Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Why projects need task-based documentation

Jan 30, 2015 GMT

Documentation in free software has improved immensely in the last fifteen years, At least most projects have some, which is more than could be said when I first started using Linux. However, far too much of it stops with descriptions of menus and dialogue windows instead of being structured by tasks and user.The type of documentation you find in perhaps two-thirds of the most popular applications is what I like to call death marches through the menus. Like some forced march of prisoners, a death march starts resolutely with the first item in the File menu and tramps relentlessly down and up each menu in turn until it reaches the last item at the bottom of the Help Menu. Each menu is given...
The Wikipedia backlash

Jan 24, 2015 GMT

So that's what a backlash looks like.Understanding the politics of Wikipedia is hard for an outsider. Much seems to go on that never gets officially reported, and the  maneuvering seems Byzantine at best. However, that's my first reaction to the news that Wikimedia's arbitration committee has banned five feminist editors from working on articles about gender while leaving their opponents mostly untouched.The decision is supposed to be an effort to stop a feud that has dragged on since September 2014 as both sides attempted to edit Wikipedia's Gamergate article about critiques of the gaming community by such commentators as Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian. The decision is labeled...
The long twilight of 32-bit computing

Jan 23, 2015 GMT

Stephen Smoogen has withdrawn his proposal that Fedora release only a 64 bit version, apologizing and claiming that it "was meant to be absurd." Still, the change is only a matter of time in all distributions. The only surprising thing is that the transition from 32 to 64 bit computing has taken so long.To appreciate just how long the transition has been, consider this: the transition from 16 to 32 bit in the early 1990s was a matter of two or three years at the most. In fact, the transition was something of a fiat: Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers announced it was going to happen, and it did. Complaints were few, because, back then, only free software supporters...
Coming Attractions for 2015

Jan 08, 2015 GMT

Last year at this time, I was waiting for Vivaldi, the free-licensed KDE tablet to go into production. That never happened, and free software is worse off for Vivaldi's disappearance. But, undaunted, I find myself looking ahead once again to three of the events likely to have a major influence on free software in the next twelve months: The gamble of the Ubuntu phoneThe first event I'm anticipating is the release of the first Ubuntu phone. What interests me is not so much the technology -- although I wouldn't mind tinkering with it -- as the fact that the phone is rapidly becoming a test of Canonical Software's credibility. Canonical has put most of its attention in the last two Ubuntu...
Improving on bug reports

Dec 29, 2014 GMT

There's nothing like the comments to justify an article. After I wrote about the average user's difficulty with filing bugs, the responses came rapidly. Many agreed with me, or were willing to consider my comments plausible, but two with long histories of involvement with free software seemed only intermittently aware that any problem existed, and were more interested in faulting me for not suggesting more solutions.As I said in the original article, my priority is timely articles, not contributing solutions. Moreover, in this case, I'd argue that voicing a problem that no one likes to discuss is a contribution in itself. Still, I prefer to contribute more when I can, so let me point out...
The problem with license trends

Dec 22, 2014 GMT

The conventional wisdom is that free software licenses are rapidly evolving. The copyleft licenses are supposed to be in decline, and the permissive licenses gaining popularity, according to  two widely-quoted studies from Red Monk by Stephen O'Grady  and Donnie Berkholz, In fact, writing in 2012, Berkholz declares that new project licenses are more likely to use a permissive license than anything else. However, on closer examination, whether these conclusions are accurate is open to question.For one thing, both the Red Monk studies and their main source, Black Duck Software and its Open Hub site (formerly Ohloh) are business-oriented. Because permissive licenses are more...
Why I rarely file bug reports

Dec 11, 2014 GMT

"Any chance of a bug report?" a developer asked when I mentioned a problem with an application on social media. As a free software supporter, I felt an obligation to oblige, but in practice, the chance was slim. For those of us who don't regularly file bugs, the process is usually too demanding, and too dependent on bureaucratic whim to seem worth the effort.In theory, of course, I should be all in favor of reporting a bug. After all, free software depends on the efforts of responsible volunteers. Using free software regularly, surely I have a duty to get involved and to help improve the software for everyone.However, in my case, that's not my first obligation. I wouldn't spend...

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