Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Revolutionizing desktops without causing user revolts

Sep 14, 2011 GMT

The last few years of development on the free desktop have been instructive. First, KDE stumbled and recovered with the KDE 4 series. Then, this year, GNOME and Ubuntu introduced radically new desktops. In each case, user complaints immediately poured in. Although both GNOME and Ubuntu seem determined to ignore these complaints and continue on their course, I keep wondering: could the disastrous receptions have been avoided?The question is worth asking. On the one hand, free desktops need to innovate steadily, both to attract developers and to stay competitive with proprietary rivals. On the other hand, although many developers disregard users, unsatisfied users may move on and risk...
A community is shared mythology

Sep 12, 2011 GMT

Everyone now and then, someone insists that there is no such thing as a free software community -- only a collection of code and licenses. That has always seemed self-evidently false to me, but it struck me as especially so when I attended LinuxCon last month.Probably, I was overly-aware of the sense of community because, for personal reasons, I hadn't attended a conference for several years. Consequently, I seem to have spent most of the three days of the conference either catching up with old acquaintances like Jay Lyman and his family, or else meeting Internet friends like Carla Schroder for the first time. At one point, I took forty-five minutes to walk the twenty metres from the top...
I've got some good news and some bad news

Aug 21, 2011 GMT

Recently, I wrote an article about the lack of acceptance of GNOME 3. I received a private email from Aaron Seigo of KDE in which he took me to task, politely, thoughtfully, and with his usual thoroughness, for focusing on negative news. Since I often debate this issue with myself, with Seigo's permission, I'm summarizing the discussion here.Seigo begins by asking, "Is it useful to spend time concentrating on the negatives in FOSS when we have not only a tremendous number of positive events occurring but many detractors who are willing to do the negativity thing for us? Why do we reward failure and negative reactions with press coverage when thriving and positive efforts struggle for...
Seven Points About Ereaders You Should Know Before Buying

Aug 16, 2011 GMT

Last week, I finally got around to buying an ereader. I might have bought before, except for a vague feeling that I should wait for the technology to improve, but the whim hadn't struck me before. Nothing I might read has ever been published exclusively as an ebook, and the price of ebooks isn't usually compelling, especially since I frequent used bookstores. But the stars aligned (or, more exactly, a sale and my available cash), and I bought at last.I chose a Kobo, based partly on in-store trials, and the fact that Kobo has limited support for Debian and carries some DRM-free books. This record could be improved, but it is better than any rival ereader boasts.Still, there are some things...
High-calibre ebook management

Aug 12, 2011 GMT

One of the delights of free software are the applications that do everything I can ever imagine in their general category. Sometimes I may long for leaner or simpler apps, but I know, for example, that K3B will give me everything I need for burning DVDs, or digiKam for managing and editing photos. Now, as I start getting into ebooks, I'm looking at calibre as potentially another of these ultimate apps, destined to be to ebooks what Amarok is to digital music.Currently at version 0.8.14, calibre is in rapid development, with new versions frequently coming every few days. For this reason, you are better off downloading directly from the project page, rather than from your distribution's...
From LibreOffice to ePub

Aug 04, 2011 GMT

As someone contemplating ebook publishing, I found the LibreOffice / OpenOffice.org extension Writer2ePub worth investigating. After all, while GNU/Linux has a couple of apps that can read the popular ePub format -- Calibre and Lucidor -- about the only way to actually produce ePub content is to export from DocBook. However, I'll have to wait a version or two before relying on Writer2ePub.Writer2ePub is available from the OpenOffice.org extensions site, where it is currently the highest rated extension -- which makes me wonder how carefully people have examined it before rating it. You can download it in seconds, then use Tools -> Extension Manager to install it. As with most...
Google+ and the right to use an alias

Jul 25, 2011 GMT

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn't thought much about the use of pseudonyms online. At times, I use "nanday" -- the species of parrots I live with -- but a pseudonym has never really been an option for most of my online presence, because, rightly or wrongly, editors assume that my name has some value on an article. So far as I had thought, pseudonyms seemed a childish remnant from the early days of the web. But the growing complaints about Google+'s anti-pseudonym policy have made me reverse my thinking.The matter came to a head a few days ago, when Google+, the new social networking site, suddenly started deleting or limiting accounts for violating its term of its conduct...

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