Experiences installing 802.11g wireless

Today I did my first install of 802.11g wireless network gear. 802.11g is the new wireless networking standard that is 5x faster than 802.11b and significantly more secure.

I was using a wireless bridge and NICs from BuffaloTech — which have been generally well reviewed on the websites.

The good news is that on a fully-updated Windows XP system, the install went very smoothly, and the new WPA security was very easy to configure — much easier than the old WEP standard.

The bad news is that one had to not only make sure that all Windows XP patches were applied, but I also had to go in and apply a special non-critical Windows update in order to gain support for WPA security. This took a lot of time.

Worse, Windows 2000 doesn’t have built-in support for WPA, and the only way to add it apparently is to purchase an external third-party client. That’s lame.

So, my verdict on 802.11g — it’s good, as long as your equipment and software is really up-to-date.

Philanthropy Journal on nonprofit technology providers: disappointing

Todd Cohen recently wrote a story in Philanthropy Journal about nonprofit technology assistance providers. NPower, ITRC and Compumentor — outstanding organizations all — are mentioned.

But, it disappoints me to see the field portrayed as consisting only of large, corporate-funded organizations. Todd Cohen’s article ignores the many smaller organizations that are providing in-depth technology and strategic support to targeted social change sectors. I’m talking about groups like Project Alchemy, The Advocacy Project, LINC Project, NetCorps, Progressive Technology Project, and ONE/Northwest.

The nonprofit technology assistance movement is a rich and diverse tapestry that has many successful models. I believe that summary articles such as Cohen’s, which present the nonprofit technology sector as more of a monoculture, do a disservice to the movement as a whole.

A social movement with a product

An interesting thought from Bruce Perens’ recent speech at the LinuxWorld conference

But the real subject of this trade show, Free Software and Open Source, is a social movement. Like other social movements, it advances its own ideas – in our case, ideas about software quality, competition, copyrights and patents as property. It’s extremely unusual in that few other social movements make real products – the only thing that comes close to it in the social space is art. We have so far manufactured over Two Billion US dollars worth of software for everyone’s free use. And the fact that we make real products has made us real enemies.

Hmm… the idea of open-source as a social movement that also produces a “real” (i.e. denominated in dollars) product. What do you think?

Scribus 1.0 released: desktop publishing for Linux

Scribus 1.0 is out. A basic desktop publishing program for Linux. While it’s not a pro-quality substitute for Quark or PageMaker, it’s quite likely to be adequate for casual desktop publishers (like most small nonprofits). Doesn’t run under Windows yet, but maybe soon. And it’s another critical link in the chain of software that’s needed to create a fully-functional open-source desktop environment for nonprofits.

WASTE: secure peer-to-peer collaboration network

Nullsoft, makers of the popular MP3 software WinAMP, just released WASTE, an open-source platform/application for secure collaboration among small groups.

This is a direct shot across the bow of Groove, and although it clearly needs a bunch more polishing, it’s a very promising development in the p2p collaboration arena.

Scribus: Desktop Publishing for Linux!?!

One of the dealbreakers for using Linux as a desktop environment in a typical nonprofit office has been the lack of a decent desktop publishing package.

Enter Scribus. Although it’s only a version 0.9.8, it looks like a serious, functional effort at creating a low-end desktop publishing package. I haven’t installed it yet, but it’s on my list.

Satellite Internet info

Here’s an email I sent to a client who can’t get faster than 28.8 on their rural phone line:

If you want to explore the more radical possibilities for faster Internet access, I’d take a look at satellite internet — upfront cost is ~$600-800, monthly is around $80, but you do get very fast downloads. http://www.starband.com and http://www.direcpc.com/ are the two big players. also earthlink. not as easy/cheap as DSL, but available everywhere.

Starband & earthlink (powered by direcpc) reviews
http://www.cnet.com/internet/0,10000,0-3762-8-6949920-1,00.html

Broadband reports satellite ISP reviews:
http://www.broadbandreports.com/isplist?t=sat

Using Chat Tools During an In-Person Meeting

Clay Shirky just wrote a great article in his NEC Newsletter about his experiences using an online chat tool as a supplement to an in-person meeting. Produced some interesting positive social dynamics. Here’s a link to the full article, titled “In-Room Chat as a Social Tool”.

This is still pretty bleeding-edge stuff, but I can see huge value in this for some kinds of activist meetings — especially larger 20-30 person meetings where lots of people want to participate. In fact, I believe that Institute for Conservation Leadership used technology like this during a recent strategic planning session that they did. I’d love to have ONE/Northwest put together a pile of low-end WiFi-enabled laptops that could be loaned out to “chat-enable” meetings.

In-depth review of a Tablet PC

A lot of technology cynics are unimpressed with Microsoft’s new Tablet PC. While I haven’t used one, I know that I’m really excited about promise of this type of device. I write notes in a notebook (not a laptop). I would love to be able to take a “tablet” with me, write notes on it in my own handwriting, and have that machine also be my computer. Not an accessory — my computer. The key question is: does the technology work yet?

To that end, AnandTech has one of the first really in-depth reviews of a Tablet PC.

Review of StarBand Small Office satellite internet access

Scot’s newsletter just posted an informative review of review of StarBand Small Office. Bottom line: he think’s it’s a reasonable option for a 3-5 person office that doesn’t have other broadband options. Cost is $130-170/month, plus $800+ installation and a 12-month committment. Not cheap, but quite possibly worthwhile.

Vonage: flat-rate voice-over-ip for the masses

I’ve been keeping an eye on Vonage. The deal is pretty simple: $40/month gets you flat-rate, unlimited local & long distance phone calls over your high-speed Internet connection using your ordinary phone. You get a phone number in any area code you choose (kewl!), voicemail, caller ID and all the goodies. Your phone plugs into a special adapter. You kiss Qwest goodbye.

While Vonage is not (yet?) offering service to businesses, this seems like it would be a great deal for someone working from home who has to make a lot of long-distance phone calls.

The case for Open Office?

The Case for OpenOffice is a pretty interesting and balanced account of why OpenOffice, might or might not be a feasible alternative to Microsoft Office for some users.

Quite a few nonprofit techies are starting to perk up their ears about this. I’ve tested it out a bit and found that it works pretty darn well. Not sure I’d strongly push groups towards it, but I’d definitely use it for personal stuff, and if a small organization was interested in experimenting at the leading edge, I’d go for it.