Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The Dangers of a Post-License Era

Apr 10, 2013 GMT

You don't see many discussions about free software licenses any more. Once a burning issue, licenses and their implications hardly seem to be mentioned these days. Increasingly, we seem to be moving into a post-license era, and the implications for free and open source software are potentially troubling.  The reasons for this apparent shift of interest aren't hard to find. To start with, most of the important license issues have already been resolved.  It's hard to imagine any licensing issue today that would be as significant to the community at large as the release of the OpenOffice.org code in 2000, or of the discussion of the third version of the GPL in 2005-07.Yes, the...
My last comment on "Linux" vs "GNU/Linux"

Mar 27, 2013 GMT

On Linux Advocates, Katherine Noyes recently raised the old question of whether the operating system should be called Linux or GNU/Linux. It's a topic I don't think much about these days, although I've had some unusual perspectives on it over the years.You probably know the argument: given that the operating system was originally the result of cooperation between Linux kernel developers and the members of The GNU Project, both should be given credit in the name. True, countless other projects are involved, but the reference is to the core operating system, and to mention one without the other is to write the excluded founding organization out of history. Or so free software supporters...
It's time for the next step with anti-harassment policies

Mar 22, 2013 GMT

For several weeks, I've resisted writing this blog entry. I don't want people accusing  me of mansplaining  -- of lecturing women about what they already know better than I do -- as an easy way of discrediting me. Nor do I care to hear my resignation from The Ada Initiative in November 2011 dredged up to as evidence of my personal animosity. But, being the mouthy type that I am, I'm going to plunge in anyway, simply because nobody else has.Writing as a pro-feminist, I would like to make the case, as respectfully as possible, that getting conferences to establish anti-harassment policies is not enough. The time has come for a discussion about how those policies need to be carried...
openSUSE shows how to promote a release

Mar 14, 2013 GMT

Over the years, I've written and talked several times about how free software projects should approach journalists. At times, I've been able to single out publicists who do an especially professional job, including Jennifer Cloer of The Linux Foundation and Sally Khudairi of The Apache Foundation. However, mostly, I've spoken in the abstract. I never had a detailed example to offer -- until last week, when Jos Poortvliet, openSUSE's community manager, contacted me about the new 12.3 release.What makes the efforts of Poortvliet' and the rest of the openSUSE marketing team stand out? To start with, he contacted me with a link to DVD images six days before the release. By contrast, if the...
Should I donate to KDE?

Mar 08, 2013 GMT

Normally, I evaluate free software projects in terms of the functionality they provide. However, with many projects experimenting with crowdfunding, increasingly I find myself looking at them the way I would a non-profit to which I am considering donating. I want to know, for example, how much of the money a project collects goes towards administration, and how much goes to project activities -- in other words, if the money it receives is being well-spent.This is the perspective from which I approached KDE e.V's financial statement for 2012 -- I wanted to do a spot-check on how well KDE was run in case I decide to donate to the project.KDE e.V. is the non-profit organization that...
Consumer and productivity computing

Feb 28, 2013 GMT

I'm not sure when I started. But in the last six months or so, I've been making a distinction in my mind between consumer and productivity computing as a means of clarifying my thoughts about desktop interfaces.This is a distinction that hardly needed to be made in the first twenty years of the personal computer. Each workstation was released with the largest hard drive, the fastest video card, and the largest amount of RAM available, and was used for every task that users had. For years, laptops were less powerful, but that had to do with convention and the limits of miniaturization more than anything else; besides, it was accepted that you gave up some of the power for the convenience...
Review: Biella Coleman's "Coding Freedom"

Feb 23, 2013 GMT

Studies of hacker culture are rare. Serious studies untainted by hype are rarer still. For both these reasons, E. Gabriella Coleman's Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking is a welcome contribution to the subject. The result of over a decade of participant observation, Coding Freedom may not always be a precise survey of the free and open source software (FOSS) communities, but at least the resulting map bears some resemblance to the territory it is supposed to represent. For that reason alone, it has met a friendly reception since its publication early in 2013 (appropriately, under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license).Coding Freedom is...

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