Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Why I Prefer KDE

Nov 27, 2012 GMT

Fifteen years ago today, KDE began -- and I, for one, am glad that it did. I run virtualized versions of all the major desktop environments, and have a few more on secondary machines. Sometimes, too, I'll log into a desktop like Mate, Xfce, or LXDE just for a change of pace or to keep myself in touch. Yet, on my main workstation, I always return sooner or later to KDE. Of all my available choices, it's the one whose design philosophy, communal attitudes, and vision come closest to my idea of what a desktop environment and its project should be.That wasn't always the case. Although my first year of working in GNU/Linux was on KDE, I spent close to eight years as a die-hard GNOME user....
GNOME Proves It Can Listen

Nov 21, 2012 GMT

With one announcement, suddenly the prospects for the free desktop have changed.I'm referring, of course, to Matthias Clasen's announcement that, having dropped fallback mode, GNOME will support a core of extensions that will recreate the GNOME 2 interface.This announcement marks a major reversal of GNOME's policy. For the past two years, the project has officially defended the radical redesign introduced by GNOME 3, making few -- if any -- acknowledgments of users' complaints.In fact, eighteen months ago, influential members of GNOME were arguing against encouraging extensions for GNOME Shell at all. For instance, Allan Day, one of the leading designers of the GNOME 3, wrote in a...
The Problem of Menus

Nov 16, 2012 GMT

Interfaces for traditional computers and mobile devices have become increasingly inventive in the last few years. So far, however, none have solved a basic design challenge: designing an efficient menu.The challenge rarely exists within applications. An application usually has half a dozen or more top level menus, each with less than a dozen items, so a drop-down system is usually good enough.But on the desktop environment, the norm has always been to have a single menu that lists all applications, and often shut-down commands, a list of favorites, and a few other items. To function well, each variation needs to make items quick to find and to distract minimally from whatever else...
The free software media and cults of personality

Nov 08, 2012 GMT

It's all the media's fault. Or, if not, the media helps perpetuate it.I'm talking about the cults of personality that often dominate the free software  community -- not just the respect for accomplishment in an alleged meritocracy, but the undue influence that certain people are allowed to exercise.As Aaron Seigo points out in a blog that anticipates much of what I would otherwise have said, such cults are contrary to community values. Worse, they can do untold damage, imposing commercial values at the cost of community ones, or dividing the community as those at the center of such cults decide to air their personal grudges in public. They can cause people to discard their own...
Plasma Active: The Mobile Interface That Works

Oct 31, 2012 GMT

To express myself mildly, I'm not a fan of interfaces for mobile devices. At best, they seem clumsy makeshifts, tolerable only because nothing better is available. The only exception is KDE's Plasma Active, which not only works well on tablets, but, with its recently released version 3.0, remains the only mobile-inspired interface I can tolerate on a workstation – and that includes Unity and Windows RT.What makes Plasma Active so well-designed? Probably, it gets a boost from the fact that in the last five years, the KDE community has developed two other interfaces, the KDE 4 release series and Plasma Netbook, and gained some design expertise in the process. All three of these interfaces...
Reactions to women speakers

Oct 23, 2012 GMT

Congratulations! You've managed to attract more women speakers to your conference. But, if you think your problems are over, you may be in for a surprise. If the experiences of Moose, the chair of Ohio LinuxFest 2012 are typical, instead of relaxing after your efforts, you may find yourself answering second-guessing from not-so-closet sexists.Ohio LinuxFest is one of the regional conferences that has made special efforts to encourage women to speak. In 2010, thirty percent of its speakers were women -- a rate higher than most leading free and open source software conferences in recent years. In 2012, the percentage declined to fifteen percent, but included three out of four keynote...
The problems with Ubuntu's Amazon results legal notice

Oct 16, 2012 GMT

Every Ubuntu release seems to have its own controversy. For Ubuntu 12.10, codenamed Quantal Quetzal, that controversy is the inclusion of results from Amazon when you use the dash for searching. Thanks to the controversy, this feature has been heavily modified. However the legal notice that has been add as one of those modifications is as much cause for concern as the feature itself.To be fair, Ubuntu has shown many signs of listening to the complaints. Amazon search results can now be toggled off in the Privacy settings, and the feature now uses a blacklist of keywords to reduce the chances of returning pornographic results. Results are also encrypted before being transmitted to ensure...

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