Monday, June 30, 2014

Celebrating 20 years in free software

I'd like to share a celebration with you. As of today, The FreeDOS Project is now 20 years old. Happy birthday, FreeDOS!

FreeDOS is a free version of DOS, a replacement for Microsoft's MS-DOS. FreeDOS dates back to 1994, when I was still a physics undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. While my major field of study was physics, I long held a strong interest in computers and programming.

As a physics student in the early 1990s, I used MS-DOS to analyze data and write papers for classes. I found DOS to be exactly what I needed to do all of my work. I mostly used a shareware spreadsheet program called "AsEasyAs" (a clone of Lotus 1-2-3) to do my data analysis, and a popular commercial word processor "WordPerfect" to write my papers. For the more technically-minded of you: I sometimes used a DOS version of LaTeX, called emTeX, to write lab reports that required equations and other fancy formatting that was beyond the reach of WordPerfect.

So it was with great disappointment in Spring 1994 that I learned Microsoft would soon stop supporting MS-DOS, in favor of a new version of Windows. As Microsoft claimed at the time, DOS was dead, and long live Windows. While the newer Windows became the hugely successful Windows95, you may remember that Windows 3.11 (current at that time) was not so great. In fact, Windows 3.11 was pretty bad. I didn't like using it; I preferred to do all my word in MS-DOS.

I decided to do something about it. I had used Linux, and was already dual-booting my computer with an early Linux distribution (SLS 1.03). I figured if others could write a free version of Unix, surely we could create our own version of DOS.

And on June 29, 1994, I announced my intention to write a free version of DOS. I called that first version "PD-DOS" for a few reasons. I decided that a free version of DOS should be open for anyone to use, so it was essentially in the "public domain." Also, I liked the two-letter name; there was already MS-DOS, PC-DOS, DR-DOS … and ours would be PD-DOS. But it didn't take long before we realized that it would be better to use a "Free Software" license such as the GNU GPL for our programs, so we quickly renamed our project "FreeDOS."

(Actually, we first renamed it "Free-DOS" until late 1995 or early 1996, when Pat Villani's published his book FreeDOS Kernel; An MS-DOS Emulator for Platform Independence and Embedded Systems Development. By that time, enough people on our mailing list had been calling it "FreeDOS" that we just kept the new spelling.)

Since then, we have advanced what DOS could do, adding new functionality and making DOS easier to use. For example, FreeDOS lets you access FAT32 file systems and use large disk support (LBA), a feature not available in MS-DOS at the time, and only included in Windows95 and newer. And today in 2014, people continue to use FreeDOS to support embedded systems, to run business software, and to play classic DOS games!

FreeDOS is still under active development. Programmers from around the world continue to add new features to FreeDOS that make it even better. However, FreeDOS doesn't change very quickly. It simply doesn't need to. FreeDOS runs all sorts of original DOS programs, and the definition of "DOS" hasn't changed since MS-DOS 6.22. So not much changes "under the hood" these days, but developers create new utilities and expand existing functionality.

If people want to try FreeDOS today, I usually recommend a PC emulator, such as VMWare or VirtualPC. It's really easy to run FreeDOS in a virtual machine like this. You can also run FreeDOS in your browser, using a browser-based PC emulator called JPC. On my Linux laptop, I run FreeDOS from DOSemu. Download a copy of FreeDOS 1.1 and give it a try!

As always, thanks to everyone who has worked on FreeDOS. We wouldn't be here without you!
image: Official FreeDOS fish (web) by Bas Snabilie, SVG adapted by Mateusz Viste

Monday, June 23, 2014

We are surrounded by experts

Consider your personal development plan. What topics do you have on your agenda for the next year? Perhaps you want to attend a conference and learn from your peers about a specific topic. Or maybe you want to attend a seminar to learn specific skills around a specific topic. These are good opportunities in professional growth, to prepare you for the immediate future challenges of your career and industry. Such professional development courses are a staple in both industry and higher education.

But these are not the only opportunities to learn new skills. Those of us in higher education are fortunate to have another avenue: our campus peers.

The faculty on our campuses have spent years to become experts in their fields. And they are your colleagues. Just as we rely on relationships between our peers in IT to get things done, to call on favors, we can use our connection with campus to learn from our faculty. You might audit a class (often for no cost!) and spend an entire semester to do a "deep dive" on a new skill. Or you might ask one of the faculty to give advice or coaching to pick up a new topic, or to improve an existing strength. If you feel particularly motivated, you might work with a faculty adviser to build a program out of these leadership and management skills, and either complete a Master's degree or acquire a second Bachelor's degree.

