Articles

  • An updated OpenUK Kids Competition for 2020 (5/9/2020) by Amanda Brock

    OpenUK, the advocate organisation for Open Technology (open source software, open hardware and open data) in the UK, has revamped its Kids’ Competition due to the impact of school closures and the Coronavirus pandemic.

    OpenUK Kids' Competition

    A total of 400 MiniMU Glove kits each including a BBC micro:bit will be sent directly to participating kids in May, to help kids experiment and experience what can be achieved with the newly open sourced MiniMu gloves. Kits are being sent directly to kids to construct and they can then take part in fun activities designed to help them experiment and make music with the gloves.

    A 10-episode animated series has also been designed by School Science Ambassador and 2020 EdTech Hall of Fame member David Whale, with curriculum related input from educationalist and Morrison’s Academy computer science teacher Pamela Boal. Each fun 10-minute episode has an activity for participating kids and will a friendly and fun introduction into open source, making music and developing other uses for the MiniMU glove. The aminated series has animation by Drawnalism and narration from voiceover artist Stephanie Bower.

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  • COVID19 contact tracing apps: a call for open source (5/6/2020) by Julian Kunkel

    A comment by Julian Kunkel, Simon Worthington, Jeremy Bennett, Andy Bennett

    Governments worldwide are developing smartphone apps that track the location and movement profile of citizens in order to quickly identify contact persons of COVID-19 infections. According to The Financial Times, if even 40% of smartphone users install such an application, the infection levels would be significantly reduced in the UK. Therefore, the widespread usage of such an application is an important instrument in the current crisis.

    How could such a smartphone app work? In a nutshell, a device can scan other nearby devices and exchange device IDs, for example, using Bluetooth. This information then needs to be stored with a timestamp. If the owner of a device contracts the virus, s/he could indicate this fact in the app allowing to associate the own device ID with the information that s/he may have infected others. This data then needs to be recorded on a server to allow the app of other users to query the register and then compare any contact information with the register of COVID-19 victims.

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  • Case study: The Importance of Open Source for Research in High-Performance Computing (4/24/2020) by Julian Kunkel

    This post is part of the OSSG series “the role of open source in the UK”, where we collect and publish statements from companies and individuals in the UK regarding their experience with Open Source Software. We welcome any submission to this series. If you are interested, please send an email to Dr Julian Kunkel.

    by Dr Julian Kunkel, Lecturer, Department of Computer Science, University of Reading

    Open source is vital in providing teaching, in conducting research in computer science, and in enabling reproducible large-scale experiments in computational science that support the society. In this post, Julian describes his experience with Open Source in his career.

    The Relevance of Open Source: A Personal Statement

    Open-source software is for me the key enabler for productive work and for providing training and research environments for various reasons. Firstly, in my own work environment, I rely upon Ubuntu as the operating system to give me the freedom to conduct research and programming experiments easily on my laptop that can later be scaled up to data-center wide experiments. 

    Having full control over the system and easy means to repair a broken system, I haven’t lost any data in my 20-year usage of Linux albeit my work often requires to perform rigorous stress-testing of hardware components. I have high confidence and trust in the software stack due to the openness of the software stack. There are no hidden data transmission of private data and proper security schemes in place that protect my data and research. Another benefit I acknowledge is that key APIs are robust and software I rely on that has started to be developed 20 years ago can still be used.

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  • We need to change the way we advocate for Open (3/20/2020) by Astor Nummelin Carlberg

    For the last year or so, Open Source educational and advocacy work by our think tank, OpenForum Europe, has been framed by a key question: “Why did Open Source Software development end up as an unintended casualty in the original proposal of the EU’s Copyright Directive?”

    In a time when the digital transformation is at the heart of many policy discussions in Brussels, and when Open Source-dependent technology such as IoT, Cloud, blockchain and supercomputers are hot topics, no one involved in drafting the legislation thought of software development. In short, the platforms and repositories used by developers to drive the digital transformation through the collaborative development of code were forgotten.

    Consequently, as the platforms fell into the scope of the Copyright Directive’s filtering obligations, they ran the risk of being regulated out of practical existence in the EU, or at least their users would experience a very negative cooling effect on innovation.

    Astor speaking at our talks on Open Source in Government.

    In response to this regulatory risk, OpenForum Europe and the Free Software Foundation Europe started the SaveCodeshare.eu campaign. In the end we were successful in excluding software platforms from the final law. That said (and there is a lot to say about the process of getting there and the many other consequences of the Copyright Directive as a whole) our main takeaway was the grim realisation that Open Source software was overlooked, despite software being largely regulated by copyright law.

