Rob Dolin's Blog

Thoughts on technology, politics, non-profits, and their intersections; and food

Live Writer is now Open Source (Cross-Post)

I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working as a part of the awesome team of volunteers who worked to release Open Live Writer v0.5 earlier today.  You can read my guest post on the .NET Foundation’s blog from earlier today.  Thanks–
Rob

(Cross-posted from: http://www.dotnetfoundation.org/blog/open-live-writer)

Live Writer is now Open Source

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Windows Live Writer has been turning blogging up to 11 since 2007, but since 2012 things have been a bit quiet with the application itself. However over the past few months I have had the pleasure working with a very pasionate group of engineers volunteering their time to ensure that Live Writer has a sustainable future. I’m pleased to announce that today the .NET Foundation welcomes a new project – Open Live Writer. One of the great things about Live Writer has always been the passionate community behind it and I can’t wait to see what that community does now everying is open source and on GitHub.

In this guest post from Rob Dolin, he explains more about the new project and how to get started with the new, Open Live Writer which is available to download now.

— Martin

Windows Live Writer Released as the open source Open Live Writer

It’s a great day for bloggers who have a favorite tool for creating content. Today Microsoft announced that Open Live Writer was released and has been contributed to the .NET Foundation. Open Live Writer is an open source application enabling users to author, edit, and publish blog posts. It is based on a fork of the wellloved but not actively developed Windows Live Writer code. Scott Hanselman helped carry the torch at Microsoft on this project, and I’ve been proud to be part of the all-volunteer team to make it happen.

History of Windows Live Writer

The product that became Live Writer was originally created by a small, super-talented team of engineers including Jeremy Allaire, JJ Allaire, Joe Cheng, Charles Teague, and Spike Washburn. The team joined Microsoft through an acquisition in 2006 and organized with the Spaces team where I was working. Becky Pezely joined the team and over time, the team grew and shipped many popular releases of Windows Live Writer.

As Microsoft was planning for the version of Windows Live that would coincide with the Windows 8 operating system release, the teams that built the Windows Live client apps for Windows were encouraged to focus on building a smaller set of Windows 8 apps designed to work well with both traditional PC input mechanisms and touch. The original team concluded their work on Windows Live Writer with Windows Live Writer 2012.

Reviving Live Writer

Even though there was no active development, Windows Live Writer continued to be a favorite tool of a passionate community of Windows PC users for authoring, editing, and publishing blog posts. Data from WordPress.com at the time suggested that Windows Live Writer (even two years after active development ended) was the #1 app for authoring a blog post to WordPress.com on a Windows PC. In fact, some of our technical evangelists were actively using Windows Live Writer for publishing on WordPress-powered blogs. A few team members from my former MS Open Tech team took an early interest in joining Scott Hanselman to revive Live Writer as an open source project.

By January 2015, a group of about a half-dozen engineers interested in spending some of their volunteer time to help release an updated version of Live Writer had found each other. Jon Gallant sent an email to a few large group email lists at Microsoft soliciting volunteers and we collected about 50 people interested in helping. Anne Legato, Ed Essey, and the team at The Garage were most helpful in sharing advice on launching external projects. Scott Guthrie also agreed to be Open Live Writer’s sponsor.

Why v0.5

You might wonder why we’re releasing a version 0.5 now instead of waiting to get to a v0.9 or a v1.0. A few considerations went into this. First, we wanted to get this out as an open source project as quickly as possible so people outside of Microsoft could start participating. Second, we suspect many people may be taking some vacation around the end of December and we wanted to make sure the project was available. Third, Eddie Kessler and the folks on Google’s Blogger team asked us to ship no later than early December 2015 so they could turn-off an old API that Windows Live Writer was dependent on. Eddie and team originally had planned to turn-off the API earlier and we are thankful for their collaboration and partnership in extending its life until we could release Open Live Writer.

