Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

David Graham Provides Glimpse into FOSS in Canada's Government

Mar 11, 2016 GMT

Ordinarily, free and open source software receives little attention in the government of Canada. A rare exception occurred on Thursday, March 10 when David Graham, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Laurentides—Labelle (QuĂ©bec) began asking questions before the Standing Committee On Government Operations and Estimates (Shared Services). The exchange was less than seven minutes long, but provided the sort of detailed information that is usually unavailable.If David Graham sounds familiar, you might know him  better as cdlu (short for "confused debian linux user"). For years, cdlu was my colleague at and Newsforge and well-known in Debian circles as well. Since...
Wesnoth's Strange Legacy

Feb 29, 2016 GMT

I usually avoid massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). The reason is not that I despise them, but the near certainty that I would like them too much, and spend too much time in them when I need to be productive. Instead, when I want more than solitaire or backgammon, I sometimes turn to The Battle for Wesnoth, avoiding online games and playing single-player campaigns, which are usually divided into campaigns, most of which can be finished in under an hour, giving me a convenient point at which to quit and do something else. However, that usually reliable strategy led me astray soon after Christmas 2015 when I discovered the Strange Legacy scenario.You see, Strange...
Miguel de Icaza and his ostracization from FOSS

Feb 24, 2016 GMT

Just before I settled down to write today, I read that Microsoft had acquired Xamarin, the company founded by  Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman. To many, the news is the logical end to a story that has been unfolding for years now, and if the first cries of, "Traitors!" have not appeared on blogs and articles, then I expect they are only a matter of time.However, you won't hear my voice among those screaming accusations. I'm too busy thinking about how events might have been otherwise, and how people in the free software and open source (FOSS) community are as responsible for this turn of events as de Icaza and Friedman themselves, having left them with no place to stand.As...
Is free software too good?

Feb 15, 2016 GMT

I never thought I'd say this, but maybe free software and hardware would be more widely adopted if their standards were lower.This thought occurred to me as I read Keyboardio's blog. Keyboardio, if you don't already know, is an open hardware company that is building what has to be the ultimate keyboard. It's ergonomic, the mechanical keys and their backlighting are fully programmable, and almost two-thirds of the keys are individually sculpted. The whole is mounted on two slabs of maple, resulting in one of the most beautiful pieces of computer hardware ever. In short, Keyboardio's keyboards are an act of love, created by two perfectionists who are clearly determined to see their vision...
Why are these still a thing in LibreOffice?

Feb 10, 2016 GMT

Don't get me wrong: LibreOffice is the premier office suite. I have just spent two and a half years preparing a book on LibreOffice, and I can appreciate it more than most people. I appreciate, too, how much LibreOffice has done to clean up the old code and interface. All the same, there are at least seven features whose revision, deletion, and, sometimes, proper documentation would make LibreOffice better yet.For example:1. The Alignment tab for paragraph styles includes several options for how to present the last line of a fully justified paragraph. The option is useful because the last line rarely occupies all the available space, which means that large spaces are left...
Security's weakest link is people

Jan 31, 2016 GMT

A few years ago, a neighbor asked me to help secure their computer. I'm not an expert on Windows, but I told them to run non-administrative accounts except when doing maintenance, and set passwords for their regular accounts. I also suggested that if they avoided dodgy download sites, they might not have to pay to have their computer cleaned up every few months.Several months later, I learned that they had gone back to using administrative accounts and stopped using passwords because they were "too much trouble." As for the hazards of download styles, they had just paid another $200 to have the malware and viruses removed.I think of these neighbors whenever I see efforts to...
Open hardware, free software, and crowdfunding

Jan 25, 2016 GMT

Open hardware is finally coming of age. Thanks to the combination of free software and crowdfunding, dozens of small projects and businesses are producing innovative and useful examples of open hardware. As a result, the idea of open hardware, first imagined over a decade ago, is at last being realized.Looking at sites like Crowd Supply, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter, I can see dozens of campaigns for open hardware that are either under way or scheduled to begin soon. However, some, especially those developing specialized smart devices, seem likely to appeal to only a handful of buyers. Others, of course, may not reach their campaign goals or ship products, let alone reach any level of...

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