    On the one hand, this says something about knowledge gaps that exist among policy makers. But on the other hand, it also says something about the state of Open Source advocacy in Europe. Advocacy has not followed the times and is way behind reflecting the reality of the role and position of Open Source in everything digital.

    Open Source advocacy is still reactive. Communities of activists and advocates should (perhaps must) build the capacity to be proactive.

    The need for a maturing of Open Source representation in politics goes beyond simply not being overlooked when drafting digitally relevant legislation. In our view, with Open Source having gone mainstream, there are new risks and opportunities arising. That means that the political conversation around Open Source has to go beyond what it has focused on in the past, to how to become acknowledged as being of strategic importance for Europe’s digital future.

    To be part of that conversation, the Open Source ecosystem needs to build the capacity to become trusted partners of governments and public authorities, in order to capture the big opportunities.

    We believe that to make that happen, to not just fend off regulatory risk, but also capture the opportunities that are out there, all stakeholders in the ecosystem need to step up. From the developers, Open Source vendors to the large IT and industrial companies that develop and/or depend on Open Source’s innovative benefits, there needs to be more effort, energy and resources spent on political representation and educational efforts.

    We have to at least take on the collective responsibility to make sure that Open Source Software never becomes an unintended casualty again. For those stakeholders that look further than defensive efforts, we need to be part of the conversations around the digitization of all sectors of our society. It is also our responsibility to do our part in ensuring that the much talked about Digital Sovereignty describes a digital reality that is neither locked-in to a small group of monopolistic vendors or for that matter, a chauvinist approach of a Europe closed for global collaboration.

    Europe’s digital future should be based on Open.

  • OpenUK launches a single voice for open source in the UK (12/2/2019) by Amanda Brock

    2019 has seen OpenUK formally launch at the House of Commons in September with the kind sponsorship of Pete Wishart, MP.

    OpenUK is a membership and trade organisation for “open” in the UK, actively representing the interests of UK businesses in the UK and internationally. It is building out a number of projects and workstreams to create a single voice for opens source software, open hardware and open data across the UK. This will be increasingly important post-Brexit, when we need to come together with once voice to be recognised as a strong presence in the UK and to influence Government, legislation and the public sector to ensure appropriate treatment of “open” in the UK.

    OpenUK launch event at the House of Commons.

    We have a wide variety of new work streams supporting the goals of OpenUK and will be working with our extended board to prepare our 2020 strategy in January and will be sharing this via our new web site and NextCloud.

    The Committees we have set up and will be working on are:

    • Awards Committee – organising our 2020 OpenUK Awards in London on 11 June, as part of London Tech Week chaired by Amanda Brock with judges Andrew Back, Cheryl Chen and Chris Lamb
    • Events Committee – being formed in 2020. We have a healthcare event on 6 February, and open data series kicking off in March and a number of other events planned including topics such as open hardware and well-being/ working from home – chaired by Amanda Brock
    • Learning Committee – working on an open-source GCSE and a schools competition for early 2020, with the winners being part of the Awards. Over time we will work on code camps etc – chaired by Paul Taylor
    • Legal and Policy Committee – currently setting its remit, reviewing CCS and GDS contract terms, looking forward to a meeting with the Parliamentary All-Party Intellectual Property Committee, when a new Government is in place and responding to the recent Commission workshop – chaired by Chris Eastham
    • Museums Committee – being formed in 2020. Working on a permanent exhibition room at the National Computer Museum at Bletchley to be launched in January 2021 and temporary exhibitions open elsewhere – chaired by Stuart Mackintosh
    • Universities Committee – welcoming all universities in collaborative student projects – chaired by Bruce Darby of Edinburgh University

    OpenUK is actively looking for additional members for a number of our committees and groups and would be pleased to hear from anyone interested in volunteering.

    British Baked Podcasts, celebrating the talent of the UK’s open sectors will be added weekly from January and are being recorded with the support of BCS’s open source group and Endecosm. We are also hoping to launch UK Faces of Open Source in 2020. http://www.facesofopensource.com/

    Details of the participants in all of our committees in our new web site which will be live before Christmas, thanks to our friends Greg and Ele at Civic, who are working hard to build this. A combination of our site and our Nextcloud, hosted by OpusVL,will allow easy access to mailing lists and transparency across the work of our committees and board. Andrew Katz, our Pro Bono GC and his team at Moorcrofts are working hard on making sure all the necessary legals are in place.

