016

The elusive "Open Business"

Presented at the “Geo-enabling our communities” conference, hosted by the Australian/New Zealand Surveying & Spatial Sciences Institute, Canberra, Australia, 25 November 2016.

The Open Source story about creating Free Software sounds a bit like a fairy tale. 
Highly motivated developers, 
joyfully beaver away, 
in the middle of the night,
to create high quality software systems,
which they give away for free.
While this simplistic recount is mostly true, 
it glosses over the many subtle details required to create a successful Open Source project. 

Why do so many people give away so much of their time?
Why are these volunteers so effective?
Why does open source work?
Why has the business world found the open source formula so hard to replicate?

Surprisingly, many of the answers are found of our core morals and ethics.

The question of Open verses Proprietary actually breaks down into a series of sub questions.
  1. Should you use Free Software or Free Data?
  2. Should you design systems using Open Architectures and Open Standards?
  3. Does it make sense to contribute back to communities?
  4. Is there a business case to help lead community initiatives?
  5. And if so, should you help scale community and tap into the world’s collective intelligence?

This is a big topic and we have limited time, so I will focus on some of the key messages, mostly at the “use and implement” end of the continuum.

Lets start by asking why you might use Open Source GIS Software?
If you are starting from scratch, the answer is simple. 
There is a comprehensive stack of mature, widely used and widely supported Open Source Geospatial applications, all available for free.
This is a screenshot from the OSGeo-Live software distribution. 
OSGeo-Live includes 50 of the best geospatial Open Source applications, along with sample data, project overviews, and quickstarts for each application.
Lets look at a few of the more popular applications:

QGIS is a desktop GIS application similar to ArcGIS with comparable features, but it free.

OpenLayers is similar to Google Maps API, or ESRI’s Javascript APIs, also free.

Cesium provides a 3 dimensional globe of the earth, like Google Earth, but free.

GeoServer is a map rendering server, similar to ArcGIS Server.
It is the reference implementation for a number of the OGC standards, and is … free.

PostGIS adds spatial functionality to the Postgres database.
It is comparable in maturity, stability, performance and features to Oracle Spatial and Microsoft SQL Server, except it is … free.

For free data, you can use Open Street Map, and Open Route Map. This data is typically pretty good, and suitable for most use cases, but still not as consistent as datasets such as Google Maps.

Ok, so the software and data can be free, but there is more to applications than just the purchase price.
There is deployment, maintenance, training, support.
And who are you going to call at 2am in the morning if something goes wrong?

And that is where companies like Jirotech, EnterpriseDB and Redhat step in.
They backfill the capabilities of organisations deploying these free applications with enterprise level support and services.

So we have covered the first obvious question, 
“Does open source compete favourably feature-for-feature?” It does.
But we have just started. When considering an organisations’ technical roadmap, there are more reasons for selecting Open strategies.
Lets start by considering some of the characteristics of the digital age.

And the amount of software created is innovating at a similar rate.

Odds are that any software you own will be out-innovated within a year or two.
Your software is not an asset!
Your software is a liability!
It needs to be updated, maintained, and integrated with new systems.
It is technical debt, and you should try to own as little of it as possible.
You can achieve this by purchasing Proprietary Software, by using Software as a Service, or by leveraging Open Source.

Because software is so time consuming to create and so easy to copy, it is excessively prone to monopolies.
This holds true for both proprietary and open source products. A product that becomes a little better than its competitors will attracts users, developers and sponsors, which in turn allows that product to grow and improve quickly, allowing it to attract more users. This highly sensitive, positive feedback leads to successful software projects becoming category killers.
Where Open Source and Proprietary business models differ is how they respond to monopolies. 
Proprietary companies are incentivised to lock out competition and increase prices as much as the market will bear. 
However, the open source licenses are structured such that multiple companies can support the same open source product, so the market self corrects any tendencies toward price-fixing.

This leads us to Vendor Lock-In. 
Vendor Lock-In occurs when replacing a vendor’s product would significantly impacts your business.
It is a significant risk, as vendors then have excessive influence on price and your future technical design options.
There are two key strategies to mitigate against vendor lock-in.
  1. Is to use open source, as multiple vendors can all support the same codebase.
  2. Is to design modular architectures based on open standards. 

Using modular architectures:
  • reduces system complexity,
  • which reduces technical risk,
  • and facilitates sustained innovation.

It means you can improve one module, without impacting the rest of your system.
This helps with maintenance, innovation, and keeping up with latest technologies.

