Freedom Toaster to allow user uploads

By   |  March 28, 2006

The Shuttleworth Foundation’s Freedom Toasters are set to receive a content-sharing upgrade, which will be music to some users’ ears.

Up until now, Freedom Toasters have essentially been open source software vending machines – enabling users to burn open source software and content onto CDs and DVDs. Lead developer, Jason Hudson, says they now want to encourage a two-way flow of information through the project.

“We’re now enabling the Freedom Toaster to allow for the upload of information from users,” says Hudson. “We’re looking at having USB slots available, so that [users] can either plug in their iPod, or USB key, or any sort of storage device that the Linux system can read,” says Hudson.

The first milestone will be a Freedom Toaster built to allow users to share music. “I see it as low-hanging fruit; everyone’s interested in music,” says Hudson.

The Shuttleworth Foundation is partnering with Creative Commons SA and Johannesburg community radio station Jozi FM, to test the concept. “We’re looking at having a Freedom Toaster at the studios in Soweto and just seeing if we can create a little community around it,” says Hudson.

Users will be able to download open source audio tools (such as Audacity) to mix their music and then upload their creative work back onto the Toaster to share with others. “Other guys can come in and access what their buddies have done and enhance it,” enthuses Hudson. “We’ll just see if we can build a bit of a community around that and just try get the collaboration going.”

Last year’s Creative Commons YFM/Go OpenSource Remix Contest revealed what a challenging prospect it is changing the way deejays create and share their music creations. Despite a strong media campaign, only a handful of people uploaded mixes in the competition, and the contest had to be extended because of poor response.

But Hudson says they’ve learned from the shortcomings of that campaign and a stronger on-the-ground presence, including a number of workshops scheduled to show people how to use the software and upload their work, should provide for better results.

Meanwhile, existing Freedom Toasters are set for a software upgrade. Hudson is especially excited about new CD queuing functionality that enables more than one distribution to be written at a time. “Now each writer is seen as a resource. If it is available, you can write to it, whereas previously if someone was burning a CD, you couldn’t write another file to CD.”

The Freedom Toaster will also be able to copy multiple CD images to one DVD, which should please fans of the bigger distributions.

Hudson is also confident that the Toaster software is now “pretty solid”, despite recent complaints by some members of the Gauteng Linux Users’ Group mailing list who say the kiosks are slow and buggy. “I take the comments with a pinch of salt … I sent out a request for help [with maintenance] … and I didn’t get anything back, but they’re the first guys to complain,” he says.

The project relies on volunteers to maintain and upgrade the 30 kiosks dotted around the country, says Hudson, and finding volunteers remains a challenge in Johannesburg. “For instance, the Rosebank Freedom Toaster has caused us so many problems just because there’s nobody looking after it,” says Hudson.

On the content side, Hudson says there are plans to get the open source encyclopedia Wikipedia onto the Freedom Toaster, especially after Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales showed interest in the project. “In one of his interviews he mentioned it as a very cool way to distribute Wikipedia,” says Hudson. “We’re chasing him up on that.”

The development of a better front-end for the currently text-based Project Gutenberg DVD is also on the cards.

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