Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

GNOME, Unity, and mobile devices

Mar 14, 2012 GMT

I've often said that recent desktop environments are heavily influenced by mobile devices. However, it was only last week, when I switched to a Nexus S phone, that I examined that claim in detail and realized that the statement was incomplete.The fact that all three interfaces share some common assumptions is too obvious to question seriously. The relationship shows in details like menus and windows that are either without titlebar buttons and menus or else hide these items until users search for them. In Unity, it also shows in windows that be dragged up and down without scroll bars.However, the most obvious similarity is that complete screen changes are an inescapable part of the...
Watching the Future of Canonical

Mar 06, 2012 GMT

Is it just me, or is there a whiff of desperation these days around Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm? By that I mean that Canonical increasingly seems to focused on reaching profitability, and nothing else. The de-emphasis on community, the constant introduction of new services, and the increasing market speak are all in marked contrast to the Canonical of five or even three years ago.Since Ubuntu is a privately-held company, its financial position is a matter of speculation. In 2009, Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth stated that the company was "creeping toward $30 million," the point of profitability, but that was before many of its current services were introduced....
LinuxQuestion Vote Shows Fragmentation of the Desktop

Feb 24, 2012 GMT

In the last couple of years, I've spent much of my time observing the Linux desktop and its growing fragmentation. However, accurate figures are hard to come by, and often I can only give my impressions. That's why LinuxQuestion's Members Choice Awards for 2011 interest me so much -- they're the first confirmation that what I'm observing is actually happening. Of course, the awards can be criticized on a number of grounds. Voters are self-selected, and, considering LinuxQuestion's role and age, probably represent reasonably experienced users; my impression is that new users may visit the site, but are less likely to hang around long enough to participate in the survey. Still, with 627...
Living with Statistics

Feb 20, 2012 GMT

One of the prices of software freedom is the impossibility of getting accurate figures for usage. As a user, I consider that a small price to pay for not having to register or activate software. However, as a journalist I'm often frustrated, because accurate figures can be useful for establishing a point or debunking rumors.The questions for which I would like accurate stats include: how many GNU/Linux users are there? Has Linux Mint really overtaken Ubuntu as the most popular distribution? Has GNOME gained or lost users with the start of its third release series? All these questions and more would benefit from reliable figures, yet we don't have any. Instead, we have a series of...
Google Takeout: viewing what Google knows about you

Feb 15, 2012 GMT

Ever wonder what information Google has collected about you? Now, you can find out, thanks to Google Takeout, which allows you to download most of the information that Google has collected about you.The question should be of more than passing interest to just about everyone. Few people may have bought Google's Chromebook with its web-based applications, but Google still dominates our computer lives. We use it to receive emails. We store pictures and documents on it. We socialize on it -- and, all the time, Google is collecting information about us. Google Takeout is a creation of the Data Liberation Front, which describes itself as "an engineering team at Google whose singular goal...
Review: "The Linux Command Line"

Feb 07, 2012 GMT

William E. Shotts, Jr.'s The Linux Command Line is really two books in one. In the first two-thirds, Shotts offers one of the better introductions to the Bash shell that I have seen. However, in the last third, the book describes shell scripting, and the tone and pace of the book change so much that you have to wonder why these two sections are between the same covers.This structure is deliberate. Early in the book, Shotts specifically identifies his audience as power users who have just migrated from another operating system. From this description, you can easily guess how the first two-thirds is meant to prepare readers for the last third.Unfortunately, though, that is not how The Linux...
Fundraising for Free Software and Free Culture

Jan 24, 2012 GMT

I've spent December and January watching the fundraising campaigns of several free software and culture projects. I'm involved in fundraising for two mainstream charities, so the efforts of others is directly interesting to me. Also, increasingly, free software and culture projects are looking for ways to make their efforts pay, so what works and what doesn't is becoming an important community issue.I admit that I watch the progress bars for fundraising with considerable fascination. I look, for example, at least once at day to the Free Software Foundation's site to see how much of its target of $300,000 is left to raise, or nose around to see how Wikipedia's latest personal appeals are...

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