Committing to and sustaining a modular architectures requires continual vigilance and forward thinking, especially when acquiring new systems.
There will always be quick fixes and vendors offering more features if you are prepared to accept a level of lock-in.
You should be considering:
  • Long term maintenance,
  • Ability to integrate with other systems, 
  • Obsolescence,
  • And the cost of a future exit strategy. 

What I’ve described so far is practical, main stream advice.
Using open standards, open source and open data is now promoted in government policies and purchasing guidelines, and can be justified based on sound traditional economics.
But the Open Source culture is not based on traditional economics.

Open Source and Open Data communities are usually founded on gift cultures, and continue to retain the principles of the gift culture in their DNA. 
If you wish to successfully engage with these open communities, 
If you wish to have these communities adopt and maintain your codebase,
It helps to understand and respect these gift cultures.
And this starts by understanding our human desires to do things intrinsically good and valuable.

Which brings us to the topic of motivation. While traditional carrot and stick incentives improve motivation for boring, mechanical type tasks, research has shown it to be counter-productive for higher order thinking, such as creative software.
Dan Pink has collated this motivational research into a compelling book called Drive where
he describes how we humans are wired with deeper and more effective motivations. Namely: …

Autonomy, the desire to be self directed.

Mastery, the urge to get better at stuff.

And purpose, the desire to do something with meaning and importance.
So if we facilitate the collaboration of highly motivated people, with the interconnectedness of the internet, and provide them with creative tools, amazing things happen.

  • Wikipedia which has displaced Encyclopedia Britannica as the authoritative information source,
  • And Linux which is the dominant operating system in IT service centres,
  • And Open Street Map, which provides detailed maps of the entire world,
  • And the OSGeo-Live distribution of Open Source Geospatial Software, a project I’ve been involved in for close to 10 years and which has attracted hundreds of contributors.

So how does this translate to attracting and engaging communities?
Professor Charles Schweik tackled this question. He and his team studied thousands of Open Source projects to identify common characteristics of successful projects, and they came up with some interesting findings. Like:
  • Most successful open source projects are small, with just 1, 2 or 3 developers. This is surprising if your exposure to Open Source is through the media stories which almost exclusively reference large projects such as Linux or Android.
  • Also, most open source projects are abandoned. 5 out of 6 according to Charle's research. 

But this is not a weakness, the low success rate is actually a good thing.
Developers vote with their time, and only great projects survive.

Also, when your developers are also users, wanting to scratch an itch, they are the best qualified to decide what is best for a project.

And when your developers are motivated by Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, they will be motivated to spend extra time to “Get things right” rather than compromise on quality.

What Charlie's team found from their research was that successful projects usually possess:
  • A clearly defined vision,
  • Clear utility,
  • And leaders who lead by doing.
Then as projects move into a growth phase, successful projects tend to:
  • Attract an active community.
  • Provide fine scaled task granularity, making it easier for people to contribute.
  • And often benefit from attracting financial backing.
Lets expand on this. What attracts community?

Attracting volunteers involves helping maximise the unique, intrinsic value a person can contribute based on their limited time available.
Effectively maximise the usefulness and moral return on effort.

This starts with a clear and compelling vision, inspiring enough that others want to adopt the vision and work to make it happen.
This should be followed by a practical and believable commitment to deliver on the vision. Typically this is demonstrated by delivering a “Minimum Viable Product”. 

Then you need to be in need of help, preferably accepting small modular tasks with a low barrier to entry, and ideally something which each person is uniquely qualified to provide.
If anyone could fix a widget, then maybe someone else will do it. But if you are one of a few people with the skills to do the fixing, then your gift of fixing is so much more valuable, and there is a stronger moral obligation for you to step up.

As an example, I’ll reference the OSGeo-Live project I’ve been involved in.
Ten years ago, the Open Source Geospatial Foundation was a collection of Open Source applications, but lacked consistent marketing and was difficult for new users to navigate and understand. 
So we proposed to package all the applications on a DVD, ready to run, with sample datasets and consistent documentation. This was our vision.
We then created a minimal first version of the distribution, demonstrating our commitment
As some of us were on the organising committee of the next international geospatial Open Source Conference, we committed to hand out the DVD at the conference, creating a targeted marketing pipeline. This provided clear value for the developers we were recruiting. 
Then we provided simple guides on how to write installers and documentation and went to the open source developers saying:
“If you package your application and write documentation, like this…, then you can tap into a targeted marketing pipeline”. This made it easy for developers to provide discrete and uniquely valuable contributions. 
And it worked. We have attracted 100s of volunteers, to package 50+ projects, with documentation translated into over 10 languages, which is updated every 6 months.

