MD Consult, ePocrates to Provide Point of Care Info and ePocrates are announcing a plan to have their online clinical information available on PalmPilot. A quick check of MD Consult’s content list reveals an impressive list of clinical information volumes. There is a 10 day trial period with subscription required after that. This looks truly promising for rational and accurate care. Although the photographs are limited by browser technology, just the Dermatology book would be a big help. I’ve often wondered what kind of a rash it was before I made it dry or wet.

Health Informatics Europe Announces Open Source Page

With all the global activity in the open source medical world, LinuxMedNews is proud to announce a new subject heading: International/Europe with the ‘globe’ icon courtesy of The first announcement for this subject heading is that Health Informatics Europe now has a page dedicated exclusively to open source and will be installed on LMN Comprehensive Open Source Medical Project List.

IBM Via Voice for Linux Announced

IBM has announced the availability of IBM ViaVoice Dictation for Linux. It sells for $59.95 and according to one anonymous user, it works much better with a “noise cancelling
microphone by Parrot.” PC Magazine has a recent review of Lernout and Houspie’s Voice Xpress Professional on Windows. L&H recently acquired longtime speech recognition company Dragon Systems. The article reports 95-98 percent accuracy which sounds good until you realize that every 50 words an error will occur or about every paragraph. LinuxMedNews recently reported on Carnegie Mellon’s open source Sphinx project. Other sites such as’s article by Michelle Head have reported about this also. LinuxMedNews knows of no reports on Sphinx’s usability. Anyone have knowledge of this?

Review: StarOffice 5.2 Ready To Conquer?

Linux is practically useless in clinical computing without a usable office suite. A viable candidate for day-to-day office tasks is Sun’s StarOffice with a just-released new version 5.2 with a lot of improvements. Although not open source, Sun promises ‘The software and any future upgrades are free…’ Highlights: much better importing and exporting of MS Office documents, better online help and more languages supported. In addition, many annoying bugs are fixed that made installation out of reach of users with a low frustration tolerance. Download it here and let’s see how it did when put through its paces. We’ll end with the verdict on whether it is a viable candidate to MS Office.

Performance: Was tested on my daily use AMD K6 2 400Mhz with 128Mb RAM, adequate disk space, running RedHat 6.2 with Gnome and Enlightenment. Like in StarOffice 5.1, the time necessary to bring the application up was lengthy. Once it was up, performance was fine. It is likely that another window manager and tweaking could improve this, but the out-of-box loading speed experience
could be improved.

Download: Sun’s server required many screens to get to the version that you wanted but many more languages are supported this time, as well as a ‘Deluxe’ version $39.95 that gives you a boxed set with printed documentation. $9.95 gives you a CD only version which you can order from the site. The English download was about 75Mb.

Installation: The English Linux x86 version download was approximately 100Mb and came in a single file that needed to be changed to an executable file via the chmod +x command to install as well as run with the /net option to enable multiple users. I had one strange problem in that the userid that I downloaded the binary file to wouldn’t be accepted as a regular user until I deleted a .sversionrc file. The only other problem was the StarOffice icon to put on menus which couldn’t be found. I’m sure it is there, but it isn’t obvious where it has been moved to. Also the annoying variance of capital Office5x and lowercase office5x has been standardized on lowercase.

Printers: One of the biggest areas of difficulty with 5.1 was configuring the printer. Previously, it had a terrible design in which one just had to ‘know’ that pressing the ‘Test Page’ button would save your printer settings. Until you reached that realization, it was an incredible struggle to get printing working. It remains clumsy with the ‘Connect’ button poorly named since this is what needs to be pressed to configure the print queue. However, it worked fine with the lp0 print queue I had configured through RedHat’s printer configuring tool. Printer configuration could be improved however, and still will be a source of problems for novice users.

MS Office interoperabilty: seems vastly improved. I was able to import a large academic article I’m working on and it looked just like it did on Windows without the strange grey areas
that Office 5.1 had. In addition, my graphs and
tables imported perfectly. It had an inexplicable crash of my X windows session the first time importing a PowerPoint presentation, but it never occurred again after the first time.

Online Help: Also seems vastly improved, but a random check of ‘Printer Setup’ yielded the topic ‘File’ which referred to the main file pull down menu.

Verdict: It is ready for prime-time. With the fix of the printer configuration problem which I believed was the major barrier to entry with 5.1, the addition of many more languages, this StarOffice could conquer the world. in Your Future

Palm Computing recently announced its decision to acquire a provider of online backup and use of your PalmPilot, Windows CE, Outlook, Lotus Notes and other personal information from the Internet. It supplies an attractive, convenient and accessible interface from any web browser. This is a compelling example of what physicians should be doing with their medical information. But like anything Internet related, it must be secure. In other news, Palm, Inc announced an industrial-strength synchronizing server for corporate networks. Unfortunately using the dreaded Windows NT. Editor: I know Palm’s announcement is two weeks old. I couldn’t get to sync until I upgraded to Palm Desktop 3.0 This however, gave me a chance to experience their technical support which was good.

Closed Source To Become Illegal?

Could closed source programs be illegal one day? It might in the public sector if a proposal becomes law in France. The proposal reads as follows:‘a single private provider, which forces citizens and public organisations to become customers…in the end, significantly stimulates abuses of dominant position in the market…they can not access the source code; this…makes it impossible to fix bugs that the software publisher refuses to fix or to check that there is no security trap in strategic software. Public administrations sometimes use, without even being aware of it, software which communicates sensitive private information to foreign companies or organisations’ Among other things it calls for ‘…Administrations should only use software which source code is available to them in order to guarantee future evolution and maintenance.’ Is the handwriting on the wall?

I am not a proponent of government intervention in private industry, but the proposal has many good points, that apply to many entities and enterprises particularly medicine. It addresses the problem of proprietary data encoding, intraoperability, customer security and companies that go out of business leaving their customers stranded.

Possibly the future of American Law?

In The Beginning…

A short history of Linux by Ragib Hasan reminds us of where we’ve been and how astonishing Linux was and still is, particularly about the first time it was used to make a supercomputer on a budget. Supercomputing with Linux now seems routine judging by the number of articles that have appeared on slashdot about this. Hasan’s history includes interesting quotes from the past, particularly between Linus Torvalds and Professor Andrew Tannenbaum.

Open Source in Healthcare: The UK Experience

Quiet contentment rather than raucous enthusiasm seems to characterise the attitudes of users of open source software in British healthcare right now. In this in-depth article for Linux User author Douglas Carnall looks at some of the uses Linux is being put to, reasons why it is a good fit in healthcare and reviews some of the other open source healthcare projects.