Computers have played a big part in my working life for the past twenty years, as church organisations have been less and less capable of affording administrative help. It’s as much a hindrance as a help really, if things go wrong, or the work load builds up. Being a priest is about working with people, not about machine minding, or organising working with people, except that in our present culture, the two have become hard to separate, and the tasks harder to share out.
That said, I have been much entertained, out of work hours, not by computer games but by following the developments in technology and its social use. I discovered early on that I wasn’t much good at programming, but at least I understand how things work. I can troubleshoot computers, take the lid off and tinker with insides, like many blokes do with cars. In my wife’s eyes, I blur boundaries between work and leisure in a unhealthy way; i.e. it takes up too much of my spare time.
For the past seven years years, I have followed very closely the rise of the free Linux operating system, and Open Source Software, learning to use it, unaided, not without difficulty, but with growing commitment. Now I run a Linux system alongside my standard Microsoft PC for variety and interest. I follow most discussions in the tech journals and blogs (Curious? Try
Following the recent Cardiff Vision Board conference presentation about new technology applications in local government services, I felt emboldened to write to Crispin O'Connell, Cardiff's head of ICT and ask about
“Much of our city’s current successful social innovation is driven by and rests upon new information technology. Economic development relies as much on appropriate electronic infrastructure as it does roads and other transport systems. Delivery of information services technology represents a huge investment in hardware, software and trained personnel. Notice is being taken in the heartland of the computer industry in Silicon Valley (CA) and elsewhere about the environmental impact of the multiplication of computer ‘server farms’, consuming huge amounts of energy, and the disposal of redundant hardware.
The need to upgrade to more power-consuming systems is driven by the industry’s business ambitions. New software is designed around state-of-the art hardware which needs to be purchased, rendering perfectly serviceable equipment redundant. Replacement costs become a significant drain on information service budgets, as well as adding to environmental hazards implicit in disposing of old equipment. We have no more than the beginnings of safe recycling procedures for old electronic equipment. The volume of computer hardware needing recycling grows with each major innovation in what computing can deliver. Might it be possible to slow down the rate at which equipment is dumped if some of it could be re-used to good effect?
There is an international movement of academics, technology professionals, and volunteers dedicated to creating, maintaining and promoting reliable software, free to users, not dependent for its effectiveness on having the latest, fastest equipment to run on. Partners in this enterprise, spanning over seventy countries, develop and maintain software and provide web-based user support which costs little to access. Open Source Software (OSS) and Operating Systems – notably Linux – is already deployed to maintain server infrastructures in government, scientific, military and educational settings around the world, because of its proven stability and reliability, and high levels of security. By design, it is nowhere near as vulnerable as many comparable commercial and domestic products. It doesn’t benefit from huge advertising budgets, but commends itself by results.
One high profile
The adoption of Open Source software solutions promises large cost savings, longer life for hardware, lower total cost of ownership. From the user’s viewpoint
A thorough investigation of the benefits and problems of adopting Open Source software could well be of strategic benefit to this city. Open Source developers have the freedom to use derived products for commercial benefit, so there is a lucrative crossover between voluntary and commercial sectors. Establishing, promoting
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to be overcome is the conviction that standard commercial products must be best, because it is conveniently marketed and consumed, but real value is proved in action. Nobody can be unaware of the expensive, time wasting struggle of computer users, everywhere to secure their systems, free of viruses and ad-ware. Open Source software, by design, minimises vulnerability to attack. It’s not just costly Apple products that have this benefit, but also free Open Source Software.”
Just a day after sending this, I was delighted to receive quite an informative and personal response from Mr O'Connell. Heavens, he could have been patronising or defensive, but he was neither. He just told it as it was, as much as he could to an inquisitive stranger. Without much external publicity, it appears
But what about the Church? Diocesan and Provincial administration centres. How much money are they saving / spending on deployment of OSS software solutions? Is there any adoption? Do they know what I'm talking about here? Llandaff Diocesan Secretary says that he reads this blog. Well, here's a test .... Looking forward to hearing from you, Peter!