Ok, so maybe you might be thinking that giving back to open communities might be noble, worthy, the right thing to do.
But there is no way you’d be able to justify it to management. You wouldn’t be the first to face this dilemma. We regularly help organisations answer various permutations to this question.
The answer typically references “Opportunity Management”.
Opportunity Management is the reverse of Risk Management. However, instead of identifying what could go wrong and putting strategies in place to prevent it, you identify things that could go right, then put strategies in place to help make it happen.
Help an open source community, and the number of users, developer and sponsors will grow, and you will indirectly reap the benefits.

So what have we covered?
  • Software is a liability.
  • Minimise your technical debt.
  • Design modular architectures with Open Standards. 
  • It reduces vendor lock-in.
  • There is a breadth of Open Source applications which are feature rich, mature and commercially supported.
  • And there is Open Data available to address many of your use cases.

To take things to the next level, to engage with Open Source communities and tap into their collective creativity, you should re-learn how gift cultures work.
The beautiful part to this is that it involves reconnecting with our inner morals and ethics, and doing the right thing.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

OSGeo-Live 10.0 Released

Version 10.0 of the OSGeo-Live GIS software collection has been released, ready for the FOSS4G conference in Bonn, Germany - the annual global event of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo).

Release Highlights 

Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
    OSGeo-Live has been upgraded to the latest Lubnutu 16.04 Long Term Support (LTS) release

    PyWPS now included
    32 applications updated to newer versions, including major updates of:

  • Mapnik from 2.3.0 to 3.0.11
  • GDAL from 1.11.3 to 2.1.0

About OSGeo-Live

OSGeo-Live is a self-contained bootable DVD, USB flash drive and Virtual Machine, pre-installed with robust open source geospatial software, which can be trialled without installing anything. It includes:

  • Over 50 quality geospatial Open Source applications installed and pre-configured
  • Free world maps and sample datasets
  • Project Overview and step-by-step Quickstart for each application
  • Lightning presentation of all applications, along with speaker's script
  • Translations to multiple languages


Download details:


Over 180 people have directly helped with OSGeo-Live packaging, documenting and translating, and thousands have been involved in building the packaged software.

Developers, packagers, documenters and translators include:

