Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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 28, 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 14, 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...
Desktop trends in 2013 according to LinuxQuestions

Feb 06, 2014 GMT

Every year, I like to take some time to look at LinuxQuestions' Member Choice Awards  for trends. I don't believe the results are representative of all free software users by any means, but they are still one of the few indicators available, and this year they suggest some interesting trends on the desktop:Some random examples: In 2012, MariaDB won less than 9% of the votes, while MySQL was way out ahead with 40%. This year, MariaDB jumped to 36%, while MySQL declined to 23% - a vote of non-confidence if there ever was one. Meanwhile, PostgreSQL remained steady or possibly declined slightly, with 24% in 2012, and 20% in 2013. The office suite category saw LibreOffice with 86%...
Tin Hats Vs Red Hat

Jan 30, 2014 GMT

Ordinarily, I avoid anything to do with Roy Schestowitz and TechRights. The interaction is rarely worth the seemingly compulsive abuse I inevitably receive. However, Schestowitz's recent claim that Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) includes a back door for the NSA is an exception -- especially since the story has been picked up by FOSS Force (http://fossforce.com/), where, despite the site's skepticial coverage of the claim, its latest poll shows that 34% believe the story, and 27% don't know what to think.Schestowitz writes that RHEL cannot be trusted because "RHEL is binary and based on news from half a decade ago, the NSA is said to be involved in the building process." To...

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