Why .NET Foundation

The volunteer team considered a few options for releasing Open Live Writer. Ultimately, we found a great partnership in the .NET Foundation to support our goals around growing community participation for the project. Martin Woodward, Robin Ginn, and the team has been super-helpful in many matters including open source governance and administrative support, to marketing and communications.

And Open Live Writer is many thousands of lines of C# code, so the .NET Foundation is a good technical match too. J

Enough Background, SHOW ME THE BITS!

To download the latest version of Open Live Writer, visit our website: http://www.OpenLiveWriter.org/. Open Live Writer is designed to sit side-by-side with Windows Live Writer so installing Open Live Writer won’t impact your existing version of Windows Live Writer.

For the latest news and updates about Open Live Writer, you can follow us on Twitter as @OpenLiveWriter and find other ways to connect on: http://www.OpenLiveWriter.org/.

Help Wanted

Open Live Writer is brought to you by a volunteer team and continued improvements are dependent on volunteers. The code is available on GitHub: http://www.github.com/OpenLiveWriter/ and we welcome pull requests and open issues.

However, we’re not just looking for developers. Anyone who wants to test early bits, help with visual design, interactive design, technical writing, partnership negotiation, product management, marketing, digital media, and more would be welcomed. You can find ways to plug-in to the community at: http://www.OpenLiveWriter.org/.

Thank You

Thanks very much for your interest in Open Live Writer and many happy blog posts—
–Rob

Rob Dolin (@RobDolin)
Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Cross-Platform and Open Tools team
(On behalf of the Open Live Writer committers)

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Filed under: Technology

Thanks for visiting

I publish here occasionally; often previously using Windows Live Writer and now this post was created with Open Live Writer

You can also find me on Facebook (work, personal), GitHub (work, perosnal), LinkedIn, and Twitter.

‘All the best–
Rob

headshot 2012 (600x600px)

Filed under: Technology

Open edX + Microsoft Office 365: Better Together (Cross-Post)

As a part of the Microsoft Open Technologies (MS Open Tech) team, one of my projects was leading engineering on integrations with open source software from the educational sector.  Here is a post about some of that work:

(Cross-posted from: https://msopentech.com/blog/2015/06/26/open-edx-office-365/ )

Open edX + Microsoft Office 365: Better Together

In the past few days, key contributions have been accepted into the Open edX codebase to enable integration between Open edX, a popular open source system for massive open online courses or MOOCs and Office 365’s popular productivity software and services.

This continues Microsoft’s contributions to educational open source software including Office 365 integrations with Moodle announced earlier this year.

Background

For readers who may not know, Open edX is an open source platform for teaching and learning. It powers edX.org where Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, IIT Mumbai, Tsinghua University, the University of Arizona, the University of Texas, and many other academic institutions publish MOOCs. Open edX software also powers academic, professional, and vocational learning sites including: Blue Planet Life, Cloud Genius, DrupalX, McKinsey Academy, MongoDB University, University of Alaska, UNC Online and many others.

Microsoft uses edX as well, and in March of this year announced a new set of edX courses designed to provide developers with the skills they need to be successful in the cloud-first, mobile-first world. Taught by well-known Microsoft experts, these course focus on in-demand skills and feature interactive coding, assessments and exercises to help students build the expertise they need to excel in their careers.

Single Sign-On

With the “Cypress” release coming in July 2015, administrators of Open edX software will be able to enable single sign-on with a variety of identity providers including Facebook, Google, and Office 365.

The story of enabling Office 365 sign-on for Open edX is a story of collaboration that happens frequently in open source software. Initially, an MS Open Tech engineer made a pull request to add support for login with Office 365 to Open edX. A member of the edX team pointed us to another pull request authored by Braden MacDonald from OpenCraft. We connected with Braden who provided our engineering team with a sandbox for testing. We verified that Braden’s pull request would satisfy our scenario as long as it picked-up the latest version of another open source library. Earlier today, Braden’s pull request incorporating our requirements was merged from the feature branch in to the master branch of the code.