    Amanda Brock has stepped into the role of CEO and will be OpenUK’s first employee.

    Our board will also be extending in January and details of the interim board for 2020 will be updated in the new site. By the end of 2020 we will move to an elected board.

    The OpenUK events calendar on the new site will list what is happening across open source software, open data and open hardware in the UK and beyond and will also include the up and coming OpenUK events and even we will be attending in 2020. Please  contact us via the site, if you would like an event listed.

    Our final exciting news, is that OpenUK will be hosting a stand at FOSDEM for the first time on Saturday 1 February, potentially the first day after the UK’s Brexit from the European Union.  It will be themed “Tea and Biscuits with the Brits”.

    We welcome anyone based in the UK or who wants to showcase a UK business as part of our stand, to take part, give away their goodies and meet the folk of FOSDEM with us. Please contact amanda.brock@openuk.uk if you would like to help with our stand and hope that you will join us for tea, biscuits and a good old natter about open source in Brussels. Please also feel free to contact me if you are interested in participating in any of our committees or are interested in becoming a member of OpenUK or sponsoring our activities.

  • Case study: Building a profitable open source business (9/5/2019) by Jeremy Bennett

    This post is part of the OSSG series “the role of open source in the UK”, where we collect and publish statements from companies and individuals in the UK regarding their experience with Open Source Software. We welcome any submission to this series. If you are interested, please send an email to Dr Julian Kunkel.

    Embecosm's activity over the years

    by Dr Jeremy Bennett, Chief Executive, Embecosm

    Open source is central to the work of Embecosm, and over more than a decade we have built up a very successful business. In this post I’ll explain how we did it.

    About the company

    Embecosm Limited was established in 2008, initially to provide free and open source modelling and debug services to system-on-chip designers.  It very quickly became clear that chip designers wanted more than just debug. The company expanded to cover development of the entire free and open source compiler tool chain. More recently we have broadened our expertise to cover operating system development, bringing up open source operating systems of all sorts.

    This is Embecosm’s business today, providing open source software development services in our specialist fields.  Much of our business is in the embedded space and very often pre-silicon, hence our continued expertise in modelling. We use everything from high-level functional models through instruction set simulators, cycle accurate models based on Verilog and VHDL, through to EDA event driven simulation.

    With bases in the UK and Germany, Embecosm is now the world’s largest independent general open source compiler tool chain developer. We are not the only player in this area, CodePlay in Edinburgh specialise in OpenCL compilers, while AdaCore in France specialises in open source Ada compilers. Siemens in Germany also has a department offering compiler development services.

    The business model

    Embecosm follows a purely service business model. Customers pay for our engineering expertise to develop their compilers, models and operating systems.  These are all inherently very difficult areas of software engineering, very much the rocket science end of the discipline.  This is core to our business model―it is invariably more cost effective for customers to use our services than to attempt to recruit and manage an in-house team. 

    We are not a body shop. We supply a team to solve the problem, bringing in specialists at different times. Early on we probably want assembler and modeling specialists, later on the compiler team get to work, then we need the documentation and training specialists to complete the project.

    The scarcity of the skills we offer is critical to driving our business.  The fact that the software is always freely available is important (see “The risk factor” below), but doesn’t allow the customer to solve the problem on their own.

    The risk factor

    The value of free and open source software to the customer is in the reduction of risk. It costs as much to use Embecosm to develop/maintain a compiler tool chain as it does to buy in a proprietary tool chain.  However unlike the proprietary tool chain, you are not locked in to one supplier. If you wish you can drop Embecosm and use another tool chain supplier with no problem.

    Indeed the ability to walk away from Embecosm at any time, is a key reason that customers stay with us. It is a value of free and open source software that is often overlooked, but in a business context can be the most important.

    Building profitability

    A service business relies on reputation.  This is the case even more for free and open source software, with its basis in open communities. The first three years of Embecosm were not profitable, and mostly spent writing application notes explaining to people how to do all the things we do and talking about these things at conferences. These application notes on integrating GDB, building fast Verilator models, porting Newlib and so on, remain standards for the industry.

    But showing people how to do the work themselves, ended up driving business to us. Reading our application notes allowed managers to see how difficult the problem was and that Embecosm had the skills to solve these problems.  It makes the buying decision to use Embecosm services much easier.

