The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thanks for the Memory

Locally, we have just finished up a HeliOS Project hardware drive, and it went well.  One of the unforeseen consequences of this publicity was the added requests for computers to be installed.  So far, we have 109 requests.  It is going to take us some time to see how many of these qualify for a HeliOS computer but even if only half qualify, we have our work cut out for us.

We did receive some good computers, especially laptops.  Most older kids starting high school or college will want a laptop.  Our current problem is that many of these machines came with only 256 or 512 meg of RAM.  Our experience teaches us that putting out a computer with less than 1 gig of ram is more of a hindrance than a help .

And sure, a "light" desktop will make the computer itself boot faster and open applications faster but it really does nothing to make the actual applications work faster.

Has anyone tried to use Open Office with 256 meg of RAM?

It isn't pretty.

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman who is part owner in a large new car dealership here in Austin.  We met him while delivering one of our computers.  After telling him of some of the challenges we faced in operating The HeliOS Project, he offered to help.

Beginning on Saturday, the 21st of August, this gentleman and his brother will match any donation made to The HeliOS Project and they will do so through the 5th of September.  They have offered to match these donations up to a total of 1000 dollars.

This is a great opportunity for us.  Funding has been sparse this year...it's been tough for everyone.

These generous car dealers have asked to remain anonymous and I understand that.  Often when I donate to things I believe in, I don't particularly want any recognition.  Just getting the job done is enough for us.

We will be doing some bulk ordering of laptop and desktop RAM if this works out for us.  We will also use the money to purchase decent video cards and hard drives.

If you wish, you can donate at the top left of this page or you may do so by simply clicking here. 

As always, your donation is tax deductible.

Thanks for helping us do what we do.

All-Righty Then


12 comments:

PV said...

I'm trying hard not to be a devil's advocate, but have you ever considered AbiWord/Gnumeric? (Unfortunately there is no similar presentation software included.) I've found that AbiWord works just as well as Writer for general document creation (as well as for saving in M$FT document formats when necessary), while Gnumeric works better than Calc in that (though it does have fewer cells, the default number is so big anyway that it becomes irrelevant) Gnumeric actually supports 3D plots out of the box! The other nice thing is that with OpenOffice.org proposing new interface changes, AbiWord and Gnumeric will have familiar interfaces.
--
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Blog of helios said...

support for those apps such as templates and plugins leave much to be desired. We tried using them with not much luck. Besides, Open Office is becoming an accepted medium for colleges and we don't want to splinter the Linux application use any farther than it is.

h

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I really thought that running fluxbox or Openbox would help in making my machine run faster. It only had 256 in it. Sure it booted faster and did small things faster but when trying to watch something on Hulu.com or play an online flash game, it was pathetic. Problem was, this computer was so old it would only take 512 of RAM.

PV said...

I understand the need for OpenOffice.org for college students, but I would think that AbiWord and Gnumeric are usually workable for high school requirements, right? Plus, I could make the same argument as you just did with regard to Ubuntu vs. Fedora on that person's computer from your last post - there's no need to introduce Fedora into the mix and needlessly fracture the distribution usage more than it already has. On the flip side of that, just as Fedora was the better choice for that particular person's computer, so too (I think) would AbiWord/Gnumeric be a better choice than having no productivity software at all (because OpenOffice.org would choke under such low hardware specs) until more RAM is acquired.
Cheers!
--
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Rawler said...

It's sad even the usually more efficient open source world has come to this, when 512MB ram is considered little.

5 years ago, 512 MB was still if not plenty, at least well enough for office applications. You still do the same things in your office application. Spelling tools haven't changed much. Layouting is basically the same. Almost every aspect of your word processor works just like it did 5 years ago, yet it barely crawls on the same hardware it did five years ago.

Resource-waste, especially RAM, is IMHO a clear sign of sloppy development, and it seems developers is getting sloppier all the time.

Today I realized a tool I use at work, which is essentially a glorified FTP client, consumes 130MB RSS mem, and roughly half a gig VSS. Seriously? For an FTP client? Mind you, the software is part of a package wheighing in at ~100000USD.

When comparing software performance, people tend to only compare real-world run-time without background load. There is often little to no consideration of cpu-usage, and certainly not RAM usage. In practice, I think efficient well performing software should be tested on a somewhat aged machine, with 512 MB RAM, and some light background load, like your music application background-indexing your music.

