Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The long twilight of 32-bit computing

Jan 23, 2015 GMT

Stephen Smoogen has withdrawn his proposal that Fedora release only a 64 bit version, apologizing and claiming that it "was meant to be absurd." Still, the change is only a matter of time in all distributions. The only surprising thing is that the transition from 32 to 64 bit computing has taken so long.To appreciate just how long the transition has been, consider this: the transition from 16 to 32 bit in the early 1990s was a matter of two or three years at the most. In fact, the transition was something of a fiat: Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers announced it was going to happen, and it did. Complaints were few, because, back then, only free software supporters...
Coming Attractions for 2015

Jan 08, 2015 GMT

Last year at this time, I was waiting for Vivaldi, the free-licensed KDE tablet to go into production. That never happened, and free software is worse off for Vivaldi's disappearance. But, undaunted, I find myself looking ahead once again to three of the events likely to have a major influence on free software in the next twelve months: The gamble of the Ubuntu phoneThe first event I'm anticipating is the release of the first Ubuntu phone. What interests me is not so much the technology -- although I wouldn't mind tinkering with it -- as the fact that the phone is rapidly becoming a test of Canonical Software's credibility. Canonical has put most of its attention in the last two Ubuntu...
Improving on bug reports

Dec 29, 2014 GMT

There's nothing like the comments to justify an article. After I wrote about the average user's difficulty with filing bugs, the responses came rapidly. Many agreed with me, or were willing to consider my comments plausible, but two with long histories of involvement with free software seemed only intermittently aware that any problem existed, and were more interested in faulting me for not suggesting more solutions.As I said in the original article, my priority is timely articles, not contributing solutions. Moreover, in this case, I'd argue that voicing a problem that no one likes to discuss is a contribution in itself. Still, I prefer to contribute more when I can, so let me point out...
The problem with license trends

Dec 22, 2014 GMT

The conventional wisdom is that free software licenses are rapidly evolving. The copyleft licenses are supposed to be in decline, and the permissive licenses gaining popularity, according to  two widely-quoted studies from Red Monk by Stephen O'Grady  and Donnie Berkholz, In fact, writing in 2012, Berkholz declares that new project licenses are more likely to use a permissive license than anything else. However, on closer examination, whether these conclusions are accurate is open to question.For one thing, both the Red Monk studies and their main source, Black Duck Software and its Open Hub site (formerly Ohloh) are business-oriented. Because permissive licenses are more...
Why I rarely file bug reports

Dec 11, 2014 GMT

"Any chance of a bug report?" a developer asked when I mentioned a problem with an application on social media. As a free software supporter, I felt an obligation to oblige, but in practice, the chance was slim. For those of us who don't regularly file bugs, the process is usually too demanding, and too dependent on bureaucratic whim to seem worth the effort.In theory, of course, I should be all in favor of reporting a bug. After all, free software depends on the efforts of responsible volunteers. Using free software regularly, surely I have a duty to get involved and to help improve the software for everyone.However, in my case, that's not my first obligation. I wouldn't spend...
LibreOffice: how to avoid manufactured font weights

Dec 03, 2014 GMT

LibreOffice does it. Calligra Suite and Abiword do, too. In fact almost all the word processors you ever used will manufacture bold and italic weights as well as small caps when no font metrics are available. Fortunately, you can work around this over-helpfulness, but you have to be aware of what is happening.For reasons still unclear to me, LibreOffice varies in its detection of font files. It is not, as I first thought, simply a question of whether font metrics for different weights are stored in one file or several. However, I do know that if you have different weights installed but the toolbar's list of fonts gives only the family name, nothing should be manufactured. By contrast, if...
The rise of Debian technology

Nov 25, 2014 GMT

Out of 285 active distributions on Distrowatch, 132 are based on Debian and 67 on Ubuntu. This predominance is not only unrivalled in a field as diverse as Linux distros, but has been true now for several years. I've cited it several times, but until now, I haven't addressed the question this observation also raises: how did this state of affairs come about?It wasn't always true. When I first dipped into free software in the late 1990s, Red Hat was the dominant distribution, largely because it was more polished and better documented than any of its rivals. When projects bothered with packaging development builds, they made .rpms -- to the intense annoyance of Debian novices like...

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