During discussions on GitHub, we also found that there was a need for documentation of the new single sign-on / 3rd party authentication functionality. We have volunteered to dedicate some resources to that work.

Insert / Embed File XBlock

Our contributions to Open edX have also included a new XBlock which enables supported files to be inserted or embedded. Like single sign-on, we began with an initial goal of Open edX + Microsoft Office 365 integration and ended-up not just contributing Microsoft integration to the open source project, but contributing an XBlock that supports integration with any service that provides a public URL for hosted documents and implements oEmbed.

The “File Storage” XBlock enables course authors to insert a hyperlink to a file or embed a file from a large number of file hosting solutions. Our team has tested: Box, Dropbox, Google docs, Office Mix, OneDrive, Slideshare, Soundcloud, TED, YouTube, and more. You can find a full list of tested file hosts in the XBlock’s ReadMe file.

Documentation, installation instructions, and the open source code for the “File Storage” XBlock is at: https://github.com/MSOpenTech/xblock-filestorage

Office Mix XBlock

MS Open Tech is not the only team from Microsoft contributing to Open edX. The Office Mix team has developed an XBlock for embedding content authored in Office Mix into an Open edX course. The XBlock was originally published at the end of 2014 and the Mix team is working to ensure all Office Mix content embedded in Open edX courses is accessible. Thanks to the flexible XBlock architecture, when these issues are addressed, all Office Mix content embedded in Open edX courses will automatically get the accessibility fixes.

Documentation, installation instructions, and the open source code for the Office Mix XBlock are at: https://github.com/OfficeDev/xblock-officemix

Future Contributions

In addition to our collaboration with Braden, we are appreciative of the friendly, welcoming, and helpful members of the Open edX community including Beth Porter, Sarina Canelake, Ned Batchelder, Mark Hoeber, and others.

We hope you’re as excited as we are to see this integration between Open edX and Office 365 and as we did with Moodle over the last few months, we look forward to this just being just the beginning of exciting integrations between open source Open edX and Office 365.

Jean Paoli, President
Rob Dolin, Senior Program Manager
Doug Mahugh, Senior Technical Evangelist
Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc.

Filed under: Education, Microsoft, Online Communities, Technology

Office 365 Open Source plugins for Moodle: getting better all the time (Cross-Post)

As a part of the Microsoft Open Technologies (MS Open Tech) team, one of my projects was leading engineering on integrations with open source software from the educational sector.  Here is a post about some of that work:

(Cross-posted from: https://msopentech.com/blog/2015/06/26/office-365-moodle-getting-better/ )

Office 365 Open Source plugins for Moodle: getting better all the time

Earlier today we shared the news that the upcoming Cypress release of Open edX, the most popular open source MOOC (massive open online course), will include new features for tighter integration with Office 365. Those features are the result of our open source collaboration with members of the Open edX community.

In addition to the new work we’re doing with Open edX, we continue to work with Remote-Learner (a leading Moodle partner) to make improvements and additions to the open source Office 365 plugins for Moodle. Moodle is the most popular open source learning management system (LMS), and the Office 365 plugins were released in January of this year. In this post, we’d like to share a few details about the great work Remote-Learner is doing to evolve the plugins.

Evolving plugins to keep up with Office 365 and Moodle

Many of the changes over the last few months were in response to feedback from Moodle and Office 365 users, but there have also been changes due to the ongoing evolution of Moodle and Office, respectively. For example, the plugins were originally released for Moodle 2.7, and Remote-Learner has performed the necessary testing and changes to assure that the plugins work with Moodle 2.8 and now Moodle 2.9, the most recent version.

Another good example is the new User Groups feature in Office 365, which the plugins have exposed within Moodle for use by students and teachers. As Remote-Learner’s Bryan Poss explained in a recent blog post, “Unified user groups are a new feature in Office 365 that provides a way for groups of users to collaborate throughout Office 365 applications. Groups can now be created and maintained for each course in a Moodle site, giving users an easier way to share with the other people in their courses. Teachers have a simple way to share documents with their students, and those students have a simpler way to contact their peers.”

