Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Bringing a free software product to market

Apr 29, 2014 GMT

Whenever a retail product like a Ubuntu phone or MakePlayLive's Vivaldi tablet is announced, expectations run high in the free software world. Each product, people hope, will be the one that gives free software a space on the shelves of the nearest mall's computer store. Yet almost without exception, these efforts meet with delays. When they get to market, many of them disappear within a few months, and free software advocates look forward to the start of the same cycle with another product. Ever wonder why?Needless to say, the problem has nothing to do with the quality of free software. Partly, it has to do with the low odds of any new product, proprietary or free, succeeding. But the...
GitHub shows how not to manage a crisis

Apr 24, 2014 GMT

The allegations of workplace harassment at GitHub make for an ugly story. They're ugly if they're true, and ugly in another way if they are motivated by personal differences. But either way, GitHub could use a lesson or two in crisis management.The allegations are made by Julie Anne Horvath, the organizer of a monthly series of feminist talks called Passion Projects and previously a defender of GitHub in the feminist community. Horvath claims that for two years she was harassed by GitHub co-founder Tom Preston-Werner and his wife. Horvath also claims that she was harassed by a fellow GitHub employee, and received no support from the company.In response, GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath...
Ubuntu 14.04: Signs of the times

Apr 18, 2014 GMT

Reviewing Ubuntu has become as pointless as reviewing a Stephen King novel -- nothing I say could possibly influence the fans or detractors. The fans have already upgraded, and the detractors decided long ago to stay away. All the same, the 14.04 release (code-named Trusty Tahr, with artwork that looks like a parody of the GNU project's logo) is still worth a look, because releases of any software make observations about the project behind the software so easy.Consider, for example: In October, 2011, Mark Shuttleworth wrote that "By 14.04 LTS Ubuntu will power tablets, phones, TVs and smart screens from the car to the office kitchen, and it will connect those devices cleanly and...
Community power and public shaming

Apr 14, 2014 GMT

Twice in the last month, popular opinion has questioned a high-level hiring in commercial free software. Given the egalitarian nature of free software, the only surprise is that such questioning took so long to appear. However, whether this development is healthy or not is another matter altogether.I am referring, of course, to Brendan Eich's removal as Mozilla CEO due to his support for an anti-gay marriage proposition a few years ago, and to the protests over the appointment of Condoleezza Rice to the DropBox board of directors.My own social and political views, I should rush to explain, are about as far from Eich's or Rice's as they could possibly be. Nor are these instances in which a...
The birth of SpinachCon

Mar 31, 2014 GMT

User testing is often limited in free software. However, long-time advocate Deb Nicholson is developing a simple but effective way around the limitations: getting developers and users together and calling the result SpinachCon. The idea of SpinachCon came through Nicholson's work with OpenHatch, a non-profit with the goal of encouraging new contributors to join projects suited to their expertise and interest. Nicholson wanted to apply some of OpenHatch's ideas about receiving user feedback to MediaGoblin, another project with which she is involved. "But it's not worth getting people in for twenty minute at a time," she says. "So I thought, what if you could do a bunch...
Mir vs. Wayland show why upstream projects matter

Mar 26, 2014 GMT

Following the Mir vs. Wayland controversy over the last six months, my first reaction is: this wouldn't be happening if upstream development was kept upstream.The controversy began when Mark Shuttleworth announced that Ubuntu planned to replace the aging X Window System with an in-house project called Mir.Since other distros were already developing Wayland as a replacement, this announcement was controversial enough by itself. However, the controversy was compounded by the fact that two years earlier, Shuttleworth had announced that Ubuntu was supporting Wayland.Nor was the discussion helped when KDE and Wayland developers questioned the rationales for Mir, or whether Ubuntu and its...
Using reader polls

Mar 19, 2014 GMT

Whenever I mention a community poll, someone is sure to question the decision. Whether I reference Linux Journal's, LinuxQuestion's, Linux New Media's, or the Distrowatch page stats, someone will point out that these sources are not valid, and insist that I shouldn't use them. Such criticisms make some valid points, but I still think they are too quick to dismiss the polls. So long as the polls are used with some common sense, I see nothing much wrong in viewing them as general indicators of trends.I realize, of course, that these polls are nowhere close to being scientific. They are by no means random samples, since anyone who cares to can participate. Almost certainly, they have a high...

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