Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Freedom from nagging

Jul 17, 2015 GMT

Freedom from nagging software is not one of the Free Software Foundation's four freedoms. However, after several days of setting up my new Samsung Galaxy Tab 4  to avoid as many unwanted notifications as possible, I wonder if it shouldn't be the fifth.On my KDE Plasma desktop, the only nagging is for upgrades -- and that can be turned off. In fact, as on many desktop environments, I can set which notifications to display. Having long ago set my notifications so that only essential system messages display, I can focus on my work, confident in the knowledge that my thoughts will not be interrupted by a bit of system trivia that I can read later.Unfortunately, not having bought a...
How I marketed free software

Jul 13, 2015 GMT

In 2000-01, I was director of marketing and communications at Progeny Linux Systems. As an early hire in a startup, I had many jobs, but the most important was to create name recognition for the company. Relying heavily on the experience and talent of Optimium Design and Consulting, I created a series of three ads to introduce the company. Recently, I came across the ads, and, with no false modesty, I discovered that they held up surprisingly well as examples of how to market a project or company in free and open source software (FOSS).Marketing to FOSS is radically different from general ads to consumers or to other businesses. To start with, FOSS can be deeply suspicious about...
Why I don't write lists of influential people

Jun 29, 2015 GMT

Summer is a-coming in, and the entire tech sector is entering its annual slowdown. One way you can tell is that lists of influential people are starting to appear. It's a type of story that I've never written, and hope that I never will.I understand why lists of influential people are popular. If you regularly write about a certain topic -- free software, for instance, to take a random example -- then lists of influential people are an easy assignment. You should be able to start writing in five minutes, a preparation time that fits right into the lazy days of summer. Yet to my mind, such stories are too easy. They're the kind of story that Buzzfeed specializes in, conveying little new or...
What happens when leaders quit?

Jun 24, 2015 GMT

Recently, Swapnil Bhartiya published an article that quoted Linus Torvalds speculating on what might happen if he quit leading kernel development. To my surprise, I have seen the article condemned here and there as being in poor taste. Yet the more I think, the more I think that many free software projects need to start similar discussions.We live in a death-denying culture, and the sub-culture of developers is not known for its maturity. All the same, as free software advocates and contributors are aging. On social media, you may have noticed gray hairs that weren't there a decade ago, and people who were once cradling infants now congratulating those same infants on graduation from...
The new paradigm is Linux

Jun 22, 2015 GMT

The first time I sensed the potential of free software was when I tried GNU Parted. As an OS/2 user, I had been impressed by PartitionMagic, one of the few pieces of software to originate on that doomed platform. But if Parted could do the same functions reliably, how could proprietary software like PartitionMagic hope to compete? As things happened, I was overly optimistic, but my rhetorical question was correct all the same -- it just ignored a lot of other considerations that took time to overcome.At the time, I knew too little to appreciate how radical the logic of free software actually was. Twenty years after the first personal computers, software was considered a commodity. Of...
How non-programmers can fit into free software

Jun 12, 2015 GMT

I have made a living as a non-programmer for twenty years. By that, I mean that I work around programmers without being one myself. Oh, I can manage BASH scripts, and I've dabbled in Python and Perl, but I lack the affinity for code that would make writing it a true satisfaction rather than a necessity or an intellectual exercise. Instead, I have done work that supports programming, such as writing, graphic design, usability, and product management. So, after over seventy contracts and full-time positions, I think I can speak with some experience about how non-programmers become accepted as part of a development team.This issue is becoming increasingly important as free software becomes...
The need for conferences

May 29, 2015 GMT

Last week's OpenStack Summit was my first conference in three years. Living with a dying partner for ten years got me out of the habit of traveling, and I'm just starting now to become more adventurous, so when a conference landed in my own back yard, I was eager to attend. But I wasn't at the conference for half an hour before I found myself feeling at home. Simply roaming the halls was enough to make me feel at home.True, the attendees were not quite my people. My friends and contacts are mostly developers of desktops and core applications, while most of the summit attendees were developing for the cloud.  But they were close enough cousins that they immediately seemed familiar.In...

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