Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Whatever happened to free software feminism?

Aug 23, 2016 GMT

I first wrote about sexism in free software in 2009. I was far from the first; Alex Bayley and a handful of others had been raising the issues for over a year. In fact, I had been inspired by a guest of honor speech by Angie Byron of Drupal at the Open Web Conference in Vancouver a few weeks before I wrote. It seemed something that needed talking about, and ever since, I have whenever I could. Recently, though, I have started worrying that the topic of women in free software is no longer news, any movement or activism having stalled far short of where it should be.Not that feminist causes are no longer a concern. Free software is still full of women and men who support its tenets. Small...
Why Design Matters

Aug 16, 2016 GMT

Until about 2005, Linux users were focused almost entirely on function. Considering that the operating system was trying to catch up with its proprietary rivals, that focus was only natural. However, over a decade later, many users still have some misleading ideas about design and dismiss its importance.At least four of these misleading ideas are still so common as to be almost universal in free software: #1: Design is secondaryThe first misleading idea is that design is an after-thought. If they had to choose, they would pick function over design. The trouble with this idea, however, is that it frames the relationship between function and design in either-or terms. You might as well say...
What Windows Users Don't Know

Aug 09, 2016 GMT

When I wrote manuals and on-line help, I prided myself on being able to get inside user's heads. So when my cousin recently asked if I could help her friend install Ubuntu, I was surprised at how little I anticipated about a Windows user's basic knowledge.I replied to my cousin's friend with instructions to download a Ubuntu image and burn it to CD, turn off any secure boot features, and set the machine to boot from the DVD drive. Once the installation program started, I added, it should be mostly self-explanatory, but https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation would provide help.The next day, the reply came: "I don't have the technical acumen to do that. I have that link, and...
Six Monospaced Free-Licensed Fonts

Jul 29, 2016 GMT

Monospaced fonts are defined by having letters and spaces of equal width. Today, they are rarely used except for command lines displays and for specialized uses such as media scripts because they are associated with typewriters and are rarely as elegant as the serif and sans serif fonts that become popular with the rise of the word processor. In fact, in some cases, monospaced fonts do not have the resolution for typography. Free licensed monospaced are no exception. Still, if you search, you can almost certainly do better than the clich├ęd and downright ugly Courier. Bitstream Vera Sans Mono The Bitstream Vera fonts were among the...
Why free hardware fails

Jul 23, 2016 GMT

Free-Licensed hardware has yet to have even a moderate success. Detractors take this fact as proof of the unviability of free hardware; supporters as a reason to despair.Both conclusions, however, are premature. Most new products fail, and, although free hard has some unique processes, enough free hardware has not been released for any accurate estimations of its chances of success.I first learned this basic lesson around the start of the millennium, but nothing I have heard since convinces me that anything has changed. Crowdfunding is helping would-be producers of free hardware, but, as any product manager can tell you, bring any product to market is a slow and difficult process....
Why LibreOffice Writer is a Desktop Publisher, Not a Word Processor

Jul 18, 2016 GMT

You could be forgiven for thinking that LibreOffice Writer is a word processor. After all, that is what the writing tool in an office suite is usually called. However, Writer is more accurately classified as a desktop publisher (DTP) -- and if you don't know the difference, you can quickly become frustrated.The distinction is just a matter of semantics. Both a word processor and a desktop publisher are writing tools, but their orientations are very different. A word processor is for shorter, often one-off documents, and offers tools that are good enough for most office or academic purposes. By contrast, a desktop publisher is for longer documents that are re-used and offers extensive...
How graphical installers introduced the user

Jul 07, 2016 GMT

Last weekend, I was exploring GuixSD, the distribution that introduces a universal package manager developed by The GNU Project. Part of the novelty was the lack of a graphical installer, a luxury that most Linux users expect today, but was once controversial, as well as Linux's first encounter with user experience.Early Linux installations were generally script-driven. Many had the advantage of optimizing installations for the hardware they used, but none were for the casual or curious. Aside from the fact that many system drivers were lacking, the installers were designed for the experienced. Most people who attempted a Linux install usually took several tries, assuming that they didn't...

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