Software developers usually defend themselves with the excuse "before this goes public computers will be twice as fast". What they should ask themselves is: Do we really want a 18-month future, where people are forced to buy new hardware just to get the perfomance of today, or do we want a future twice as fast?

Sum Yung Gai said...

The other huge reason we need OpenOffice.org is for file format compatibility with Microsoft's "Uh-Oh-XML" file format. You know, the one they bought the ISO to get passed? AbiWord and Gnumeric are great, don't get me wrong. But MS Office file format compatibility is *ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL* to penetration of Free Software in education.

Almost three years ago, I did a Kubuntu installation for a Latin American family. Their daughter just graduated high school this last June and is now going to college. That Kubuntu computer that I set up for them? She continues to use it! She does everything on it, homework and all. Her teachers have no idea that she's using something "not Microsoft."

That's why we need OpenOffice.org. And that's why Ken needs DRAM.

Gavin said...

We will also use the money to purchase decent video cards and hard drives.

Hahahaa! I always laugh when you say the phrase "decent video cards". As a gamer, I nearly dishonored my family when I sent you those GeForce 6200 PCI vid cards! :( I say nearly because I knew that you would be forced to use something like Intel's Extreme Graphics 2 otherwise, but that is a small consolation. As a manipulator of servers, I understand how some people could think that graphics do not matter. After all, even GUI configuration tools run fine on your standard 8MB embedded server GPU. But have you ever tried to scroll down on the Digg website while using the local console?? Wow! (Note: I do not recommend trying this on production servers!) GUI tools are very different from the likes of OOo and Java websites. And once you have tasted GUI goodness on the latest hardware, everything else seems like a pale shadow, a past dream, being played back to you in slow motion.

It does not take much to create an excellent GUI experience, either, though a GeForce 8400 GS may seem like overkill to some. But when you can buy them so inexpensively?:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814500161

$12 after rebate shipped anywhere within the 48 contiguous US states, passively cooled, low profile capable, DX10 and OpenGL 3.3 compliant, with VGA and dual-link DVI-I and HDMI ports, and 43 GFLOPs of double-precision shader power at just 40W TDP. Even without the rebate, it is still less than $40 to ship it just about anywhere within 5 business days.

With an example like this, why is anyone still arguing the point?

Gavin said...

PV - "I understand the need for OpenOffice.org for college students, but I would think that AbiWord and Gnumeric are usually workable for high school requirements, right?"

Wrong. I went through high school in the second half of the 1990s, and saw the introduction of Microsoft Office requirements. As a freshman, I had teachers that accepted hand-written papers as long as the edges were smooth. As a senior, nearly all my teachers required computer printed papers, and some of them required specific combinations of margins and spacing that could only be done with a program like MS Word. My younger brother, several years behind me, had even more stringent requirements. Many of his teachers required that students email their papers specifically in MS Office formats, no exceptions, or they would not receive a grade at all. No paper hand-ins, no MS Works or Wordpad documents, no open format documents - nothing else was accepted. In fact, in his junior year, the family computer broke down (guess who had to fix it?) and my brother had to bike to school an hour early for a week in order to finish a paper in the school library computer lab. Now consider the fact that my brother graduated from high school before MS Office 2007 was released and you will have an idea of how much further this has likely gone.

Obviously assignment requirements are at the discretion of the teacher, but there are no laws against this sort of thing as long as the school provides a way to complete the assignment as required. While I think there should be laws against this sort of thing, and while I believe Ken would agree with me, lobbying for policy change is beyond the scope of Ken's project and should be considered a separate issue. Ken is doing what he can within the requirements of the schools, as screwed up as those are, because he is trying to help his kids. Giving them the free GNU/Linux system with OOo is already enough of a work-around without introducing even more compromises.

Gavin said...

Rawler - "Resource-waste, especially RAM, is IMHO a clear sign of sloppy development, and it seems developers is getting sloppier all the time."

While I agree that some of the problem is most likely sloppy programming, I would also argue that a lot of it can be attributed to the growing issue of security. Sure, OOo 2.x ran faster than 3.x. It also had more security holes. And Firefox 2.x ran faster than 3.x, although it had a memory leak and a lot of insecure plugins. And Win98SE was quite lean, but you would be a fool to run it on the internet these days for more than a millisecond. You could always go back to an earlier distro of Linux that was nice and fast, but beware those old versions of OpenSSH! And do not even get me started on hardware detection...