Adapting to feedback from students, teachers and administrators

Many organizations have been testing and deploying the plugins, and their feedback helps guide and prioritize updates. Mike Churchward’s January post on the Moodle forums, for example, has dozens of comments back and forth between early adopters and the Remote-Learner team. Some of the comments identified bugs that have been fixed (specific examples can be found here), and other feedback has resulted in simplification of the user experience.

In the original release in January, you had to use a Microsoft Account (MSA) for the OneNote integration, even if you were using an Office 365 login for the other features. This spring, however, OneNote has released a new API that enables use of an enterprise login for all of the functionality, including the OneNote integration, so the plugins have been modified to take advantage of this new API. The need for a separate MSA was something some early adopters had found to be clumsy, and now they can have a streamlined experience using only their Office 365 login.

For more details about the improvements to the open source Office 365 plugins for Moodle that have been released over the last few months, see Remote-Learner’s blog post Microsoft Office 365 Plugins Update as well as MS Open Tech’s blog post Office 365 plugins for Moodle: updates and new features.

Growing Momentum

The Moodle plugin repository provides download statistics for each plugin, and it’s exciting to see how many people are using the Office 365 plugins! The latest stats show more than 180 sites are using the plugins now, and there have been more than 4,000 downloads, with download activity growing steadily over time:

Moodle plugin downloads

Of more than 1,000 plugins in the Moodle plugin directory, Office 365 plugins are all in the top 10 of their respective categories. A few highlights:

  • OneDrive for Business was the number 4 Repository download for the last 12 months, and was the number 2 Repository download for the last two months.
  • OneNote was the number 9 Repository download for the last 12 months and the number 3 Repository download for the last two months.
  • OneNote was the number 5 Assignment download for the last 12 months and was the number 4 Assignment download for the last two months.
  • oEmbed was the number 9 Filter download for the last 12 months and was number 6 Filter download for the last two months.
  • OpenID Connect was the number 3 Authentication download for the last 12 months and the number 2 Authentication download for the last two months.

We’re pleased to see the growing momentum around this work, and look forward to continued collaboration with open source educational software communities!

Jean Paoli, President
Rob Dolin, Senior Program Manager
Doug Mahugh, Senior Technical Evangelist
Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc.

Filed under: Technology

Internet Bandwidth Use Cases

At last night’s meeting of the City of Seattle’s Citizens Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board (CTTAB), we discussed what levels of Internet bandwidth are needed now and into the future.  This got me thinking and I wanted to jot-down some thoughts and seek feedback from friends and fellow community members.  Thanks very much–
Rob

0) Text-only – If you can remember back to the days before the Internet, there were some applications like text-only email, text-only chat, and bulletin board systems (BBS’s) that would work reasonably well with only a text interface.  With the proliferation of personal mobile devices around the world, SMS text messaging provides for this use case.  Very few people use the Internet like this today.

1) Email and Web 1.0 – In the USA in the mid-to-late 1990’s, many people first connected to the Internet.  The two biggest applications were sending and receiving email (which might include inline images and/or attached files) and browsing static web pages.  However, both email and the web have evolved.  Email attachments are routinely multiple megabytes and web sites routinely send data back and forth while interacting with the user (ex: Google maps getting new map tiles, Facebook or Twitter getting new news feed items, or Outlook.com getting new emails.  With the way email and the web are used 15-20 years since, higher bandwidth is needed

2a) Buffered Streaming (Lower Resolution) – Imagine streaming an online course from a website like EdX or Coursera.  Resolutions of 320×240 or 640×480 is probably sufficient for the talking head of an instructor and to be able to read simple slides.  For the buffered streaming use case, latency is also not a huge issue as uses will wait a moment while the streaming application fills its buffer in case of bandwidth fluctuation; but the bandwidth must be sufficient to carry the streaming content in real-time (or possibly faster as some streaming applications allow end-users to speed-up and watch at 1.5x or 2x.)  However, if an online course includes video or even dense slides, you’re probably going to want to step-up to:

