Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

All my eggs in one Basket

Nov 10, 2009 GMT

One application I am always looking for is a better desktop wiki. Not for collaboration, but for dumping various pieces of information into as I research and organize them. For a time, I used Basket Note Pads, but I drifted away when it didn't run on KDE 4.x and the original maintainer quit. Happily, the project has overcome both those setbacks and is moving slowly towards a new major release.Basket is one of those applications that you can navigate at a glance. The left pane serves as a table of contents, showing a hierarchical structure of baskets -- containers for various bits of information. On the right is a detailed view of the basket currently highlighted in the left pane. To add a...
Review: Linux in a Nutshell (Sixth Edition)

Nov 06, 2009 GMT

For years, Linux in a Nutshell's third edition has been the closest book to my keyboard. The new sixth edition -- the first in several years -- is going to continue that tradition. The new edition shows the same indispensable qualities as its predecessors, giving an accurate snapshot of the operating system, solid introductory information, and concise, accurate command summaries in a well-organized format.Changes in TechnologyOne of the reasons I value Linux in a Nutshell is that its editions provide an accurate summary of the current state of GNU/Linux technology. You can tell from the topics alone how the technology has changed from edition to edition. For instance, in the sixth...
Goggle is my candidate for a lightweight music player

Oct 28, 2009 GMT

Like many people, I've always had a few tracks of music on my computer. However, I've only started taking a strong interest in music players since I started digitalizing my music collection a few months ago. I'm relatively sure that Amarok will handle the 50 or so gigabytes of music that I'll have when I'm done, but for the netbook I'm thinking of buying, I've been looking for something lighter. Currently, I'm thinking that Goggle Music Manager (GMM) may be the lightweight and easy to use player that I need (that's "Goggle," please note, not "Google" -- although, just to add to the confusion, Goggle is hosted on Google).GMM packages are available for several...
How to make free software as popular as recycling

Oct 20, 2009 GMT

Joe Brockmeier, my one-time colleague at, has been blogging recently about how to present free software to non-technical users. He suggests that the community approach the problem as a marketing exercise, emphasizing benefits rather than the ethical issue of freedom. My own take is somewhat different: The problem is not so much talking about ethics as the fact that we have not been talking about the benefits of ethics. Instead of the four freedoms that appeal to developers, we need a similar list that explains what advantages free software offers for ordinary users.Much of my thinking on this issue stems from an interview I did in 2006 with Peter Brown, the executive director of...
Why people don't use free software

Oct 14, 2009 GMT

Whenever ideas run short, columnists and bloggers like to pontificate about why free and open source software isn't more successful. Inevitably, they trot out the same old explanations. Microsoft's monopoly, lack of vendor support, community unfriendliness and infighting, and inertia are some of the most popular ones. Not having anything new to contribute (or any shortage of ideas to run about), I've avoided such discussions until now. Recently, though, my efforts to persuade people to use free software have suggested to me an explanation so simple that it is seldom mentioned -- people just don't understand the concept, or why it should interest them. The whole idea runs so counter to the...
Writing about FOSS sexism

Oct 09, 2009 GMT

A month ago, I wrote an article about sexism in the free and open source software (FOSS) community. The result has been educational, to say the least. It's one thing to know about issues intellectually, and quite another to plunge headlong into a firestorm of reactions.So what have I learned exactly? To start with, while members of the FOSS community like to think of themselves as rational beings, when subjects like gender issues are raised, emotion swamps logic to an alarming degree. This tendency shows up occasionally among feminists in over-reactions, such as the call by srlinuxx on to boycott Ubuntu because its founder Mark Shuttleworth made some sexist remarks in his...
A belated report on the mini-summit on women in free software

Oct 01, 2009 GMT

(Ordinarily, I wouldn't report on an event that happened almost two weeks ago. However, considering how little attention the Free Software Foundation (FSF)'s mini-summit on women in free software has received, and the importance of the issues it discussed, I'm making an exception here).According to Stormy Peters, executive director of the GNOME Foundation, the subject of women's lack of involvement in FOSS is not new. "It was just time again to have the conversation," she says. Deobrah Nicholson, FSF membership coordinator, sees things differently, suggesting that reactions to incidences of sexism brought attention to the problem and that "this year, a lot of people saw it...

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