Open source experts turned on to podcasts

Canadian technology experts are turning to podcasting as a way to teach users best practices around open source implementations and quality assurance in software development.

Members of the Calgary Linux User Group (CLUG) have been podcasting The GNU/Linux User Show every week for about four months. Featuring interviews with Free Software Foundation and GNU Project leader Richard Stallman and author Marcel Gagne, topics on the show so far have included desktop security for Linux applications, OpenOffice.org functions and how to run Windows on a Linux-based PC. The show is usually available on Mondays through the Podcaster Network.

Podcasting refers to the publishing of audio programs through the Internet via a subscription feed to send an enclosed file. Originally named after Apple Computer’s iPod music player, it has come to be associated with other devices and clients.

Jon Watson, a technology consultant who serves as the GNU/Linux User Show’s host, said he only started using Linux at home about a year ago, primarily because of its low cost. Since then, he said, he realized the power of the open source community and wanted to offer a forum for troubleshooting and sharing ideas. 

“The things that I’m not sure of always turn out to be the best shows,” he said. “A lot of it comes through through listener requests. There’s a link to a page on that has a rudimentary list of what people have requested. If something makes me nervous or confused, we do that.”

Watson said he plans to extend his educational efforts through the launch of NewLinuxUser.com on Wednesday — a site that will provide explanations and how-tos on various open source problems. Initial postings on the site include: how to find out if Linux will recognize a PCI device and a definition of the GNU General Public Licence (GPL). 

“We may absolutely get IT professionals, but probably the bulk of them are going to be new Linux users,” he said.

Pairing podcasts with print media has been the basis of a strategy at Ottawa-based QA Labs, which has so far recorded a series of five interviews and discussions about software testing and related issues. Trevor Atkins, QA Lab’s vice-president of operations, said the QA Podcast began as a marketing effort but has become a complement to its monthly newsletter.

“We see them going together. Podcasts are at a discussion level. The newsletter is something to get you going on ideas and checklists,” he said. “There is a level of discussion that can happen without a whiteboard or diagram or even paper.”

Like the GNU/Linux User Show, QA Lab’s podcasts  are developed through a fairly loose brainstorming process.

“There’s no curriculum or plan. If a topic or idea comes up, we have someone who wants to speak on that topic speak on it for 15-20 minutes or so,” he said. “It’s something that you can listen to it on the way into work or on lunch. Some people can listen to that in the background when they’re doing other things.”

The GNU/Linux Show will eventually offer advertising opportunities, but Watson said it isn’t a moneymaker today. Likewise, Atkins said QA Lab’s podcasts are not necessarily about generating revenue but providing valuable content to the industry.

“The idea is to get into techniques in their jobs that they wouldn’t get time to practise,” he said. “We can plant the seed and then next time apply it to their projects.”

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