Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

When enthusiasm for free software turns ugly

Apr 27, 2015 GMT

Last week, I wrote an article about the decline of Apache OpenOffice, and how its attitude towards other projects might be part of its problem. "No one wants to see OpenOffice humiliated," I wrote -- but apparently I was wrong. At least half a dozen people contradicted me, saying they did want to see the project humiliated, and incidentally demonstrating the dark side of the strong feelings that free software evokes.These strong feelings can be one of the most attractive aspects of free software. Few of those who are lucky enough to work full-time on free software are apathetic about their employment. Almost without exception, they are convinced that they are helping to change...
Sydney Padua's "The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage"

Apr 14, 2015 GMT

Imagine a world where Ada Lovelace did not die at 36, and Charles Babbage actually built his computer computer. Now imagine that world chronicled by a mixture of in-jokes and footnotes, and you have the flavor of Sydney Padua's The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. After years of posting rough drafts online, Padua has finally released the first book of the comic -- an event that on my book shelves, ranks right up there with another collection of Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant strip.If you read Padua online, you know what to expect: a mixture of history, mathematics, and humor in which the reader's attention is constantly yanked from the comic to the footnote and back again...
Worrying about crowdfunding

Apr 02, 2015 GMT

Having just submitted one book, I'm considering crowdfunding my next. That means I'm spending a lot of time reading about crowdfunding, and worrying about what could go wrong with the idea.In the past, I've pointed out that the success rate for crowdfunding is low for projects related to free software -- less than ten percent. I've also worried about what happens when donations reach saturation level, and everyone who might contribute is already contributing their maximum.Recently, however, I've been adding to those lists of concerns. Worry #1: Saturation and potential donorsTo start with, Paul Brown and several others have suggested that saturation is unlikely. They point out that free...
Free Software Branding Fonts

Mar 30, 2015 GMT

In 2007, Red Hat released the Liberation fonts -- metrical equivalents of Arial, Courier, and Times New Roman. More recently, however, the trend has been for free software projects to brand with fonts. Since the resulting fonts are professionally designed, they not only add a touch of class to interfaces, but gift free software with some of the best-designed fonts for general use.Admittedly, these sponsored fonts are short of workday serifs that might be used for body text on a page. However, all of them are ideal for online work -- and, sometimes, give a sense of a project's design priorities, even though most users pay them little attention. CantarellDesigned by Dave Crossland in 2010,...
What will it take to merge LibreOffice and OpenOffice?

Mar 25, 2015 GMT

Ordinarily, I'm all for diversity in free software projects. However, I make an exception in the case of LibreOffice and OpenOffice. The sooner they become a single project, the better.In other cases, I'm slow to accept arguments against duplication of projects. Combining projects does not automatically make for greater efficiency or quicker development; especially in the beginning, personalities can sabotage or even reverse any gains.Besides, having more than one project encourages innovation, both from increased competition and from the fact that more perspectives find their way into development. I would never, for example, urge that Calligra Suite merge with LibreOffice, because their...
The Changing Face of Debian

Mar 17, 2015 GMT

Like a rite of spring, the annual campaign for Debian Project Leader has begun. I've been watching these elections since 1999, and reading the platforms of the current three candidates (headlined, inevitably, as apt install dpl-install), I'm reminded about how Debian has evolved over the years.Debian, of course, was one of the earliest Linux distributions, as well as the most ambitious. By the time I became aware of it, the founding years had passed, and the people involved were on their way to becoming legend. When I went to work with Ian Murdock, Debian's founder, at a company funded by Bruce Perens, the implementer of the Debian Social Contract, friends were frankly envious. Non-geek...
Nine myths about styles in LibreOffice Writer

Mar 10, 2015 GMT

As Robin Williams (the designer, not the comedian) once explained in her book title, The PC Is Not A Typewriter. Office and layout programs are not just a keyboard with a screen, but an entirely different way of working. Central to that difference is the idea of styles -- a defined set of formatting options comparable to a variable declared in code. Yet  many writers refuse to use styles, preferring to format everything manually, even at the cost of making their work slower and more laborious.Every so often, the debate over using styles breaks out on the LibreOffice mailing lists. It soon becomes obvious that those who prefer manual formatting have little idea what using styles...

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