Activity Workshop, Alan Boudreault, Alex Mandel, Alexandre Dube, Amy Gao, Andrea Antonello, Angelos Tzotsos, Anton Patrushev, Antonio Santiago, Argyros Argyridis, Ariel Núñez, Astrid Emde, Balasubramaniam Natarajan, Barry Rowlingson, Benjamin Pross, Brian Hamlin, Bruno Binet, Bu Kun, Cameron Shorter, Dane Springmeyer, Daniel Kastl, Danilo Bretschneider, Dimitar Misev, Edgar Soldin, Eike Hinderk Jürrens, Eric Lemoine, Erika Pillu, Etienne Dube, Fabian Schindler, Fran Boon, Frank Gasdorf, Frank Warmerdam, François Prunayre, Friedjoff Trautwein, Gabriele Prestifilippo, Gavin Treadgold, Gerald Fenoy, Guillaume Pasero, Guy Griffiths, Hamish Bowman, Haruyuki Seki, Henry Addo, Hernan Olivera, Howard Butler, Ian Edwards, Ian Turton, Jackie Ng, Jan Drewnak, Jane Lewis, Javier Rodrigo, Jim Klassen, Jinsongdi Yu, Alan Beccati, Jody Garnett, Johan Van de Wauw, John Bryant, Jorge Sanz, José Vicente Higón, Judit Mays, Klokan Petr Pridal, Kristof Lange, Lance McKee, Larry Shaffer, Luca Delucchi, Mage Whopper, Marc-André Barbeau, Manuel Grizonnet, Margherita Di Leo, Mario Carrera, Mark Leslie, Markus Neteler, Massimo Di Stefano, Micha Silver, Michael Owonibi, Michaël Michaud, Mike Adair, Milan P. Antonovic, Nathaniel V. Kelso, Ned Horning, Nicolas Roelandt, Oliver Tonnhofer, Patric Hafner, Paul Meems, Pirmin Kalberer, Regina Obe, Ricardo Pinho, Roald de Wit, Roberto Antolin, Robin Lovelace, Ruth Schoenbuchner, Scott Penrose, Sergio Baños, Sergey Popov, Simon Cropper, Simon Pigot, Stefan A. Tzeggai, Stefan Hansen, Stefan Steiniger, Stephan Meissl, Steve Lime, Takayuki Nuimura, Thierry Badard, Thomas Gratier, Tom Kralidis, Trevor Wekel, Matthias Streulens, Victor Poughon, Zoltan Siki, Òscar Fonts, Raf Roset, Anna Muñoz, Cristhian Pin, Marc Torres, Assumpció Termens, Estela Llorente, Roger Veciana, Dominik Helle, Lars Lingner, Otto Dassau, Thomas Baschetti, Christos Iossifidis, Aikaterini Kapsampeli, Maria Vakalopoulou, Agustín Dí­ez, David Mateos, Javier Sánchez, Jesús Gómez, Jorge Arévalo, José Antonio Canalejo, Mauricio Miranda, Mauricio Pazos, Pedro-Juan Ferrer, Roberto Antolí­n, Samuel Mesa, Valenty González, Lucía Sanjaime, Andrea Yanza, Diego González, Nacho Varela, Mario Andino, Virginia Vergara, Christophe Tufféry, Etienne Delay, Hungary, M Iqnaul Haq Siregar, Andry Rustanto, Alessandro Furieri, Antonio Falciano, Diego Migliavacca, Elena Mezzini, Giuseppe Calamita, Marco Puppin, Marco Curreli, Matteo De Stefano, Pasquale Di Donato, Roberta Fagandini, Nobusuke Iwasaki, Toshikazu Seto, Yoichi Kayama, Hirofumi Hayashi, Ko Nagase, Hyeyeong Choe, Milena Nowotarska, Damian Wojsław, Alexander Bruy, Alexander Muriy, Alexey Ardyakov, Andrey Syrokomskiy, Anton Novichikhin, Daria Svidzinska, Denis Rykov, Dmitry Baryshnikov, Evgeny Nikulin, Ilya Filippov, Grigory Rozhentsov, Maxim Dubinin, Nadiia Gorash, Pavel, Sergey Grachev, Vera, Alexander Kleshnin, kuzkok, Xianfeng Song, Jing Wang, Zhengfan Lin

Sponsoring organisations

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

LISAsoft relaunched as Jirotech

LISAsoft has combined with our sister company Jirotech, and together we have been relaunched under the Jirotech brand, starting from the 2016-17 financial year.
Both Jirotech and LISAsoft have developed a strong reputation in the Australian and New Zealand market building and distributing quality IT systems. By joining forces we see this collaboration as complementing and extending both our strengths.
What does this mean for our LISAsoft organisation? At our core, we’re the same company you’ve known for decades. We still have the same same principles of quality, innovation and service. We are still a leading systems integration and software development company, with core expertise in information management, the PostgreSQL database, geospatial systems, open source software, standards development, web based systems, IT infrastructure, enterprise support and training.
We have new phone numbers and email addresses, and an updated website. (Old addresses still work.)  But apart from that, we are still the same friendly engineers who enjoy tackling challenging problems.

Our new Jirotech contact details are:


Sydney office:
Suite 112, Jones Bay Wharf
26-32 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont NSW 2009
Phone: 02 8099 9000

Melbourne office:
Level 2, 50 Queen Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: 03 8370 8000

Thursday, 30 June 2016

OSGeo-Live 10.0 beta1 released. Test sprint / Doc update

OSGeo-Live 10.0 beta1 is ready for download at [1]. We're looking for testing applications and updating docs and translations.

In particular, we need help to:
  1. Check if any new features need to be added to Project Overviews
  2. Run Quickstarts and verify they work as described. Please join us on irc:// this weekend, 2 & 3 July 2016, for our testing sprint.
  3. Update review status in our spreadsheet [2]. (It really helps us know if an application has been reviewed, and by who).
  4. Translate docs that have been updated.
  5. OSGeo-Live is scheduled to be the default installation at FOSS4G 2016 workshops. We strongly urge all workshop leaders to test OSGeo-Live now and provide feedback, while there is still time to tweak anything required for the workshop.

