Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

A farewell to blogs

Apr 17, 2017 GMT

This is my last blog for Linux Pro Magazine. It is also the 387th blog of what has been a long and varied tenure. I leave pleased that I have covered some interesting topics that other sites have never mentioned, but also looking forward to what comes next.I first began this blog in March 2009. I called it "Off the Mark," partly to parallel my private blog, which I call "Off the Wall," and partly to suggest my intention to write about unusual topics and opinions -- before, with any luck, anyone else did.In pitching the blog, I described it as "a selection of news, reviews, and commentary about what's happening in the free and open source software community,"...
Unity enters its twilight

Apr 06, 2017 GMT

Unity, Ubuntu's default desktop environment, has always been ironically named. Begun after conflicts between Ubuntu and GNOME, Canonical Software and Ubuntu developed it as a solo effort after other projects ignored Mark Shuttleworth's famous challenge to develop an interface to rival Apple's. Moreover, with less than a six percent market share in the 2016 LinuxQuestions survey, it remains among the least popular of Linux desktops.Under these circumstances, the only surprising aspect of Shuttleworth's announcement that Ubuntu was dropping Unity in favor of GNOME is that the decision took so long. Still, it's a gutsy decision that allows Canonical to concentrate on servers and OpenStack,...
New Guard and Old Guard clash at Free Software Foundation

Mar 28, 2017 GMT

Does the Free Software Foundation (FSF) have internal conflicts? An answer is hard to find, because people prefer not to talk about the possibility. However, there are increasing indications that the FSF is having trouble adjusting to modern activism -- and that part of the problem might be growing differences between FSF supporters and its founder Richard Stallman (RMS).I sympathize with those reluctant to speak. Richard Stallman's pioneering work shaped free software as we know it, and the temptation to forgive any possible lapses on his part can be strong. In fact, that is exactly what many people appear to have been doing for the last few years. Yet, at the same time, ignoring the...
Free software makes computers knowable

Mar 22, 2017 GMT

The other day, a high school class mate of mine posted a comic piece about the problems with new software systems. The unspoken assumptions were that computers always caused problems, but that nothing much could be done about the situation. I smiled, but I realized that I no longer shared this attitude -- and that free software was the reason why.Helplessness in front of the computer is probably part of the general anti-intellectualism in North American culture. More specifically, though, I blame the computer industry. For decades now, proprietary operating systems have been constructed so as to encourage what I call the grimoire approach to problems -- that is, collecting magic formulas...
Why universal packages aren't universal solutions

Mar 09, 2017 GMT

The initial announcements of Flatpak and Snap presented them as the solution to all of Linux's packaging problems. These claims soon proved to be ahead of actual development, but they linger in the minds of many users. A few weeks ago, for example, someone on Google+ was complaining about how long their distribution was taking to package LibreOffice 5.3. They looked forward, they wrote, to the day when one universal package manager or another would eliminate such delays. However, while universal package managers might one day simplify maintaining a distribution, whether they will ever have the effect that the complainer anticipated seems doubtful -- for which we can all be thankful.I...
LibreOffice drops Type 1 font support

Mar 01, 2017 GMT

Should decisions about free software be determined by the needs of developers or users? This recurring question has become relevant again in LibreOffice 5.3, which is dropping support for Type 1 fonts.Type 1 fonts, also known as postscript fonts, were one of the first font formats for digital typography. They have been superseded by TrueType (TTF) and OTF formats, but, unlike many earlier formats, have remained adequate for design work. As a result, many designers have continued to use them, since over the years they have a significant investment in Type 1 fonts, particularly from Adobe. At an average cost of US$35 per font family, replacing a collection made over a decade or more could...
Reglue Needs Your Support

Feb 25, 2017 GMT

Forget, for a moment, how open source seems to be the solution to business problems. Instead, return to basics and think of how free software helps to provide computers for the impoverished, and to reduce technological waste by extending the useful life of older hardware. These are among the ideals that attracted many of us to free software in the first place, and for years, Ken Starks and Recycled Electronics and Gnu/Linux Used for Education -- better known as Reglue -- have been on the front lines of such issues. Now, Reglue faces a significant shortfall in operating costs unless it can raise another $7000 in its current fundraising campaign in the next few days.Why should you care?...
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