Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Rethinking the Office Suite

Feb 08, 2013 GMT

I've spent much of the last week exploring the recent releases of Calligra Suite and LibreOffice, and listening to the unlikely rumors of a Linux version of Microsoft Office. I haven't concentrated on office suites so intensely for years, and, as I examined Calligra Suite's and LibreOffice's very different layouts and approaches to productivity, I found myself thinking: What should a modern office suite consist of?That isn't a question you hear any more. The great days of innovation in the office suite were the early 1990s. Since then, ideas about office suites have stagnated. Oh, Microsoft Office introduced the ribbon interface, and Google Docs has made collaboration and syncing files...
GNOME Gets Formal, Public Usability Testing

Jan 31, 2013 GMT

By definition, usability testing is difficult in free software. The reason is obvious: usability testing typically requires face to face observation of users, which is hard to arrange when most developers are interacting remotely. That's why Aakanksha Gaur's recent blogs about GNOME 3 usability caught my attention -- to the best of my knowledge, the last major usability study of GNOME took place twelve years ago, although small, informal studies have been done since.Gaur is graduate student studying interface design at the National Institute of Design in Bangalore, India. She is also currently an intern in the Outreach Program for Women, mentoring under Allan Day. With Day's assistance,...
More thoughts on the GNOME 2 reaction

Jan 25, 2013 GMT

Last week, I suggested that the continued interest in GNOME 2 handicaps desktop innovation.  Since then, a proposal has been made that Fedora's next release should default to Cinnamon, Linux Mint's GNOME 2-like shell. My guess is that the proposal will find many in favor.The popularity of GNOME 2 remains widespread and growing. In the social sense, it qualifies as a reaction -- an attempt to return to an earlier state of affairs, like the Counter-Reformation in the Catholic Church. It's a topic that has drawn more responses than most I've written about -- enough that, at the cost of being too meta, I want to answer back.However, before I do, I should emphasize that I'm far from a fan...
Does GNOME 2 nostalgia harm the future of the free desktop?

Jan 21, 2013 GMT

For a desktop that was supposed to become defunct two years ago, GNOME 2 remains surprisingly alive. Linux Mint offers a direct fork in Mate, and recreates GNOME 2 with a series of extensions in Cinnamon. A new distribution called SolusOS now offers Consort, a fork of GNOME fallback, which resembles GNOME 2. Meanwhile, the GNOME project prepares to support a set of core extensions to reproduce the GNOME 2 experience. Hardly a week goes by without some distribution announcing a release that includes some form of GNOME 2.All this activity is understandable, and even admirable to a degree. It's testimony to users' anger over GNOME 3 and the ability of free software to empower users.However,...
Taking the pledge a little bit further

Jan 11, 2013 GMT

One of my main critiques about feminism in free and open source software (FOSS) is that it has failed to engage large segments of the community -- especially men. Any movement for social change needs popular support, but too often FOSS feminists have taken a top-down approach, keeping directions and even the right to comment in the hands of a self-proclaimed intellectual vanguard.That's why I welcome Rebecca J. Rosen's recent suggestion that people do their bit by pledging not to speak on all-male panels. True, "taking the pledge" sounds like something that teetotallers did in the early twentieth century when they promised not to drink alcohol. But the idea is practical, and...
When to listen to inconvenient criticism

Dec 28, 2012 GMT

Whenever users complain, the members of a free software project have a time-honored fallback. Happy users, they say, rarely bother to comment. Mostly, only the discontented are moved to voice an opinion.However, like all pieces of popular wisdom, this one deserves to be questioned. Is the idea that feedback consists mostly of complaints true, or a rationalization seized upon by those who -- very humanly -- prefer to dismiss criticism of their hard efforts? If so, how do you know when to overlook criticism, and when to take it seriously? And what are the comments of ignoring inconvenient criticism?The temptation is always for project leaders to ignore criticism. For example, when Mark...
The triumph of convenience

Dec 21, 2012 GMT

A few years ago, my neighbors asked for help securing their computer. They were running Windows, so my knowledge was limited, but I did set up a separate administrative account and add passwords to their regular accounts. When I looked at their computer a month later, they had removed both -- and were back to getting viruses and malware along with their movie downloads. Their explanation? That my simple safeguards were "too inconvenient.""Let me get this straight," I wanted to say (but didn't). "It's too inconvenient to spend ten seconds typing a password, or twenty logging into a different account to install software. But it's not too inconvenient to have your...

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