Meeting with Mozilla Europe

As mentioned previously I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with Tristan Nitot, Mozilla Europe President, while in Paris. We exchanged views and tactics about web standards promotion and Firefox adoption in different markets.

Tristan like some of us at the Beijing LUG is a man who does what he believes in, no matter what it takes, and started Mozilla Europe as a volunteer. He invested his time (and therefore money) where his heart was when AOL got rid of Netscape and fired everybody. Since we don’t hear much about what’s happening in China with Mozilla Online, I asked him what he thought helped Mozilla in Europe and if there was a “magic recipe” for success…

When starting the Mozilla Europe Association, Tristan and other members of the Firefox community tested the most visited 1000 sites in each European country, analyzed what was not working well under Firefox and emailed the fixes to each webmaster. Definitely a long and tedious process, but worth doing if you care about the web. The second step, Tristan said, and probably a very important one too, was market share. With currently 28% market share in Europe any webmaster with a bit of brain will care for standards.

Another significant detail I liked about Mozilla Europe, is that they share their office with Mandriva (a Linux distribution) and are definitely close to all things community and Linux – a bit too much sometimes admitted Tristan.

Now where does this put us, poor “Chinese mortals”? Mozilla China is in the same building as the Microsoft MSN team, Netease, Google and Sun, has very low market share and often manages to cancel (at the last minute) when invited (and confirmed) at open source conferences or community driven events. Mozilla is after market shares even in China and therefore I really wonder what is their current strategy.

To conclude it was really refreshing to be able to discuss about real problems and find out what worked in Europe. I sincerely wish Mozilla China can learn from this openness and apply some of it in our middle kingdom.

Full speed into my new project

As some of you know, I have decided to resign from the Beijing LUG presidency in order to have more time to do things that I feel more useful for Open Source in China. To continue on the topic actually, I think it will be good for the BLUG to have a new leadership. It was a very rewarding experience for me and I am really glad it happened.

So just as I feel so free I am getting myself into pushing Linux to schools, and building something useful for that purpose. I already had one opportunity last summer (July 2007) in Qingdao and unfortunately the lack of good solution in Chinese killed the project. Early this year a second opportunity arose and I have decided not to let it vanish again. Benjamin Cooperman, teacher at BISS, brought this one on a tray and we now “just need to execute”.

For those not familiar with the details, we’re collecting old PCs from schools or companies, refurbishing them, installing a light weight Linux distribution with a suite of usable educational applications in Chinese and donating those to poor schools as well as providing training to the teachers.

The project wants to be distribution agnostic and (as the OLPC project should have been – I hope you sense my disappointment now) about providing the right tools for teachers and students to be successful.

First phase will be based on PuppyLinux as we have hardware limitations but ultimately we’ll have a software stack easily installable for a few distributions. CECC, one of the main Chinese contributor to E-pup, the Chinese PuppyLinux, is helping us in our endeavor and of course a few BLUG members as well.

More information on the BLUG wiki. We will need translators and people with experience in internationalization. Should you feel interested please do join our group, or contact me.

Riding the small dog

For those of you regularly reading the Beijing LUG site (or even participating in our events) you might remember our Old PCs Refurbishing Party lead by Ben from BISS and held early March of this year. After struggling with various flavors of Ubuntu because of bad Chinese support and heavy resource usage, we settled on 256MB of ram as a minimum requirement and had to manually customize every single install we did.

Not satisfied we decided to study other options such as mastering our own light-weight derivative distribution with the right packages and good Chinese support. We did get a lot of positive supporting offers from ThizLinux, Mandriva and Novell and it’s nice to feel you’re part of a group of great people.

After a few weeks, Ben pointed out a few Puppylinux variants and I am now playing with it: IMPRESSIVE! I am testing it on an old Thinkpad X30 with 256MB of ram with a Pentium III: so fast, so flexible. All the necessary applications are available, it’s very easy to make your own build (actually 2 ways of doing it) and you can even install deb packages (experimental feature).

We still have a long way to go, but it really seems we’ve solved our first issue: small footprint and easy setup. Puppylinux has also a very active IRC channel on freenode (#puppylinux) and a fairly good documentation. I’m almost considering using it as my full time distribution!

So whatever distribution we use at the end, I’m quite pleased to have had to dive into Puppylinux. It’ll give us a base to chose the right applications and do our own customization in order to get the project rolling!

A weekend with Matt MacKall

Once in a while you meet these rare individuals who remind you where you’re coming from. Following the Linux Developer Symposium a few speakers stayed a couple of more days to visit the Great Wall, the Forbidden city and other Beijing Landmarks. I helped organized a visit into a training center for embedded Linux on Friday together with Matt and this is how it all started.

I’d say Matt is a very reserved individual at first, very serious and focused (that’s just my impression). The Friday morning visit gave me a chance to listen more closely to his presentation to a class of 50-60 Chinese students and exchange ideas about attracting more people to Linux. I would honestly say that the whole trip was very successful, the class had Jonathan Corbet book on every single desk (Jonathan was also a speaker at the conference) and Matt motivated every one of us. Afternoon was free and we met again for dinner.

The next day, Matt being into art (something I discovered), we visited 798 factory and discussed about art, Burning Man ,how Matt has been attending the event for the last 8 years, what kind of technology he uses for his art and all sorts of things. Then a bit of food shopping, famous Chinese Hot Pot, more talks between during and after, and off to bed.

Matt happens to be a vegan as well as a Linux user and contributor (and an artist, and probably many other things). Why? Because he cares. In fact the whole 2 days discussion was about caring, and how you can transform your principles into actions, how you live up to your believes and how even small contributions can make a difference.

As I mentioned in my introduction I was really glad to have these talks, re-energize myself with someone who could explain himself with passion about what he believed in and would take the time to share his views without forcing them on me.

We all believe in something, but what do we do about it? And is it enough to make that difference we were talking about? I often ask myself this question…