Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Every cloud has an unknown lining

Nov 24, 2015 GMT

Where cloud computing is concerned, I confess to being a Luddite. I'm not utterly opposed to it, but the conditions under which I would ever store data in the cloud remove most of the reasons that most people would do so.The usual argument for the cloud is convenience. Storing data in the cloud means that it is always available (assuming your connection is up), and you no longer have to transport files by flash drive or DVD between one computer and the next. In addition, Matt Harley recently suggested that ChromeOS, which is built around the cloud, has other advantages over local Linux installations. He points out that, because ChromeBooks depend on the Internet, they have no problem with...
Pi-Top and the Do-It-Yourself Feeling

Nov 16, 2015 GMT

I spent several days last week assembling a Pi-Top, the do-it-yourself laptop that runs on a Raspberry Pi. I have limited experience with hardware, so if a mistake could be made, I probably made it. In the end, I concluded that I have a defective battery, although I have been able to explore the assembled laptop thanks to the power cord. Yet despite the ups and down and the anxiety, I found myself enjoying the experience in a way that I haven't enjoyed computing since I first discovered Linux.Ever since my first computer, I have enjoyed tinkering, balancing config.sys in DOS and tweaking Windows programs to run in OS/2. The satisfaction in success increased with the degree of frustration,...
John Sullivan, FSF Executive Director, on the Future of FS

Nov 09, 2015 GMT

John Sullivan has worked with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for twelve years, holding such positions as Campaigns Manager and Manager of Operations. The Executive Director since 2011, Sullivan recently saw the Foundation through the celebration of its thirtieth anniversary. In belated observance of the anniversary, I contacted him by email to ask about the future of free software in general, and the FSF in particular.BB: What are the challenges currently facing free software?JS: For the free software movement to succeed globally, it needs to resonate with people who don't specialize in technology and don't care to. While I do think our mission entails trying to inspire everyone to...
OS/2: The Forerunner of Linux

Oct 30, 2015 GMT

Today, OS/2 is mostly a footnote in computer history. If you are under thirty, you may never have heard of it. Yet OS/2 was in many ways the direct predecessor to Linux, and I suspect that its decline produced many of Linux's early adopters.OS/2 was originally a collaboration between IBM and Microsoft to create the successor to DOS. However, the two corporations quarreled over coding methods and their visions of the future, and by 1992, OS/2 was the leading alternative to Windows and DOS, running many Windows and DOS programs, as well as native OS/2 programs. It never managed to come anywhere near Windows for popularity, but by 1994, with the release of OS/2 (codenamed Warp), it had a...
The seduction of the new

Oct 26, 2015 GMT

Christiann MacAuley's cartoon, "An Upgrade Is Available for Your Computer"  has been making the uncredited rounds of social media sites for the last few years. The cartoon shows the reactions of users on different computers to the news of an upgrade: The Linux user is enthusiastic, the Windows user groans, and the Mac user is glad it will only cost him $99. I don't know about the Windows or Mac users' reactions, but the Linux user's always makes me smile as I recognize an attitude I see regularly and to some extent share. Free software users are always ready to upgrade, although their obsession is only partly rational.Not that the Linux users' perspective should come...
Open FOSS Training needs donations

Oct 21, 2015 GMT

Technical documentation was my bridge from academia to journalism, and remains a concern of mine. Free software frequently lacks documentation, and even more frequently, it lacks documentation for complete beginners. Open FOSS Training is a new project trying to do something about these lacks, and is currently half way through a modest Indiegogo campaign that I urge everyone to donate the odd fifty or two towards. Documentation has always been the poor cousin of programming, an unglamorous job in both proprietary and free software development. However, it's not a job that many people can do well. It requires technical expertise and writing skill alike, and few people have both. It also...
Linus Torvalds and the three stages of celebrity

Oct 15, 2015 GMT

No matter what you think of the accusations that Linus Torvalds encourages a culture of abuse in the kernel project, one thing is clear: he's well into the second level of celebrity, which complicates the situation immensely.For years, Torvalds enjoyed the uncritical first level. It may be hard to remember today, but when Linux first became newsworthy, he was presented as a kind of counter-culture Bill Gates. Twenty-four years younger than Gates, he was known by his first name, not his last. He was more concerned with programming than business, and showed no interest in being more than comfortably wealthy. Unlike Gates, he seemed endearingly shy, and more accessible than Gates with his...

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