Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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...
Not just token: Red Hat's Women in Open Source Awards

Nov 19, 2014 GMT

DeLisa Alexander would like to make one thing clear about Red Hat's Women in Open Source Awards (WIOSA): They're not just a token gesture towards diversity. Instead, she describes them as one step in a larger, more varied strategy to increase women's participation in open source."It's one key," says Alexander, executive vice-president and chief people officer at Red Hat. "But it's an important part of the puzzle to help tech and open source attract more talent." According to Alexander, the idea was first generated several years ago, but the company "waited until we had a larger sense of the puzzle."WIOSA, which is accepting nominees until November 21, will...
Are word processors becoming obsolete?

Nov 14, 2014 GMT

The other day on a mailing list, a poll of journalists showed that only one in fifteen was using an office suite for their work. The poll made no pretense of scientific accuracy, and only included about fifteen replies. Still, it made me wonder whether the word processor has outlived its day.Only one person said they used MS Word, and none mentioned LibreOffice. The others used Kate, Google Docs, or mobile apps like Evernote. I didn't reply, but I do most of my work in Bluefish, myself. I also used to know one journalist who used Vim, which seems a bit extreme to me, although it would be a good way to keep your hands on the keyboard and perhaps reduce repetitive stress injuries.The reason...
Free software: doing the impossible

Nov 06, 2014 GMT

I worry about free software's lack of diversity, but I also find much to admire. I like how free software makes computers available to impoverished people and nations who otherwise could never afford them. I like the fact that excellence is often more of a motivation for its developers than money, and the humbleness of many of its top developers, and how they are genuinely approachable and often dedicated to cooperative decision-making. Recently, however, I realized that I also admire free software for another reason: the persistent tendency of its developers to do whatever pundits say is impossible.I first noticed this tendency when I realized how far the free font movement had come in...
Ubuntu at 10: All that way for this?

Oct 28, 2014 GMT

"In a middle of a good time, Fate dealt me her icy kiss, Look around, you must be joking,We've come all that way for this."-OysterBandLast week, Ubuntu celebrated the tenth anniversary of its first release. The occasion was marked by the obligatory retrospectives, most of them uncritical or at least carefully neutral. What nobody asked was the obvious question: after ten years, is Ubuntu a success?That depends on the criteria.On the one hand, the fact that Ubuntu has shaped free software is undeniable.When Warty Warthog, Ubuntu's first release, was announced, the last thing that free software seemed to need was another distribution. The market seemed saturated, and its...
LibreOffice and OpenOffice: comparing the community health

Oct 25, 2014 GMT

The rumors about LibreOffice that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago apparently lack substance.  Andrea Pescetti, Apache OpenOffice PMC Chair, states that, "I can say that I don't witness the reduction of activity you describe: community members (including those that I know to be employed by IBM) are all participating in conversations and development." So, I am left wondering: how can the relative health of Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice be measurde, four years after the two parted ways?OpenOffice representatives are fond of citing download statistics -- possibly because theirs are available on public sites, and LibreOffice's are private. However, either way, downloads...
Free equivalents for standard proprietary fonts

Oct 16, 2014 GMT

Like Linux desktops, free-licensed fonts started as imitations of proprietary equivalents. Today, original free fonts are becoming increasingly common, but the demand for free equivalents of proprietary fonts remains. This demand is unlikely to disapear because, although most professional designers think in terms of proprietary fonts, clients are often unwilling to pay for them. Moreover, free software advocates prefer free fonts to go along with their free applications.Exact equivalents are rare because of fear of copyright restrictions. A match as high as 75% is rare. Some equivalents, such as the Liberation fonts, are only metrical – that is, they take up the same space as their...

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