Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The birth of SpinachCon

Mar 30, 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...
MediaGoblin looks for sweet spot between coding and philosophy

Mar 12, 2014 GMT

The last time I discussed MediaGoblin, the decentralized media-sharer, the software was minimally functional. Eighteen months later, the project is approaching general release, and a third of the way through a second round of crowdfunding intended to help it add privacy and anti-surveillance features.What hasn't changed in those eighteen months is MediaGoblin's joint emphasis on coding and philosophy. Led by Deb Nicholson and Chris Webber, two veteran free software advocates, MediaGoblin is not simply planning a one-stop site for sharing different media formats, but also promoting de-centralization of the Internet through what it calls federation -- a collection of coordinated but...
Why proprietary software isn't ported to Linux

Feb 27, 2014 GMT

Every year or two, someone has what they imagine is an original idea: why not encourage proprietary productivity software for Linux? Often, what they are hoping for is a port of MS Word, or, as in the case of the recent online petition, versions of PhotoShop and other Adobe products. But, aside from a few high-end exceptions, such Linux ports have not happened in the past, when the need was greater, and are no more likely to happen in the future.For one thing, the few experiments that have been done are not encouraging. At the height of the Dot-Com era, dozens of startups tried selling proprietary applications for Linux -- and not one survived more than a couple of years. Even Adobe,...
Only the first step for Ubuntu phones

Feb 22, 2014 GMT

Agreed -- the announcement that Canonical has two partners for the production of its Ubuntu-based phones is important news. However, the news needs to be seen in perspective. Instead of being an accomplishment in itself, the partnerships are only the successful overcoming of the first of many obstacles.This is a perspective that is rarely offered in coverage of the news. Too often, the free software media gives Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's founder, uncritical coverage, accepting what he says without question or requests for detail. Evidently, too, Canonical includes some shrewd publicists, given that the news was discussed at face value in places like USA Today.What has happened is...
11 free-licensed fonts for everyday use

Feb 13, 2014 GMT

Spending the last nine months writing a book about LibreOffice, I've rediscovered typography. I've also discovered that as the free font movement enters its second decade, it has evolved from an idea as tentative as free software was in its beginning to a thriving community that gives users a reasonable selection of fonts.However, as much of a gift as Google Fonts or the Open Font Library can be to graphic designers, they can also be nightmares for average users. When you have hundred of fonts to choose from, how do you choose which ones are right for you?You may not have any problems with the pragmatic choices. Want fonts whose characters occupy the same space as Times Roman, Arial, and...

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