Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finalizing USB Sticks & Cameras

I have blogged about parts of this topic in the past, but the project has developed and I wanted to update the status.

I have been working with management and end users to come up the best way to handle USB sticks around the City. One wants to allow users to upload their photos. However, using USB sticks as a 'sneakernet' needs to be discouraged. The whole point of having a centralized environment and using thin clients is so that the data remains on the server. Some people still fight the concept of centralized files and want to squirrel their data away. This usually ends up with disaster. Drop the USB stick in the parking lot and it's gone! We also want to avoid the situation where someone lassos entire sections of City documents and puts them on a USB stick and walks out the door.

In regards to word processing documents, we are a proponent in keeping them in OpenDocument format to try and ensure that they can always be opened in the future. There also is the issue that when Microsoft file formats are used, it's a downgrade format when used with OpenOffice. If a certain feature is used that has no comparable feature in MS Office, the information is not retained. So we always tell people to use odt,ods,odg formats when not collaborating with people on the outside. And now that OpenDocument is starting to be included in MS Office, the case for using this format is even stronger.

So with all of these things in mind, we have developed our first release of the new design. I'm sure there is a better UI design, but for right now we continue to focus on the work flow. In the shot below the UI on the right side opens for all City employees when they insert a USB stick or camera. It does a quick scan of the device and generates thumbnails of the most recent 36 photos. To insert these into any City applications, all they do is click on the photo; this places it into the clipboard at 1024x768. On the right side you can see Draw, and the right-mouse Paste command has inserted the photo. No file management skills required, no lassos and all they can do is move the pictures upstream to the server. This eliminates the need of having to give USB access to employees that might want to take a few pictures a month for posters or flyers.

If the software detects any Microsoft Office documents, the button [ Convert To OpenDocument ] lights up. If the user clicks on it, their documents are sent to the Linux server in a non-privileged user account and converted to OpenDocument on the command line (pyuno) and then copied back to the stick in a separate folder and without touching the original documents. The red arrow indicates the button was pressed, and then all MS Office docs are converted. Those users with USB stick access can then use Nautilus to bring them over to the server. The original MS Office are hidden from view so no chance of them grabbing the wrong files.

Our Director is going to take this approach to the other Directors and then we will get this code into the hands of end users for testing and feedback.

One last bit of information: All of this is unrelated to the users ability to send and receive MS Office documents via email as part of collaboration and sharing information with outside people. These steps are being done with USB sticks to protect our data; and try and break their habit of working using 1980s and 1990s file handling skills.

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