Take a moment to identify your skills inventory. In what areas would you like to develop yourself? Now consider who are your experts inside the campus who might help you. A few examples of important leadership and management skills:

Public speaking
You might find this in your drama department. Learn how to present yourself, and how to project your voice across a room without shouting.
Written communication
Every university has a creative writing department. Reach out to your liberal arts faculty.
Conflict resolution
Does your institution have an executive MBA program? Talk with faculty in that area to get help, or look for classes within the program that you might audit. You might also look at courses that address the art of negotiation.
Building a budget
You will likely learn more about this from your economics department, where you learn how to account for the total cost of operations, about carryforward and reserves.
Creating a workplan
Most universities have a business department. You might also look at other planning-oriented fields such as hotel management.
Persuasion
How can you convince others to adopt your point of view? This is a skill that successful leaders develop throughout their career. For a jumpstart in this important area, consider your rhetoric department. The definition of rhetoric is persuasion.
Managing others
Management is more than simply handing out assignments. This area of expertise also encompasses time tracking and delegation, and is likely taught as part of any course on project management.
Reach out to your faculty and use your connections with campus experts to learn something new. Remember that in higher education, we are surrounded by experts.
photo: Saad Faruque

Friday, June 20, 2014

A new library for a new generation

At the University of Minnesota Morris, we have been working on plans to extend our library to become a new "learning commons," a destination for both individual and group learning. We have actually been developing these plans for a number of years.

Although the specifics of the implementation have changed, the general plan is to convert the main level of our campus library into a learning center. Part of the learning commons would be dedicated to a "one help" center, where students would interact with reference librarians, borrow technology for short-term use, and ask for technology help—and as always, check out books. The main learning commons area would be filled with tables suitable for small groups to gather to work on projects. Each space would have suitable power and wireless for laptops and mobile devices. Other areas would provide separate, private space for practicing speeches or similar work.

This evolution in the library is not unique in higher education. In March, the New York Times reported how libraries are Breaking Out of the Library Mold, in Boston and Beyond. A few notes from the article stand out as mirroring the model we are building at Morris:
The Boston Public Library, which was founded in 1848 and is the oldest public urban library in the country, is moving rapidly in that direction. With a major renovation underway, this Copley Square institution is breaking out of its granite shell to show an airier, more welcoming side to the passing multitudes. Interior plans include new retail space, a souped-up section for teenagers, and a high-stool bar where patrons can bring their laptops and look out over Boylston Street.

“You’ll be able to sit here and work and see the world go by,” said Amy Ryan, president of the library, on a recent tour. “We’re turning ourselves outward.”

Along with their new offerings, libraries are presenting a dramatically more open face to the outside world, using lots of glass, providing comfortable seating, as much for collaborative work as solitary pursuits, and allowing food and drink.

“This is what’s happening at a lot of libraries, the creation of an open, physical environment,” said Joe Murphy, a librarian and library futures consultant based in Reno, Nev. “The idea of being inviting isn’t just to boost attendance but to maximize people’s creativity.”
Our library learning commons are more extensive and integrated than implementations described in the article. In our model, we envision placing the technology helpdesk in the learning commons, à la Apple's Genius Bar. The technology helpdesk might be staffed by full-time staff during the day, and by trained student workers at night, extending the hours that our campus community can ask for help. We also plan to integrate the helpdesk with the library support desk, so students and faculty have a single destination for help, no matter the topic. This presents a kind of "one stop" shop to ask questions.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Millennials don't trust you

Good leaders must remember that you can't motivate everyone in the same way. You would manage someone in their 50s differently from how you manage someone in their 30s. Every generation responds to different motivators, and they maintain unique perspectives.

I recently uncovered this research from the Pew Research Center, about Millennials in Adulthood. An article at the Washington Post summarizes the findings as Millennials don't trust you. Millennials range from about 18 to about 33, so if they aren't in your workforce today, they will soon join it. So it's important to understand what motivates them.

Need a reminder of which generation is which? A quick primer: My generation is Generation X (aged around 34 to 49). Gen X is sometimes called the "Star Wars Generation" because we saw Star Wars in the theaters, and Han shot first. Ahead of us is the Boomer Generation (aged around 50-68) and the Silent Generation (aged around 69 to 86).

From the Washington Post article:

1. Millennials generally don't trust others.
Look at the Pew data. Only 19% agree with the statement "Generally speaking, people can be trusted." Compare that with 31% of Gen X, 40% of Boomers, and 37% of Silents. I don't think you need to look far to understand why. Millennials were on the front line in the Occupy movement, disillusioned with corporate control. This influenced their general perspective; as a result, Millennials generally don't trust others.
2. Millennials think the future is bright.
Sure, Millennials don't believe Social Security will be there for them when they retire, but they do maintain some hope for the future. Almost half (49%) think our best days are ahead of us. They remain optimistic about the future.
3. Millennials are burdened by debt.
The Recession, doubled with few new job opportunities, has made it difficult for Millennials to recover financially. Stagnant job growth means more Millennials competing for the same entry level positions. And without gainful employment, it's hard to pay off those college loans. We talk about the high cost of education today, but Millennials are experiencing this first-hand.
4. It's okay to use your phone wherever you are.
No doubt that you've seen this where you work. You might be in a meeting, and someone's phone goes off. Rather than send the call to voicemail, Millennials answer the phone in the meeting. They may not even excuse themselves from the meeting room to take the call. As "Digital Natives," Millennials grew up with technology everywhere in their lives. Mobile phones became a natural extension of who they are, so naturally they support more phone usage. The mobile phone culture has shifted.
5. Millennials share everything.
The Washington Post article focuses on the "selfie," but I view this as a general trend of sharing everything. Millennials view privacy differently; they share everything, whether it's a selfie on vacation, or a photo of the hamburger they're about to eat.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Keep your mobile devices secure

Most of us find our mobile devices have become an inseparable part of our lives. We use our smartphones to communicate with others, share information and updates, and capture moments. And along the way, we put a lot of personal information on our phones.

