Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The nostalgia of Windows is everyday Linux.

Jun 22, 2016 GMT

A few days ago, I read a mailing list discussion about the advantages of running a computer in the 1980s. A few, like the lack of Digital Rights Management (DRM), were points well-taken. Others may have been tongue-in-cheek, but might also express personal preferences. However, most of the rest were advantages that I still enjoy (or could enjoy) as a Linux user thirty years later, partly because that is how Linux is designed, and partly because of my personal choices.Don't believe me? Then consider some of the advantages I saw mentioned: Instant shutdown: Windows may take 5-10 minutes to shutdown, but my Debian installation shuts down in under ten seconds unless I've scheduled a script...
Open Standards and buying Linux Hardware

Jun 09, 2016 GMT

In the last six weeks, I have outfitted my Ubuntu tablet, bought a webcam and a microphone, and replaced my main computer. In the middle of all these purchases, I suddenly realized that one of the signs of how far Linux has come is the ready availability of compatible hardware.It didn't used to be that way. Less than a decade ago, buying hardware for Linux was a research project. You saw what was available at the store or online, and then headed to obscure sites on the Internet to learn what would work and to what degree. You asked for other people's experiences. You carefully learned a few basic rules, such as the fact that a Postscript printer would always work, or that, while Logitech...
Why Licensing Limits Ebooks

May 25, 2016 GMT

   One year in which traditional books outsells ebooks, and suddenly headlines are announcing, "Books are back," citing a small increase in book sales and a small decline in ebook sales.   The headlines may be right, but the articles beneath them fail to consider that the reason for any decline may be something that Linux and free software users deal with daily -- licensing and the terms of use.The headlines are based on the figures for book and ebooks in the United Kingdom in 2015. According to the Publishers Association, £2,760,000,000 in physical books were sold in 2015, compared to £2,748,000,000 in ebooks the previous year. By contrast, ebooks in 2015...
Exploring Desktop mode on the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition

May 16, 2016 GMT

I am writing this article on an Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition tablet, using LibreOffice with a mouse and keyboard. I am working in Desktop mode, experiencing what Ubuntu describes as "convergence," the ability of the hardware to run both as a tablet and a personal computer. And make no mistake -- convergence is comfortingly familiar to a long-time Linux user and makes productive work on a tablet much easier. However, when Ubuntu claims that the tablet "turns into a full PC," I have to make allowance for the exaggeration of advertising. More accurately, I would say that the current state of convergence reproduces some of the convenience of a laptop or workstation, but...
Waiting for LibreOffice Table Styles

May 13, 2016 GMT

Like most word processors, LibreOffice Writer includes character and paragraph styles. However, Writer draws much of its power as a mid-level desktop publisher from the addition of frame, list, and page styles. Yet one type is has lacked ever since it was a proprietary application called StarDivision two decades ago is table styles. It is only in 2016's Google Summer of Code (GSOC) that a focused effort is planned to implement table styles at last.Instead, Writer has what it calls Autoformats. Once a table is added to a document, Tables> Autoformat offers what I call pseudo-styles. By that, I mean that, although Autoformats quickly format a table and can be created by users, they...
Choosing an English Keyboard Configuration

May 10, 2016 GMT

To be fluent in English is to be privileged on the Internet. Although sites in other languages are more common than they were a couple of decades ago, English remains the dominant language on the Internet. Downloads and projects default to English, and non-English speakers are usually expected to defer to you, not the other way around. For these reasons, many English speakers, especially in North America, use a default English (US) keyboard layout (sometimes called the ANSI layout because of its basic selection of characters), and never see the need for anything else.However, in this increasingly international world, dropping an accent or an umlaut because the default layout lacks them...
10 reasons for using multiple partitions

Apr 25, 2016 GMT

Most Linux beginners content themselves with a single system partition and a swap drive. However, as they gain experience, they learn the advantages of dividing the system across several partitions.These advantages are changing with the technology. Old reasons for partitioning are becoming obsolete, and new ones emerging along with solid state drives and UEFI. Still, there are at least ten reasons for partitioning hard drives: 1. Repairing partitions:When a drive is not shut down properly on a journaled system, you may have to repair it by running the fsck command manually from a live DVD. If the problem is not with the root partition or /var, you can often boot in single user mode,...

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