What's Changed:

New applications:
  • PyWPS 3.2.5
The following applications have been updated:
  • 52nWPS 3.3.1 -> 3.4.0
  • 52nSOS 4.3.0 -> 4.3.6
  • GpsPrune 17.2 ->18.3
  • GeoMoose 2.8.0 -> 2.9.0
  • GRASS 7.0.3 -> 7.0.4
  • GeoServer 2.8.2 -> 2.8.3
  • GMT 5.1.2 -> 5.2.1
  • Iris 1.9.0 -> 1.9.2
  • istSOS 2.2.0 -> 2.3.0
  • Marble 1.9.2 -> 15.12.3
  • Mapnik 2.3.0 -> 3.0.11
  • MapProxy 1.8.0 -> 1.8.2
  • mb-system 5.5.2252 -> 5.5.2274
  • OpenCPN 4.0.0 -> 4.2.0
  • OSSIM 1.8.20 -> 1.8.20-3
  • JOSM 8159 -> 9329
  • Merkaartor 1.18.1 -> 1.18.2
  • OTB 5.2.0 -> 5.4.0
  • pgRouting 2.0.0 -> 2.2.3
  • PostGIS 2.2.1 -> 2.2.2
  • Proj4 4.8.0 -> 4.9.2
  • pycsw 1.10.3 -> 1.10.4
  • QGIS 2.14.0 -> 2.14.3
  • R 3.2.1 -> 3.3.1
  • Saga 2.2.4 -> 2.2.7
  • Spatialite 4.3.0 -> 4.3.0a
  • Viking 1.4.2 -> 1.6.0
  • Zygrib 6.2.1 -> 7.0.0
  • ZOO-Project 1.3.0 -> 1.5.0
Retired applications:
  • Tilemill (not compatible with the latest version of Mapnik included in the disk)
Full changelog:


  • 03 Jul 2016 Testing Sprint
  • 11 Jul 2016 English Project Overviews & Quickstarts complete
  • 16 Jul 2016 Translations complete
  • 18 Jul 2016 Release Candidate 1
  • 01 Aug 2016 Final ISO sent to printers

About OSGeo-Live:

OSGeo-live is a Lubuntu based distribution of Geospatial Open Source Software, available via a Live DVD, Virtual Machine and USB. You can use OSGeo-Live to try a wide variety of open source geospatial software without installing anything.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

OSGeo-Live 10.0 alpha1 ready to test

After much hard work from the OSGeo-Live build team, we release today the first alpha version of OSGeo-Live 10.0.

It is based on the new Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial Long Term Support (LTS). Over the last 6 weeks since Ubuntu 16.04 was released, we have ported the entire build system to the new LTS and we merged packaging effort from DebianGIS and UbuntuGIS, bringing most of the recent geospatial packages to Xenial. The result is now shared with the OSGeo community through the updated UbuntuGIS repositories (Testing and Unstable).

We encourage all OSGeo-Live projects to download OSGeo-Live alpha1 (mirror), test your project with this new release and make sure it works as expected. If your project is missing from the iso, it means that the installer failed completely and needs extra attention from you. Please report back issues to our Trac instance (and let us know what you have tested on our mailing list We track this information in our status spreadsheet). We love pro-active projects we don't have to chase, so please prepare your code to work on the new LTS and send us a pull request with your installer changes.

We have a lot of work to do and a tight schedule if we are to release in time for FOSS4G in Bonn. Our next milestone is to reach beta stage by the end of June.

Packages still with critical issues

We haven't managed to get the following packages working yet and would appreciate some help:

  • Cartaro 
  • EOxServer 
  • GeoMoose 
  • GeoNode 
  • MapSlicer 
  • MapBender 
  • Mapnik 
  • OSSIM 
  • OTB 
  • Rasdaman 
  • TileMill 
  • Ushahidi 
  • ZOO-Project

... Status and links to issues

Key Milestones

13 Jun 2016 Feature Freeze (all apps updated)
27 Jun 2016 User Acceptance Test (all apps installed and working)
18 Jul 2016 Release Candidate 1
01 Aug 2016 Final ISO sent to printers
... full schedule

About OSGeo-Live

OSGeo-live is a Lubuntu based distribution of Geospatial Open Source Software, available via a Live DVD, Virtual Machine and USB. You can use OSGeo-Live to try a wide variety of open source geospatial software without installing anything.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Government asks nine open source developers to make baby in one month

