Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Corporate Crowdfunding

Jul 23, 2013 GMT

Like many who write about free software, I spent yesterday writing about Ubuntu Edge, the effort to crowdfund a project to promote innovation in the phone market. The story had more than enough points of interest to keep me busy, but one aspect I didn't have time to examine in depth was the idea of a company attempting to crowdfund. In some ways, the attempt seems contrary to the whole idea of crowdfunding.Make no mistake -- that is what Ubuntu Edge is about, despite the fact that the name includes Ubuntu rather than Canonical. Even though it's unclear whether Ubuntu Edge is intended to be even modestly profitable, the total absence of any mention of licensing suggests that Ubuntu Edge...
The struggle for politeness in the

Jul 16, 2013 GMT

Every few months, someone accuses Linus Torvalds of being abusive and rude in his leadership of the Linux kernel. Yesterday, it was kernel developer Sarah Sharp's turn, in an attack that was as noteworthy for its idealism as its deplorably poor tactics.The discussion began on the kernel mailing list when Torvalds suggested, perhaps facetiously, that lead developer Greg Kroah-Hartman might benefit from being less polite.Sharp intervened with a critique of Torvald's own behavior, telling him that "you're one of the worst offenders when it comes to verbally abusing people and publicly tearing their emotions apart. " In response, Torvalds defended his tone as a tool for getting...
Writing about Diversity on the Desktop

Jul 12, 2013 GMT

Writing about the Linux desktop used to be simple. I wrote about GNOME and KDE, and, if I really wanted to be complete, I mentioned Xfce. Very occasionally, I might mention a few window managers. But those simple ways were lost in the fragmentation of GNOME over the last three years, and now writing about the desktop is vastly more complicated than it used to be.Today, the number of desktop environments with significant market shares has tripled. To do a thorough job, I can no longer talk about just GNOME and KDE. At a minimum, I also need to talk about Cinnamon, Mate, Unity and Xfce -- and I'm not sure I shouldn't add LXDE and maybe a handful of others to the list.From a user's...
First contact

Jun 27, 2013 GMT

Fourteen years ago  to the day, free software became part of my life. Ever since, nothing in my life has been the same.It wasn't my first encounter. I had spent six months documenting applications that ran on Slackware, including generating my own description of the file-hierarchy. But I knew nothing of the community that was building Slackware, much less any other project, and my own efforts to set it up unassisted had been spectacularly unsuccessful.However, I did have a distaste for Windows, and had used alternate versions of DOS and OS/2. It would be a couple of years before how IBM had betrayed OS/2 would become common knowledge, but what happened was already obvious in general...
Keyboard art

Jun 18, 2013 GMT

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."- William MorrisNothing is more utilitarian than a keyboard. Even Apple, which has done so much to transform other hardware, offers only starkly functional keyboards whose major innovation is their color. That's why when I happened across Datamancer Enterprises, I stumbled over myself in my rush to place an order, even at the expense of a few macaroni and cheese dinners.The idea of keyboards as art is a concept that might have been promoted by William Morris and the Arts and Craft Movement at the end of the nineteenth...
What makes for a community distribution?

Jun 14, 2013 GMT

Choosing a Linux distribution is not always a technical issue. For many the degree of community control is at least as important as the version of the kernel or the default package selection. Even though Linux long-ago entered the mainstream of business, the conviction persists that distributions governed by the community remain more democratic and truer to the ideals of free software than those ruled by a company. However, in practice, determining the type and degree of community control needs more than a quick look at a description of the distribution's governance.Several major distributions can be defined as community-governed. However, the exact form of government in such...
7 Improvements needed in LibreOffice templates and styles

Jun 11, 2013 GMT

For the past couple of months, I've been drafting a book with the working title of "Styles and Templates in LibreOffice." It's going well, although not fast enough --a big project never moves fast enough for me -- but in many ways it's an exercise in exasparation when I see how little things have changed since I last wrote about such topics.Writing the book is a return to expertise that I haven't needed for five or six years. I no longer write manuals, and I long ago devised the templates for my everyday purposes, and haven't needed to revive them recently. Yet despite the importance of styles and templates in LibreOffice, they remain as needlessly arcane and as lacking in...

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