If you really pine for the old days of speed, fire up some older software. But be prepared to be vulnerable, and be prepared to have to run it on older hardware. Kind of defeats the purpose, though, right? Sure, MS Office XP is still getting security patches for another 2 years, but the feature set and crash bugs are still there. Likewise, you can still download Ubuntu 7.04 if you really want, but do you honestly want to spend hours of your time back-porting all the patches it would require? Conversely, you could run a much more recent distro of Linux that is intended to be leaner, such as Gentoo, but as soon as you add a GUI you end up back at the beginning of this discussion, so what is the point?

But honestly, I remember the older days of computers, and I do not ever recall GUIs being particularly fast at anything. I remember Mac System Software 2.0 on the old Motorola 68K CPUs, and the problem with people dragging the hard drive to the trash in an attempt to shutdown the system. ;) I remember DOS 4.x/5.x and having to run GUI/TUI programs by typing commands. I remember text-based games (oh the horrible grues!) and the huge leap to character-based graphics. I remember how cool it was when grey-scale and green screens gave way to CGA 16-color. I remember how frustrating Win95 was, and how cool Win98 seemed by comparison. I remember wrestling with Fedora Core 4 on PII machines. I remember all sorts of GUIs, and never did they seem as fast to me as modern GUIs with plenty of RAM. Win95, as lean as it was, still ran like a dog with 64MB of RAM. Mac OS 9 was barely tolerable with 128MB of RAM. Fedora Core 4 ran well with 192MB of RAM... until you tried to open a third program. Before I upgraded my first system past the 512MB mark, the only thing I associated with GUIs was the constant sound of hard drive thrashing. And those pre-10GB hard drives sure were loud!

Gavin said...

This is a great thing that these car dealer guys/gals are doing. Matching donations is a tough deal in any situation. They must have quite the vision to make a committment like this in their community, charity or otherwise.

We have until September 5th, right? I will work out a donation by then, even if I have to eat pre-packaged ramen for a month! This is too good to pass up...

PV said...

I know that AbiWord and Gnumeric are not able to create documents in the Microsoft Office 2007 formats, but as long as they can create documents in the Microsoft Office 97-2003 formats, who will know that they used AbiWord/Gnumeric? And who would specifically require only the new formats over the older formats?
--
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Gavin said...

Well, keep in mind that Office 2010 was released over two months ago, which means that Office 2003 is two versions and 7 years old. Not to mention that most companies and organizations that rely on MS Office have been evaluating the new 2010 version since at least early May. So if we are talking about Office 97-2003, we are really talking about software that Microsoft discourages at this point because they have not sold it in years (and are not developing new features, fixes, or tools for it).

In terms of school usage, the big name of the game is compatibility. And it has to be compatible in terms of flawless operation, for which different versions of MS software are not known. MS Office 2003 to 2007 are not flawlessly compatible, much less the new 2010 version. For a pure text Word document, yes, 2003 and 2010 are (I think) flawlessly compatible, but when was the last time you had only text in a school assignment? If anything, high schools are more multimedia these days than colleges. I have even seen Excel 2003 documents in the work environment that get screwed up by Excel 2007, and Excel 2010 does not magically fix this. And if it does not work flawlessly the first time, it is labeled "incompatible" - because a high school Political Science teacher does not have to be a techie (much less MS certified!) in order to be hired. If the teacher cannot open the document correctly the first time, the student will be graded on the assignment as-is. And if the teacher cannot open the document at all...

And yes, the school's IT department shares a good deal of the blame when it comes to compatibility. Microsoft offers toolkits and converters, after all. But the educational sector does not pay nearly well enough to attract the upper 50% of the workforce, from what I hear. You almost have to be an educator at heart in order to take that kind of a pay cut.

And why the heck MS is unable to stick to the same metadata framework is beyond me. Excel's pivot tables will haunt me for years, I am sure. If you want me to point fingers, I will gladly direct you to the school systems inside Dakota County in Minnesota. Being more specific than that would be irresponsible of me since I do not have the whole picture. But go ahead and start there if you want some questions answered. Maybe even ask a few of your own. In the mean time, Ken needs donations for RAM.