Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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...
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...
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