Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Free software isn't a single school of thought

Jul 20, 2011 GMT

"Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, You don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for your selves! You're ALL individuals!The Crowd: Yes! We're all individuals!"- Monty Python, "The Life of Brian""Would it be immoral for me to write a program and then to sell it without providing the source code?" Someone asked in response to my last blog entry. The question might have a troll, but I replied, "I'm not the keeper of your conscience. You have to decide that for yourself." Belatedly, though, it occurred to me that I should have said more about the stereotypes of free software advocates, and just where I stand as...
Where Did All the Idealism Go?

Jul 13, 2011 GMT

"You say the little efforts that I make will do no good; they never will prevail to tip the hovering scale where justice hangs in balance. I don’t think I ever thought they would, but I am prejudiced beyond debate in favor of my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight."- Tommy DouglasAs a writer, I am more comfortable reporting the news than making the news. For that reason, I'm reluctant to encourage the discussion started by my article, "Tech Pundits Surrender: The Retreat from Free Software and Open Standards" about the use of proprietary software when it's convenient. At the same time, I can't help wondering when idealism became a...
A small taste of the Maker movement

Jun 26, 2011 GMT

When I was growing up, I used to dream about magic shops -- stores filled with wonderful and precious objects. Since then, I've occasionally found close analogies in a craft or antique store and happily wandered about, not spending but simply enjoying the strangeness and diversity. But I don't think I ever found an experience as close to my childhood dreams as meandering through the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire this afternoon. At times, I could almost believe that I was moving through a steampunk magic store.The Maker movement exists at the crossroads of several cultural streams. It starts, perhaps, with the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement, with its emphasis on crafts and people learning to...
KBookOCR 2.0: Baseline OCR at Last

Jun 23, 2011 GMT

Every year or so, I need to convert a printed page to text. It's not oftener, because, while I do have a collected letters project that would benefit from optical character recognition (OCR), I only work on it sporadically. When I have to sign a publisher's agreement or some similar document, I can generally just send a scanned image. But every year or so, only OCR will do for one need or other, and I plunge into a quick survey of the available free software tools. The results have always been fairly dismal and more trouble than they're worth. However, with the 2.0 release of KBookOCR, a base-level reliability and convenience is now available.The truth is, OCR has been on of the weak...
The Decline and Fall of

Jun 10, 2011 GMT

When LibreOffice first forked from, I was unsure how to respond to it. Many of its founders were members of Go-OO, the sometimes controversial not-quite-fork, so LibreOffice looked like simply a continuation of GO-OO under another name. However, since last week, when Oracle donated to the Apache Software Foundation, is looking more and more like the natural heir of the original -- by which I mean the project that will do the free software community the most benefit..Not that there's no room for two projects working with the same code. And, as Allen Pulsifer suggested, perhaps LibreOffice supporters should to join the new...
Google Web Fonts prove free fonts are flourishing

May 27, 2011 GMT

Historically, fonts have been a weak point in free software. There were probably two reasons: first, programmers were mostly indifferent to fonts, and, second, font designers were concerned about how their work might be used. However, in the last five years, the problem has been largely corrected, as a look at the Google Web Fonts page shows.This change seems to have been brought about largely because of the SIL Font License. The license, which is recognized by the Free Software Foundation as being free, has become the most common one for releasing fonts because it addresses all the concerns of font designers, including the question of embedding fonts in documents, the right of derivative...
Mono founder launches new startup in a hurry

May 17, 2011 GMT

To outsiders, the recent layoffs at what used to be Novell appeared to be a major blow to Mono, the free software implementation of .NET, with many of its developers among those who lost their positions. Yesterday, however, Mono's founder Miguel de Icaza revealed in his blog that the layoffs only accelerated plans to spin off of Mono into an independent company. Called Xamarin, the new company had been long in the planning, but delayed by the attempt, first by Elliott Associates, and then Attachmate to acquire Novell. "At least for a year, it was clear that Mono really deserved to be its own company," de Icaza says. "The challenge with Novell," de Icaza explains,...

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