App store for free software?

General IT wishful thinking – skip this to next article if you are not an IT person.

Following Apple’s App store for the iPhone got rolled out also for the iPad and imitated for Android and Windows phones, it seems Apple want to adopt the same methods for people buying software for Macs as well.

I personally this is a great idea, some people will still want to buy software that arrives in a box with media and documentation that they can put on a shelf they can get to if support query or a reinstall becomes necessary, but I think it would good to give the customer a choice.   Just like music can be downloaded or its nice to have a tangible item, an actual CD with artists notes, lyrics etc.

Heres an idea, what would happen if the free/open source software movement could have a online software store?

Free software as alternative to popular commercial apps can be got from sites like www.alternativeto.net or www.osalt.com, but instead of downloading an executable file, you have an automated way of doing it using a simple browser plug in.  Why?

There is a quite a bit of usability aspect which is not always factored in on some software.  Some free software, the method of downloading the app can a bit confusing.  Anyone who has downloaded a Linux ISO image knows this, you get taken to an FTP site with a whole load of confusing files, which its not easy to tell which is the download that suits you.

A lot of consumer users don’t free software as they don’t know a lot of exists.  They use Internet Explorer as that was the browser that came with their computer, and they don’t want to change anything as they don’t feel confident to do it.   Joe Consumer may often not know how ZIP or RAR files are handled or what they are for.  As an IT pro I had never heard of Virtualbox, a free virtualisation client as an alternative to VMware and Microsoft’s Virtual PC until a work colleague told me about it.  I have yet to find a really good web site that announces new and exciting developments in free software thats not just geared to coders and developers.   So essentially a typical consumer goes out to a physical shop to buy software as its too confusing working out what software is free and what is a trial version and what comes bundles with spyware and other unwanted rubbish.

I use and recommend Infrarecorder to burn CDs and DVDs on Windows PC rather than the more common commercial Nero burning suite which has got so over complicated and comes with many annoying unwanted extras which have caused crashes and stability problems in previous places I have worked for.   Infrarecorder is great as it does everything you want burning discs easily without any fuss.

You could:

1/ Have a simple way to deploy top quality free software for all type of people, via a portal which makes installing onto your computer in a standard uniform way (Windows/Mac/Linux)

2/ An option to pay some money for software thats normally free but get a support package, ie: printed manuals or training or X number of tickets or hours or professional telephone or email support with a specialist who know a lot about this app.    Or, sell extra tools to deploy apps in a large network environment, like with SMS that rolll out apps silently to each workstation.

A check box would be default only search the free software store for fullly completed release apps, unchecking the box would should beta test versions of software with a usual disclaimer that this software is not production ready yet.

More and more free software is multiple languages as well, a search engine could be customised for all languages or English only.

The software store would only have applications that follow the GNU general public licence for free software,  ie: this means nothing with spyware, bundled toolbars or other tat.   No trial versions commercial applications either.

I think this would give the open source software movement more audience from all kinds of PC users of all platforms, all abilities, consumers and businesses alike.

Need software tools for network diagrams

IT stuff – skip below if this is not your thing.

This last week we got another volunteer in the IT department, its great to get some help, and also pool together ideas on we I can make IT support easier and plan for changes and improvements.

One of the projects for the future is re-do some documentation for our network.

The typical software application to do flow charts and diagrams is Microsoft’s Visio in places I have worked before.

Visio is quite expensive though and has a propriety file format, so all members of a team (and clients) need to have Visio to read the file.

I am thinking of what else I could use to do the job.   As well as cost, and there could be some free tools to do the job, there is the need for extreme simplicity, to making designing and altering diagrams easy and be able to hand over this role to future staff who will eventually replacement me.

I would like to ask my fellow IT peers, in systems admin, and those who do web design and programming, what their views are there on this.

When consulting, do you sketch out things on paper, then on chart modeling software of some kind?   Does complex projects need two or more people to work on a model before coding commences?   Or does a sketch of what’s needed get shown to the client, to check hes happy with the solution that is to be built?

I have largely ditched Microsoft’s Word and Excel in favour of Google Documents, as I like being able to get documentation on any computer, inside my network or indeed anywhere in the world with a web connection.   Plus documentation to rebuilt a server is no good, if it was saved on the one that went down due to a failed disk!!   This is an example of a cloud makes perfect sense here.

A lot of web designers are likely to be using Macs, so an app that’s on Mac and Windows, or a web based app that’s transparently usable on any darn OS/browser is good.

Now, if remember correctly Google now do a vector graphics as part of the Google Documents suite.  Having something cloud based is a huge plus, especially if there becomes a problem with a server that contains documentation.

This isn’t about knocking Microsoft or Adobe, but there is a wealth of free and open source apps, so please feel free to tell us what is the best tool for the job, and responses from fellow IT pros on your preference for ways to do this would be great. 🙂