We are approaching the 30 June, and the open source community is again being asked to perform our annual miracle of delivering twelve months worth of software services in two. Yes, after living on crumbs from July to March, we're swamped with calls for help in April, and expected to deliver between May and June.
This would be all well and good if we could stock pile product, but our product is open source software, which we give away for free!
Yes, we are in the business of selling free software. And governments love building their systems on our free software. They've even written policies and guidelines on how to use it. You see, using open source reduces vendor lock in, which reduces financial and technical risk. It facilitates international collaboration, rapid development and rapid innovation, which makes it an enabler for the government's innovation agenda. And it is based on openness and transparency, a core tenement of open government initiatives.
But if we give away our software for free, what do governments want to pay us for? It is our services, our time: installing, maintaining, extending and supporting the software, and training people in its use. It is a specialised skill which takes years to develop. It is not practical to quickly ramp up and down software teams for a two month peak load. As explained by Brook's Law on software engineering, you can't use nine women to create a baby in one month. Likewise, throwing fresh developers at a delayed software project typically makes the project even later.
So as government investigate open government opportunities, I urge understanding and tackling some of the hard, root causes hindering open source adoption, such as flattening spending spikes out across the year.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Starting the build cycle for OSGeo-Live 10.0

We are starting the build cycle for version 10.0 of the OSGeo-Live DVD/USB/VM which will be released in August 2016, ready for the global FOSS4G conference in Bonn, Germany.
This release is going to be more challenging than most as we are moving to the next Long Term Release (LTS) of Ubuntu,16.04 Xenial. We expect to be asking for help to solve the multitude of dependency conflicts likely to be introduced. In particular, we expect most debian packages and bash installers will need tweaking once an alpha OSGeo-Live build is working.
Initial packaging efforts have started and the Debian packages will soon appear in UbuntuGIS Unstable (currently in Testing).
We would like to hear from anyone wishing to add new projects to OSGeo-Live, anyone wishing to extend or add translations, or anyone who has ideas on how we should shape the upcoming release.

Key Milestones
23 May 2016 All new applications installed, most old applications updated
13 Jun 2016 Feature Freeze (all apps updated)
20 Jun 2016 User Acceptance Test (all apps installed and working)
01 Aug 2016 Final ISO sent to printers
... full schedule

About OSGeo-Live
OSGeo-live is a Lubuntu based distribution of Geospatial Open Source Software, available via a Live DVD, Virtual Machine and USB. You can use OSGeo-Live to try a wide variety of open source geospatial software without installing anything.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Visualising the size and value of Linux

I find it easier to appreciate the size and value of software by comparing to big physical things.
Linux, which I could copy and give to you for free, represents more human effort than world's most expensive Cruise Ship, the Sydney Opera House, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In fact you could buy two of each.
In 2001 David Wheeler calculated Linux to have 30 million lines of code, would have taken 8,000 person years to create, and cost over a giga-buck ($1 billion). By 2015 this estimate was updated to $5 billion.
GNU/Linux is comparable in size and functionality to Microsoft Windows, and it is worth observing that Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is now the richest man in the world.

Raw Numbers:

Big Thing
Equivalent 2015
$USD Cost
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House
$AUD 102,000,000
Most Expensive Cruise Ship
$USD 1,200,000,000

$USD 5,000,000,000


Monday, 28 March 2016

Open Government & lessons from Open Source & Open Standards

The Australian Government has committed to contributing towards the international Open Government Partnership (OGP). This is awesome on so many levels. In particular, it is recognition that working openly and collaboratively facilitates more ethical, transparent, effective and efficient government.

My assessment is the Australian Government National Action Plan is based on solid principles and goals, but implementation recommendations are still relatively immature. It is as if experiences so far have been based on small pilot projects and small groups and is yet to hit the challenges associated with scalability, reliability, maintainability and interoperability.

Lets expand on this statement, under National Action Plan Themes:

Freedom of Information:

Australia has an open by default policy for government data. A great first step, but of minimal value until the data is readily usable. Yes, a bus timetable is useful when a paper copy of it is distributed to commuters every 6 months. But it is super useful when bus timetables are integrated with real-time bus and traffic data travel plans can be adjusted accordingly. This is facilitated by the concept of "mashable government" where government data is made available in machine readable form via standards based Application Programmer Interfaces (APIs).
Cross agency integration of datasets can open up significant value, but usually requires addressing of technical, financial, legal and social challenges. Agencies need to agree upon common formats for common datasets (typically through use open standards). Who benefits from aggregated datasets is usually different to those who collects and maintains the data. As such, solving integration issues often requires creative, cross-agency, business cases to be crafted.
The National Action Plan should discuss: Mashable Government, APIs, use/extend/create open standards (in that order), writing business cases to identify high value datasets, and cross-agency funding of data management strategies.

