Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Moving a newspaper to open source

Change is not easy, at least for the ones changing. The people with the vision of the change sometimes make it look easy and don’t realize how hard it actually is. In 2003, I started working for a small newspaper as Technology Assistant and within a year as Technology Manager. Costs were extremely high. We were using Macintosh computers, Wordperfect, Quark, Adobe Photoshop, and the paid version of Eudora and keeping all of this software at the most recent version. The mission given to me was to reduce costs and my decision was to embrace opensource and reduce the number of paid software upgrades. No one in the newspaper industry around here or that I could find out about had done this so I was on my on.

Step 1: Wordprocessor: I took over the Technology Manager position in the middle of the upgrade from Mac os 9.2 to Mac OS X. Wordperfect’s last mac version only worked in the “Classic” enviroment and crashed A LOT so it had to be changed. The obvious choice would have been Microsoft Office for Mac but I choose to look elsewhere. Openoffice.org had a mac version but it was X11 only and didn’t work quite right. I then found NeoOffice/J  Beta(now just NeoOffice). It was in beta (ahhhhhh!!!!) and against my instinct I tested it and implemented it anyway. I set it to save everything as RTF and it worked and has continued to work flawlessly and in my opinion is the best Mac Office suite out there (I am aware that OpenOffice has a real Mac port now but there is no PPC port and I still think NeoOffice is better). I have not had the first problem and to add iceing to the cake it could open the old wordperfect files, a feat the software we would have had to pay for could not.

Step 2: Photo processing: As a photographer I have to say that I loved Photoshop but upgrading it every year and a half was getting expensive so I looked around for an alternative. The best I could find was Gimp. After much testing I decided against it and stuck with Photoshop. Last year when Gimp 2.6 was released I gave it another try . . . and liked it. Thus far I have transitioned all but one computer from Photoshop to Gimp. The problem with the last computer isn’t actually with gimp it is with SANE. I can’t get the scanner to work quite right but I’m sure in time I will get it.

Step 3: Email: The email transition was way way too easy. Last year, the paid version of Eudora disappeared as they ended development on it. They instead opted to create an extension for Thunderbird that made it look and act identical to Eudora. They called this extension Penelope and as soon as version .5 was released I transitioned and haven’t had any major problems.

Step 4: Webserver software: The old website was a series of static pages that I had to update manually each week using Dreamweaver. We hosted them with a local webhoster for $70 a year. After realizing that the former Technology Manager has gotten Dreamweaver illegally from a torrent because he couldn’t get the approval to purchase it I transisioned to TextWrangler. Soon after, I decided that 2 hours was way too long to be manually changing static webpages and I moved to Joomla. I wrote a custom template, customized the site to my liking and had the content creators to upload their own work the day after publishing. After the transition all I had to do was monitor the site and do the occasional update. (Unfortunately, about 2 months later a smooth talking salesman talked my boss into signing a 2 year contract with them to do the website for $35 a week for a website with less features. )

Back to change. As you have noticed it has taken me 5 years to get here. People like things the way they are and usually fight change. For this reason I only made one change at a time and personally talked to everyone the change would be affecting during and after the change and ended up being able to fix any gripes they had with the new software. Listed below are my future plans. They may change but for now here they are.

Desktop Publishing: Currently, we use Quark and most people in the industry use either that or InDesign.  Scribus is my first choice as a free tool. The problem is that it cannot open Quark docs so I would have to run both of them in parrellel for a while. The reason that I have not transistioned is there is no mac port but one is planned for the 1.3.5 release and I am watching development.

Operating system: The would be the last and final transition. Once everything else is transitioned the only thing left proprietary is the OS. This step would be a big one as the entire interface would change but since all the apps are the same the only change there would be from NeoOffice to OpenOffice. Check back here for updates.

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