Take a moment to think about the information your phone contains about you. These personal details are typically stored in the "Cloud" and accessed via an app, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail. Other information might be stored or synced locally, such as your texts, contacts, and specific personal information. Even photos have become sensitive personal data, especially when you consider geotagging of photos to indicate where the photo was taken and facial recognition to identify who is in the photo. What other personal data can you find on your phone?

So it's important to keep your mobile devices secure. What would happen if you lost your phone? Or if your phone were stolen? Smart phone thefts rose to 3.1 million last year, according to Consumer Reports. The easiest step is to put a passcode on your phone; with an iPhone, this is a 4-digit number that you use to unlock the phone. On an Android phone, you can use a number or (more commonly) a swipe combination to connect a number of dots in a 3×3 grid.

What about when you get rid of the phone? When it's time to upgrade your phone to the next model, what do you do to protect the data that's left behind? The June edition of "OUCH!" (PDF) covers how to securely dispose of your mobile device. Most people do not realize just how much sensitive and personal information they have on their mobile devices. If you are not careful about how you dispose of your older mobile devices, almost anyone can access that information. It's a simple process, but an important one.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Unlearn These 3 Things

Elliot S. Weissbluth, Founder and CEO of HighTower, writes on LinkedIn with lessons from his youth. Looking back, Weissbluth says if you want to be an innovator, challenge your assumptions about what innovation really means. He shares three lessons that today's college grads need to "unlearn":

Unlearn Lesson #1: Innovation results from major shifts in thinking.
From the article: Actually, innovations tend to be very modest, and often not very sexy changes. But, boy, are they powerful.
Unlearn Lesson #2: Innovation is driven by thinkers, not doers.
Innovation happens when you try something, fail, learn from it and try again. If you want to solve a problem or innovate: stop talking about it, roll up your sleeves and do the work.
Unlearn Lesson #3: Mire yourself in expertise.
The best ideas—true innovations— come from people working around the edges of their expertise. They know enough to be informed but not enough to be constrained by the “old way” of doing things.

As wise Jedi Master Yoda once said, "you must unlearn what you have learned."

Friday, June 6, 2014

What to do in your last 30 days

A friend of mine, Helen Norris, recently accepted a CIO role at Chapman University, in southern California. As she prepared to leave her present position, friends and colleagues sent her articles and essays to help her transition into her new role at Chapman, what to do in your first 30/90/180 days.

But Helen says that no one could offer advice on how to exit a role. Helen shares her own advice on her blog: What do to in your your last 30 days. A brief summary of Helen's six lessons, and some of my own reflections:

1. Be gracious
As you prepare to leave, lots of people will congratulate you and offer praise. Don't forget to say thank you.
2. Reflect, and let go
We learn something from every job, every engagement. What lessons would you choose to carry forward? What negative aspects do you need to let go?
3. Take care of your staff
Make sure to close out any performance evaluations and other loose ends so your team is in good shape after you leave.
4. Give things up gradually
Find ways to transition roles and responsibilities to others in the organization. Be planful, to not overload others.
5. Give honest but measured feedback
As you leave, you may be able to offer new insights and perspectives for those around you. If asked for comments, be courteous and honest.
6. Stay connected
Relationships are currency, even when you leave the organization. Share contact information and stay in touch.
photo: Mark Hillary

Monday, June 2, 2014

Who do you serve?

Reflection is an important part of improvement, either for ourselves or the organizations we manage. We often structure that reflection through particular tools, such as the SWOT to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Eric L. Denna via EDUCAUSE Review encourages CIOs to add another tool to this "toolbox." Denna presents five questions for CIOs to judge their unit's engagement with the organization. I've slightly reworded them here:
  1. Who do you serve?
  2. What services do these customers want from you, and what do you provide?
  3. How do you measure your success?
  4. How do you provide services to customers?
  5. How are you organized around these services?
Denna argues that these five questions can be asked in two ways: one way to understand where you are now and another way to understand where you need to be. So the above list represents the "as-is" for your organization: who do you service, what do you do, etc. Denna's second list converts that into a "to-be" perspective:
  1. Who should you serve?
  2. What services do you need to provide that your customers can use?
  3. How should you measure your value?
  4. How should you provide services?
  5. How should you organize around these services?
By evaluating your organization from these two perspectives, using the same essential list of queries, you can uncover opportunities for improvement. Don't rest of what you do today; always look to how IT can better serve the campus. Aim not just for today's needs but for what you will need five years from now. From there, build a workplan for your organization to get you there.