Public Participation:

There has been good progress in bi-directional communication between citizens and government. There are now excellent tools to run YES/NO polls past many people to gauge community sentiment.
A challenge worth tackling is how to enable public debate and evidence based decisions on complex topics - such as Climate Change. Complex systems require significant time to understand, which makes them susceptible to misdirected influence from vested interest groups. Questions to consider:

  • Who will fund "trusted experts" to research and advise on complex issues so they can make informed decisions?
  • How can a community vote on complex subjects?
  • How do you address the signal-to-noise ratio within community discussions?

Fiscal Transparency:

Despite open government policies highlighting benefits of open source software and open standards, government uptake of open source is surprisingly low. Why? Because government purchasing practices inadvertently favour proprietary software and vendor lock-in tactics over collaborative business practices used by open communities. There are multiple aspects to this, which should be understood, leading to updated guidelines to government purchasing practices. Some considerations include:

  • How to compare long term value of open source and proprietary business models.
  • How to assess the health of an open source community and associated rate of innovation in order to properly assess the value of open source.
  • How to assess a product's claims of standards compliance. Some companies dissuade standards use by pricing extra for standards use, or limiting standards based functionality.
  • How to assess the quality and applicability of a standard, and whether to invest in influencing the development of the standard.
  • Typically government officials have mandate to solve department-wide problems, however open source and open standards based solutions will often be best justified at a Whole-Of-Government, or Whole-Of-World level. One particular argument is "If I invest in an open standard, or open source, I will see minimal immediate benefit, but long term will see international adoption which will lead to advancement of my local goals."
  • Government's asymmetric spending of discretionary budgets at year-end disadvantages fee-for-service business models typically employed by open source businesses.

Basis for suggestions:

My perspective is based upon decades developing software, including working within large defence software programs, integrating data from different organisations within web based spatial data infrastructures, writing open source software and building open source communities, developing open standards and defending open standards against vested interests, writing business cases and policies around open source adoption, and building systems based on open source and open standards for Australian government.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

OSGeo-Live 9.5 released

The OSGeo Community has released the latest OSGeo-Live reference distribution of geospatial open-source software, version 9.5. Once again, people across the globe can depend on OSGeo-Live to provide robust, ready-to-use installations of all key open source geospatial applications, along with overviews and examples.
"With two new applications added, 22 applications updated, all based upon 8 years of continuous developments and refinements, we believe this to be our most stable, usable, and feature rich distribution to date", said Angelos Tzotsos, OSGeo-Live build manager.
"We are pleased to be seeing steady increased adoption of OSGeo-Live from educational programs, complementing the already wide use at geospatial conferences and workshops", said Cameron Shorter, one of the OSGeo-Live coordinators.

Release Highlights

Updated Applications:

  • 22 geospatial programs have been updated to newer versions, including major updates from:
  • QGIS 2.14 LTR with more than one hundred new features added or improved since the last QGIS LTR release (version 2.8), sponsored by dozens of geospatial data providers, private sector companies and public sector governing bodies around the world.
  • GeoNetwork 3.0 with a brand new user interface and a bunch of new features.
  • MapServer 7.0 with many new features, including improved complex filtering, labeling performance and ability to render non-latin scripts.
New Applications:

  • Java World Wind - Desktop Virtual Globe
  • istSOS - Sensor Observation Service

About OSGeo-Live

OSGeo-Live is a self-contained bootable USB flash drive, DVD and Virtual Machine, pre-installed with robust open source geospatial software, which can be trialled without installing anything.
It includes:

  • Over 50 quality geospatial Open Source applications and libraries, installed and pre-configured, to address a range of use cases, including storage, publishing, viewing, analysis and data science
  • Free world maps and sample datasets
  • Project Overview and step-by-step Quickstart for each application
  • Lightning presentation of all applications, along with speaker's script
  • Overviews of key OGC standards
  • Translations to multiple languages
  • Based upon the rock-solid Lubuntu 14.04 LTS GNU/Linux distribution, combined with the light-weight LXDE desktop interface for ease of use.