    We remain completely open with all we do and contribute widely to free and open source projects. Almost every customer asks us to train up in-house staff, which we are happy to do. It provides us with advocates inside the customer who understand our work, and can act as “translators” to others in the customer, allowing us to provide a better solution.  Their experience invariably leads to growing confidence in Embecosm’s skills and a strong bond between customer and supplier engineering teams, which helps both.

    We are also unashamed that our skills are valuable. My staff are highly qualified and highly paid, reflecting the extreme scarcity of the abilities we need.  Our charges to customers reflect the value we deliver.

    In once case a customer had a team of 10 generalist engineers in India trying to develop a GCC tool chain for 5 years.  Customers continued to complain about the poor quality of the tool chain and eventually we were called in.  By then standard regression testing was flagging over 130 internal compiler errors.  All were fixed by one Embecosm engineer in one month and we then spent a year training up the team in India with the specialist skills they needed to maintain the tool chain.

    So we may look expensive by the hour, but when you consider what we deliver in that hour, we suddenly seem very good value.  This is a general principle of business, whether open source or not.  The higher value the services you can provide, the more profitable you will be.

    Conclusions

    Free and open source businesses can be very profitable, particularly operating in areas where skills are scarce.  Ongoing engagement with the wider community is essential to building reputation, trust and ultimately more business.

    Dr Jeremy Bennett is Chief Executive of Embecosm (www.embecosm.com), specializing in the development of free and open source compiler tool chains, operating systems and processor models.  He is author of the standard textbook “Introduction to Compiling Techniques” (McGraw-Hill 1990, 1995, 2003) and holds a MA and PhD in Computer Science from Cambridge University. Since 2017 he has served as Chair of the BCS Open Source Specialist Group.

  • Open Source Specialist Group Project contest – the results (10/4/2016) by Andres Baravalle

    Code

    The Open Source Specialist Group Project contest received a number?of high quality applications.

    We are delighted to share the names winners:

    • Dan Gorringe, for the category Best School Project
    • Chelsea Back, for the category Best Apprenticeship Project
    • Luke Robert, for the category Best First Year?Project

Events

  • Open source software for scientific and parallel computing -
    When: June 11, 2020 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
    Where: BCS Online Meeting

    In public data centers and in computational science, open-source software plays a key role to create a productive environment for researchers. Computational science is the modeling and simulation of the laws of nature within computer[...]

  • Benefits of open data Realising Rewards of Open Data -
    When: May 21, 2020 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
    Where: BCS Online Meeting

    Open Data is often mentioned alongside its bigger sisters of Open Software and Open Hardware, but so far the movement has not enjoyed as widespead success. But why not? What more could people be getting[...]

  • Women in Open Source -
    When: September 17, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
    Where: BCS Online Meeting

    At this evening meeting online, we’ll be welcoming four women, all of whom are pursuing a career in open source. This is a joint meeting with BCS Women. Please register on Eventbrite for a free[...]

  • Andrew Tierney presents a talk on hacking smart thermostats LoRaWAN: Long Range Wireless for the Internet Of Things -
    When: April 16, 2020 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
    Where: BCS Online Meeting

    LoRaWAN is a Long Range Wide Area Networking technology that has been quietly sitting in the background of many IoT systems for several years now. This month we’ll hear from speakers who were early adopters[...]

  • Open Source in Government -
    When: February 20, 2020 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
    Where: BCS London, 25 Copthall Ave, London EC2R 7BP

    At this evening meeting in London, we’ll be looking at how Open Source is used in Government. AGENDA 18:00 – Tea, coffee 18:30 – Presentation 20:30 – Close Please register on Eventbrite for a free[...]

  • London Open Source Meetup for RISC-V -
    When: January 20, 2020 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
    Where: BCS London, 25 Copthall Ave, London EC2R 7BP

    This is our quarterly meetup for the London open source community, focusing on RISC-V, hosted by the BCS Open Source Specialist Group and the UK Open Source Hardware User Group.  These meetings provide an opportunity[...]

  • Introduction to OAuth and Writing Your Own OAuth Client -
    When: December 4, 2019 @ 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
    Where: JM 018, John Everett Millais Building, Southampton Solent University, East Park Terrace, Southampton, SO14 0RD

    This session will outline what OAuth is, why it is important and how to write an OAuth client to an existing web API. Attendees are assumed to have some web development experience. This is a[...]