But that's not Windows! Case study and discussion of Open Source for Community Based Organizations.



Practical uses for Open Source at Community Based Organizations. How do you identify what works? What are the cultural and technical issues involved. Review of Open Source at Downtown Emergency Service Center as a case study.


With limited budgets and altruistic orientations, Community Based Organizations seem like a natural match for open source software. At least in the U.S.,however, use of Open Source remains relatively rare. Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, and proprietary vendor systems remain the dominant paradigm. Many organizations, with limited technical expertise and dependent on outside consultants, are not even aware of alternatives.

But other options, of course, do exist, in both the server and desktop arenas. Identifying which computing needs can be met with Open Source can be tricky, and requires a careful examination of true needs (rather than perceived needs), technical capability, and organizational culture and support.

We will review the use of Open Source at Downtown Emergency Service Center (www.desc.org), and cover both successes and failures, and technical and culture issues. DESC is an award-winning non-profit serving homeless adults, uses mostly Open Source for its systems, has developed and released CHASERS, open source software for agency management, and was the winner of the 2008 Intuit contest for best use of Open Source in business.

Audience members are encouraged to bring their own experiences with Open Source at Community Based Organizations, and to discuss fears, perceptions and barriers to using Open Source, as well as ways to address and overcome them.

Speaking experience


  • Biography

    Born and raised in NYC, and now living in Seattle, Ken Tanzer has a professional background in the non-profit arena, with experience in the areas of fundraising, public relations, technology, social services and management. Most recently, Ken was Director of Information Services for Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), an innovative, award-winning homeless service organization in Seattle.

    During his tenure, Ken implemented a variety of systems for DESC, and built an infrastructure based mostly on free and open source software. Nearly 300 desktops in the agency are thin clients running Linux, OpenOffice and Firefox. Bugzilla and Mediawiki are integral tools. DESC also developed CHASERS (Client, Housing and Service Entry and Reporting System), which is used by staff across the agency for delivering and tracking client service, collaborative care and case management, data reporting, management oversight and realtime communication.

    DESC also adapted CHASERS to manage volunteers, fundraising and mailing lists. Two additional versions were used for a research project conducted with the University of Washington to evaluate a program providing housing to chronic homeless alcoholics.

    Ken is one of the co-authors of the paper resulting from this project (“Health Care and Public Service Use and Costs Before and After Provision of Housing for Chronically Homeless Persons With Severe Alcohol Problems”), which was published in the April 2009 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Ken previously served as Fund Development/Community Relations Manager for DESC, and has experience at other nonprofits including Literacy Volunteers of New York City, Jobs for Youth, and the Radiation and Public Health Project.

    Ken began using computers at an early age (TRS-80 and before), and is completely self-taught. He has been a longtime fan and user of Linux and Open Source. He got started by spending a long night downloading an early version of Slackware onto googobs of floppy disks, and has never looked back. He has also developed an abiding interest in technological politics as well as the new forms of community that are made possible through internet techology.

    Ken received a BA from the New School for Social Research, and anticipates that he will receive a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Washington in June 2009.