Following his first presentation at CeBIT, I had a chance to sit and talk with Jon "maddog" Hall, a well-known open source advocate and the Executive Director of Linux International, about one of his most recent personal projects. First conceived in 2007, Project Cauã is an effort to promote free software, efficient computing and the creation of jobs, while providing low-cost access to computers, support and internet access to low-income users.
Hall told me that Project Cauã currently has five primary goals: to create new private sector jobs for IT professionals, make computers easier to use, decrease cellular wireless contention, reduce electricity use, and increase the life of computer systems. The project aims to achieve this by training IT specialists to become both "system administrators/entrepreneurs" with their own businesses, by following a thin client/server model, and by initially focusing only on large, poor urban areas in Brazil (one of the ten largest economies in the world), and then eventually throughout the rest of Latin America. The first major city being targeted by Project Cauã is São Paulo, which Hall says has a much higher population density than Manhattan, New York.
To reduce the cost of getting access to a computer and internet access, Project Cauã will use high availability (HA) servers in the basement of tall buildings such as offices and apartment complexes, and connect these to custom, open source thin client systems over 1Gbit or 10Gbit Ethernet. Hall says that these fanless thin clients, which are still currently being designed and are expected to cost just $200, will consume "well below" 10 watts of power, have USB 3.0 support for additional peripherals, and be diskless, relying on the building's central HA server for data storage and making them easier to manage, restore and support.
Hall said that, once completed, all of the documentation and specifications for Project Cauã will be available freely online under an open source licence for anyone to use and learn from. However, to ensure quality, the project will also directly offer online classroom training, certification, licensing, and apprenticeships for system administrators and entrepreneurs.
While the thin clients are still being designed and the documentation is being completed, Hall's first project within Project Cauã will be a low-cost Raspberry Pi that can be mounted on the back of any VESA-mount-capable display. The Raspberry Pi will run a custom Debian Linux distribution with media centre capabilities and support for telephony services. Hall expects the first Project Cauã hardware to appear in April, at which point 50 new entrepreneurs will be invited to take part in a pilot program. After three months, this program will be evaluated and then opened up to a further 1,000 entrepreneurs.
Ultimaker: 3D Printing
Just a couple of buildings over from the Open Source area in Hall 6, 3D printers from Fabbster and Ultimaker were gathering large crowds of onlookers interested in the latest in personal 3D printing technology. While Fabbster is proprietary, Ulitimaker is completely open source hardware and also uses the project's own open source software called Cura to control the printer. Cura is cross-platform, supporting Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, and is designed to be as easy to use and streamlined as possible; the Ultimaker is also compatible with the closed-source NetFabb Engine software.
At the Ultimaker stand, I spoke to Ultimaking Ltd Co-founder Erik De Bruijn, who showed me a "sneak preview" of the project's new online platform, which is currently in beta. This beta version of the site, which lets users create 3D designs using drag-and-drop options and commands, adds support for one-click printing to the Ultimaker directly from the site. Previously, users were required to print using desktop software or by copying the object's file to an SD card and inserting it into the printer.
Following MakerBot's decision to move away from open source with its Replicator 2 3D printer and MakerWare software late last year, Bruijn said that he hopes that the community will give the Ultimaker a try and help to improve its hardware and software. The "do-it-yourself" Ultimaker printer kit costs €1,194 (approximately £1,040), while a fully-assembled Ultimaker will set you back a bit more at €1,699 (£1,480).
The future of Open Source at CeBIT
While the popularity and growth of open source has led to increased exhibition space at CeBIT, it must be said that CeBIT is still first and foremost a commercial trade fair. Although the open source community has been fairly well represented in the past by developers from projects including Debian, KDE, Python and LibreOffice, as well as IPFire, the LiMux Project and Mozilla, CeBIT 2013 was different for the community. The Open Source Project Lounge, where free and open source projects could show their wares and meet up had apparently disappeared from everywhere but the show materials. This meant the community's visibility had significantly diminished at the show in favour of additional commercial open source vendors offering their software and services.
Even though this shift comes as no surprise – space at CeBIT comes at a premium price – it's still somewhat disappointing to see and even more ironic given the theme of CeBIT this year was the "Shareconomy". Looking forward to future CeBITs, hopefully the show's organisers, or the commercial open source companies, will decide to remedy this situation. Offering space to free and open source software projects so that they can show the visitors to the event what these and other projects like them have to offer would give a more complete picture of what open source and free software is about.