Download details:
Post release glitches collected here:


Over 180 people have directly helped with OSGeo-Live packaging, documenting and translating, and thousands have been involved in building the packaged software.
Developers, packagers, documenters and translators include:
Activity Workshop, Agustín Dí­ez, Aikaterini Kapsampeli, Alan Beccati, Alan Boudreault, Alessandro Furieri, Alexander Bruy, Alexander Kleshnin, Alexander Muriy, Alexandre Dube, Alexey Ardyakov, Alex Mandel, Amy Gao, Andrea Antonello, Andrea Yanza, Andrey Syrokomskiy, Andry Rustanto, Angelos Tzotsos, Anna Muñoz, Antonio Falciano, Antonio Santiago, Anton Novichikhin, Anton Patrushev, Argyros Argyridis, Ariel Núñez, Assumpció Termens, Astrid Emde, Balasubramaniam Natarajan, Barry Rowlingson, Benjamin Pross, Brian Hamlin, Bruno Binet, Bu Kun, Cameron Shorter, Christophe Tufféry, Christos Iossifidis, Cristhian Pin, Damian Wojsław, Dane Springmeyer, Daniel Kastl, Danilo Bretschneider, Daria Svidzinska, David Mateos, Denis Rykov, Diego González, Diego Migliavacca, Dimitar Misev, Dmitry Baryshnikov, Dominik Helle, Edgar Soldin, Eike Hinderk Jürrens, Elena Mezzini, Eric Lemoine, Erika Pillu, Estela Llorente, Etienne Delay, Etienne Dube, Evgeny Nikulin, Fabian Schindler, Fran Boon, François Prunayre, Frank Gasdorf, Frank Warmerdam, Friedjoff Trautwein, Gabriele Prestifilippo, Gavin Treadgold, Giuseppe Calamita, Gérald Fenoy, Grigory Rozhentsov, Guillaume Pasero, Guy Griffiths, Hamish Bowman, Haruyuki Seki, Henry Addo, Hernan Olivera, Hirofumi Hayashi, Howard Butler, Hyeyeong Choe, Ian Edwards, Ian Turton, Ilya Filippov, Jackie Ng, Jan Drewnak, Jane Lewis, Javier Rodrigo, Javier Sánchez, Jesús Gómez, Jim Klassen, Jing Wang, Jinsongdi Yu, Jody Garnett, Johan Van de Wauw, John Bryant, Jorge Arévalo, Jorge Sanz, José Antonio Canalejo, José Vicente Higón, Judit Mays, Klokan Petr Pridal, Ko Nagase, Kristof Lange, kuzkok, Lance McKee, Larry Shaffer, Lars Lingner, Luca Delucchi, Lucía Sanjaime, Mage Whopper, Manuel Grizonnet, Marc-André Barbeau, Marco Curreli, Marco Puppin, Marc Torres, Margherita Di Leo, Maria Vakalopoulou, Mario Andino, Mario Carrera, Mark Leslie, Markus Neteler, Massimo Di Stefano, Matteo De Stefano, Matthias Streulens, Mauricio Miranda, Mauricio Pazos, Maxim Dubinin, Michaël Michaud, Michael Owonibi, Micha Silver, Mike Adair, Milan P. Antonovic, Milena Nowotarska, M Iqnaul Haq Siregar, Nacho Varela, Nadiia Gorash, Name, Nathaniel V. Kelso, Ned Horning, Nicolas Roelandt, Nobusuke Iwasaki, Oliver Tonnhofer, Òscar Fonts, Otto Dassau, Pasquale Di Donato, Patric Hafner, Paul Meems, Pavel, Pedro-Juan Ferrer, Pirmin Kalberer, Raf Roset, Regina Obe, Ricardo Pinho, Roald de Wit, Roberta Fagandini, Roberto Antolin, Roberto Antolí­n, Robin Lovelace, Roger Veciana, Ruth Schoenbuchner, Samuel Mesa, Scott Penrose, Sergey Grachev, Sergey Popov, Sergio Baños, Simon Cropper, Simon Pigot, Stefan A. Tzeggai, Stefan Hansen, Stefan Steiniger, Stephan Meissl, Steve Lime, Takayuki Nuimura, Thierry Badard, Thomas Baschetti, Thomas Gratier, Tom Kralidis, Toshikazu Seto, Trevor Wekel, Valenty González, Vera, Victor Poughon, Xianfeng Song, Yoichi Kayama, Zhengfan Lin, Zoltan Siki

Sponsoring organisations

  • The Open Source Geospatial Foundation provides development & hosting infrastructure for OSGeo-Live and many of the included applications.
  • LISAsoft provides sustaining resources and staff toward management and packaging.
  • Information Center for the Environment (ICE) at the University of California, Davis provides hardware resources and development support.
  • Remote Sensing Laboratory at the National Technical University of Athens, provides hardware resources and development support.
  • The Debian GIS and UbuntuGIS teams provide and quality-assure many of the core packages.
  • Okeanos is kindly providing Virtual Machines for building the OSGeoLive iso images.