2b) Buffered Streaming (Higher Resolution) – It’s date night and you and your significant other want to stay in and watch a movie.  Instead of purchasing or renting physical media (which may eventually end-up in a landfill) and wasting fuel on pick-up or delivery of the physical media, you want to stream the bits over the Internet.  You expect a reasonably higher resolution experience (ex: 1920 x 1080 or better) and you’re willing to wait a few moments for the movie to start, but bandwidth needs to be sufficient to carry the movie in real-time so you don’t have long pauses mid-movie.  This does not just include movies, but sporting events (where higher resolution may be required to see a hockey puck or motion of players on a football field) may also accept a short delay.

3) Real-time Higher Resolution Streaming – There are other use cases that are particularly high value that require both high bandwidth and low latency because of their interactive nature:

  • Video Conferencing / Real-time Video Chat – Whether its to remotely join a business meeting or to stay in-touch with family, not only is high bandwidth required, but delay in a back-and-forth conversation will severely hamper the ability of a remote worker to participate.
  • Screen Sharing – in remote work situations, information is often presented in real-time and all remote viewers must be able to see the position of a pointer, data being entered into a spreadsheet, a document being edited live, etc.
  • Remote Desktop / Desktop as a Service – A trend among information security conscious organizations (ex: financial institutions, law firms) is to have the primary computer on which information resides physically within the organization and the end user can access the application through a real-time streaming of the desktop.  This must be very low latency as the end-user should not feel like they are waiting when they type a key or move their mouse.
  • Online Gaming – While not as business-oriented as some of the other examples above, being able to navigate a higher resolution 3D virtual world in real-time while others are doing the same pushes the boundaries of end-user experiences technology can offer and hopefully helps to increase the quality, richness, and interactivity of remote business meetings or conversations with family around the world. 

Filed under: Technology

Project: TechDems WordPress Help team

There are nearly 100 local Democratic party organizations in the state of Washington.  Some of them include an abundance of leaders with significant technology skills.  Others have volunteers who are just getting onto the Internet.  Thanks to a Facebook comment from Robert Kangas from the 11th LD Democrats I’m helping to start a project to connect local Democratic and progressive organization leaders with WordPress experts.  Here’s how it works:

WordPress Help Team member experience:

  1. Join a listserv with other WordPress power users who want to help Democratic and progressive organizations
  2. Occasionally get emails from local organization leaders seeking help or advice using WordPress
  3. Reply to help when you can; ignore or delete when you’re busy
  4. Also learn from other WordPress power users by getting CC’d on their replies

Local organization leader experience:

  1. Send an email to a list of WordPress power users who have volunteered to help
  2. Get advice promptly because you’re reaching-out to multiple volunteers

If you would like to get involved as a member of the WordPress Help Team, you can join at: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/TechDems-WordPress-Helpers/

Filed under: Technology

At $1,500 $GOOG Glass is an “I’m Rich” App :(

One of my tech industry colleagues purchased a developer version of Google Glass and I got to try it a few months ago. Combining a smartphone operating system, heads-up display, camera, and and microphone into a head-mounted unit is an exciting idea in wearable technology. Unfortunately, Google’s offering this to the public for $1,500 as was announced on Tue, 4/15 makes this a fashion accessory similar to the old Apple iOS “I’m Rich” app which sold for $999 and had minimal functionality beyond proving that the owner had deep pockets. I hope that Google (or other wearable and smart device manufacturers) bring their pricing closer to the cost of components and democratize this technology instead of creating another way for people with excess cash to declare themselves wealthy “glassholes.”

