Life on a stick

Last week, I installed the latest Fedora (Red Hat) Linux operating system on a 2GB USB stick. The installation instructions were clear and, using a fast USB stick and PC, runs very well. There’s a nice Windows application that installs Fedora with just a few clicks. I use Ubuntu Linux at home and this was a nice way to try out Fedora and also carry around an entire Operating System with my preferred applications for use whenever I have access to a computer.

I’ve also run PortableApps from a USB stick. This allows me to run applications I use at home, such as Firefox and Pidgin, which are not available on the corporate desktop. The applications run isolated on the USB stick and all settings and cached data is preserved and taken away when you unplug it. The applications run well and look and feel like an application installed on the PC. Only certain applications have been ‘ported’ to Portableapps, but there’s a good selection.

I mention these two experiences because they’re examples of how individuals can continue to personalise their learning or working environments in situations where the computing environment on offer is necessarily restricted for security or support reasons. As software is increasingly running on the web, accessible from any browser, and as we continue to use computers in all aspects of life, whether at home, on the move or at work, there’s an expectation that our personal choices of preferred web browser, preferred IM client, our bookmarks, settings, saved passwords, etc. should continue to be available to us both inside and outside of institutions. JISC’s ‘In Their Own Words‘ report confirms this and apparently some employers are also acknowledging it by allowing staff to purchase their own PC equipment. It says a lot about our relationships with computer hardware and software. Not all technology has this effect on us. I’m still happy to use the work provided fridge and toaster although if I were using them constantly throughout the day, I may begin to object…

Do you wish your personalised computing environment was available to you whenever you turned on a PC?

Session 3: Interoperability

The final three presentations of the day focussed on interoperability. The first two, specifically discussed ways to make it easier for users to deposit materials into repositories. Julie Allinson, from the SWORD Project, discussed the work they have done and the use of the Atom Publishing Protocol as a framework for developing a derivative SWORD deposit profile. The presentation finished by noting that a NISO standard and tools are being developed for this same purpose and it is hoped that they take into consideration the work done by the SWORD project.

Scott Yeadon, from the Australian National University, gave a presentation on tools which the RIFF Project have developed for DSpace and Fedora to facilitate easier deposit of content into these repositories. Their work took real world examples of content to deposit and developed a submission service, a METS content packaging profile and dissemination service.

Both the SWORD and RIFF Projects demonstrated working examples of their services, albeit in early form. The main question remaining is whether they will be adopted beyond the confines of the project. Part of project work is research and development, but a significant part is also the marketing of the results of the project, for which OR2008 is clearly an important venue.

Finally, Dean Krafft, from Cornell University, presented NCore, a wide range of open source tools for creating digital repositories. Much bigger in scale than the previous two projects, the NCore platform is notable for being released on Sourceforge as a community project. It also has guaranteed funding until 2012, suggesting that even greater work is to come. It’s basically a suite of software tools and services built around the Fedora repository, developed to manage millions of objects, initially at the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). It was an excellent presentation of what appears to be a successful project and set of products. Building a Fedora repository requires a higher investment of resources than installing DSpace or EPrints and projects which use this platform, although often complex and difficult, tend to produce very interesting and impressive results.