Friday, January 21, 2005

FoI, Firefox and a defeat by Linux

I've been meaning to blog about this for a while now, in an attempt to raise awareness, since it's a fairly important piece of legislation. 1st January this year saw the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which forces all public bodies to adopt a "right to know" attitude over all documentation that they hold, rather than a "need to know" one, as has been the case in the past. Access has been made quite easy as well, with any request that is made in writing (by letter or email) asking for information to be assumed to be an FoI request, which has to be responded to within 20 working days, although a reasonable charge may be levied to cover costs of retrieval. All public bodies in the UK (inluding my own employer) are covered by the Act.

Obviously there will be problems with the introduction (such as claims that large amounts of documentation was destroyed on purpose just before the Act came into force). And the Act could be stronger (there are loads of exemptions, although even if something is covered by an exemption, it can be taken to the information commissioner and he can decide that if it's in the public interest, the information has to be given anyway) but it is a start, and people should be aware that they're entitled to know things that are held by the bodies that purport to serve them.

On another matter, I've been defeated by Linux. After a fairly nasty disk failure in my laptop, I decided to format the disk and put Linux on it, so after a few false starts I got hold of some working Mandrake Linux discs and an-installing, I did go. However, after three days, I only just had a desktop (barely – KDE 3.2 ran incredibly slowly on this box, a P166) and couldn't get Real Audio streams to work – important since the machine is used exclusively for Internet radio these days (primarily Radio 4 and BBC7). RealPlayer (once I found it on the mess of the website) wouldn't integrate with Mozilla, and Xine wouldn't even compile due to a missing library that I couldn't track down. Finally, I got exasperated this evening, and just bunged Windows 98SE on to it. Done in about three hours, most of which was spent waiting for things to install.

Despite this bad experienc, I'm still planning on installing Linux on a spare machine at work, for playing and learning purposes. This was a partiularly bad machine – really too slow for the window manager that I was trying to use, while the one at work can handle Windows 2000 at a reasonable pace, so should be able to take KDE or Gnome without a problem.

Finally, I also got around to, for the first time, installing Firefox (on the laptop), and I don't really think that I like it. It feels too, um, 'childish', with too many pretty effects (fading in download manager?!) and taking out things that I really like in Mozilla (sidebar, bookmarks button, prefs etc). Cheers, but I'll stick with Seamonkey, if it's all the same with you...

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