Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

A small taste of the Maker movement

Jun 26, 2011 GMT

When I was growing up, I used to dream about magic shops -- stores filled with wonderful and precious objects. Since then, I've occasionally found close analogies in a craft or antique store and happily wandered about, not spending but simply enjoying the strangeness and diversity. But I don't think I ever found an experience as close to my childhood dreams as meandering through the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire this afternoon. At times, I could almost believe that I was moving through a steampunk magic store.The Maker movement exists at the crossroads of several cultural streams. It starts, perhaps, with the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement, with its emphasis on crafts and people learning to...
KBookOCR 2.0: Baseline OCR at Last

Jun 23, 2011 GMT

Every year or so, I need to convert a printed page to text. It's not oftener, because, while I do have a collected letters project that would benefit from optical character recognition (OCR), I only work on it sporadically. When I have to sign a publisher's agreement or some similar document, I can generally just send a scanned image. But every year or so, only OCR will do for one need or other, and I plunge into a quick survey of the available free software tools. The results have always been fairly dismal and more trouble than they're worth. However, with the 2.0 release of KBookOCR, a base-level reliability and convenience is now available.The truth is, OCR has been on of the weak...
The Decline and Fall of OpenOffice.org

Jun 11, 2011 GMT

When LibreOffice first forked from OpenOffice.org, I was unsure how to respond to it. Many of its founders were members of Go-OO, the sometimes controversial not-quite-fork, so LibreOffice looked like simply a continuation of GO-OO under another name. However, since last week, when Oracle donated OpenOffice.org to the Apache Software Foundation, LibreOffice.org is looking more and more like the natural heir of the original OpenOffice.org -- by which I mean the project that will do the free software community the most benefit..Not that there's no room for two projects working with the same code. And, as Allen Pulsifer suggested, perhaps LibreOffice supporters should to join the new...
Google Web Fonts prove free fonts are flourishing

May 27, 2011 GMT

Historically, fonts have been a weak point in free software. There were probably two reasons: first, programmers were mostly indifferent to fonts, and, second, font designers were concerned about how their work might be used. However, in the last five years, the problem has been largely corrected, as a look at the Google Web Fonts page shows.This change seems to have been brought about largely because of the SIL Font License. The license, which is recognized by the Free Software Foundation as being free, has become the most common one for releasing fonts because it addresses all the concerns of font designers, including the question of embedding fonts in documents, the right of derivative...
Mono founder launches new startup in a hurry

May 18, 2011 GMT

To outsiders, the recent layoffs at what used to be Novell appeared to be a major blow to Mono, the free software implementation of .NET, with many of its developers among those who lost their positions. Yesterday, however, Mono's founder Miguel de Icaza revealed in his blog that the layoffs only accelerated plans to spin off of Mono into an independent company. Called Xamarin, the new company had been long in the planning, but delayed by the attempt, first by Elliott Associates, and then Attachmate to acquire Novell. "At least for a year, it was clear that Mono really deserved to be its own company," de Icaza says. "The challenge with Novell," de Icaza explains,...
GNOME Outreach Program for Women Reincarnates

May 13, 2011 GMT

"It's not rocket science," says Marina Zhurakhinskaya, the organizer of the GNOME Outreach Program for Women, talking about efforts to get more women involved in free software. "You just need to say that women are welcome in your project, because that in itself sends a signal. Also, you want specific people they can get in touch with to do their first patch and to ask questions." It's a simple formula, but the first indications are that it is a reliable enough foundation to make the recently revived Program a success.The GNOME Outreach Program began in 2006, when Hanna Wallach and Chris Ball noticed that none of 181 of the applications to work with GNOME in Google's...
PR basics for free software projects

May 05, 2011 GMT

A handful of free software projects, such as the Apache Software Foundation, market themselves as professionally as any corporation. However, the marketing of most projects could be greatly improved with a few common-sense practices.Why bother? Several reasons spring to mind, even if your project isn't commercial. To start with, marketing is a way to give credit, and receiving credit remains a strong motivation for many project contributors, even when they are paid for their efforts. Just as importantly, the more easily people can find your project, the more likely they are to use it. In addition, publicity can attract donors and volunteers (and show me the project that has too many of...

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