Filed under: Technology

Idea: Open Broadband Performance Survey (OpenBPS) #CodeAcross #OpenDataDay #ODD14

As part of today’s Open Data Day, I’m interested in finding (or building) a large set of data on how broadband Internet connections actually perform. The original questions that got me thinking about this were discussed at a City of Seattle Citizens Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board (@CTTAB) meeting:

  • What is a good minimum level of broadband service?
  • While Internet service providers (ISPs) claim service up to XX Mbps, what is their actual service range?

If you’re interested in taking 30-60 seconds to contribute data about your (wired or cellular) Internet connection, please do so here: http://surveymonkey.com/s/OpenBPS.

Filed under: Technology

Free tools for group video chat – Try with your family for the holidays

Whether you’re organizing a board meeting, a strategy meeting for your favorite cause, or virtually celebrating winter holidays with family members in another city.  Technology has the potential for us not just to share text and audio, but to share live video.  You’ll need the three below items to get started:

  • Camera – You’ll need a computer or phone with a webcam.  Most recent laptops and smartphones have one built-in.  If you have a desktop computer, you can buy a basic webcam starting around $15-$20 that plugs-in to your computer.
  • Broadband Internet – Video files are not small so you’ll want a pretty good Internet connection because the quality of your experience will be dependent on your Internet bandwidth.  A wired broadband Internet connection or wi-fi are good ways to go.  A fast cellular network will also work, but if you have the option to connect to wi-fi, you may want to consider this because real-time video uses a good amount of bandwidth
  • Video Chat Software – You’ll need software running on both ends for video chat.  I describe three software options below and some pros and cons of each;

As today is Dec. 24th and many people have today and/or tomorrow off of work, I recommend trying a video chat with family.  Happy Holidays–
Rob

Filed under: Technology

Five free tools to better communicate to members and leaders of your non-profit or political organization

The winter holiday season is a great time for the leadership of non-profit and political organizations to upgrade their organization’s infrastructure.  Below are five areas of opportunity

1. Email Blasts: MailChimp – According to Jon Carson, the Executive Director of Organizing for America, Email is still the workhorse for OFA’s work.  For most non-profit and political organizations, this is likely the case and MailChimp offers free email blast service for lists up to 2,000 subscribers with their “Entrepreneur” pricing level.

2. Email Listserv: YahooGroups or GoogleGroups – While email blasts are great for periodic messages to your entire membership or supporters list, you’ll also want to be able to communicate among your leadership.  While this is relatively easy to do by just putting everyone’s email in the TO and CC lines, these services offer easy reflection, optional digest, private archiving, and more.  When a person joins (or leaves), its easy to add (or remove them) from a single place.

3. Shared Documents: Dropbox or SkyDriveYour organization likely has shared documents like contact lists, budgets, program/project plans, and more.  Like the email listserv, getting everything into a single shared Dropbox or SkyDrive folder makes adding (and removing) people easier.  instead of searching for all of the shared documents, you just share the folder.  This also prevents the “hit-by-bus” problem where one person is the gatekeeper or has all of the organization’s information.  If they’re ever hit by a bus (or otherwise leave the organization) everyone has copies of the organizations key documents.

4. Remote Participation: Skype or Google Hangouts – Even for an organization where people all live in the same neighborhood, some may work or travel elsewhere and it’s nice to be able to accommodate remote participants; OR if your organization has people spread over multiple geographies, it’s time to move beyond audio-only conference calls.  Skype is offering free group video for a year: http://collaboration.skype.com/ and though it doesn’t have as broad platform support, Google Hangouts offers similar group video.

5. Social Media Management: Hootsuite – Your organization probably has a presence on Facebook and Twitter; but managing these can be time consuming.  For managing organization social media, I’m a huge fan of HootSuite.  Their interface lets you create tabs and columns for views like Twitter @replies, #Hashtag searches, and more.  You can also build a list of profiles that you want to watch whose content you might often cross-post.

I hope you’ve found this post useful.  Depending on interest and response, I’ll post more about these and other communication tools for your non-profit or political group.  Happy Holidays–
Rob

P.S. I’m also eager to hear what you think is missing from the above list. 

Filed under: Technology

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