Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Tin Hats Vs Red Hat

Jan 29, 2014 GMT

Ordinarily, I avoid anything to do with Roy Schestowitz and TechRights. The interaction is rarely worth the seemingly compulsive abuse I inevitably receive. However, Schestowitz's recent claim that Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) includes a back door for the NSA is an exception -- especially since the story has been picked up by FOSS Force (, where, despite the site's skepticial coverage of the claim, its latest poll shows that 34% believe the story, and 27% don't know what to think.Schestowitz writes that RHEL cannot be trusted because "RHEL is binary and based on news from half a decade ago, the NSA is said to be involved in the building process." To...
Reading the tea leaves with Canonical's financial statement

Jan 27, 2014 GMT

Strictly speaking, the recently published annual report for the Canonical Group, the developers of Ubuntu, covers only its United Kingdom subsidiary for the year ending March 31, 2013. However, in practice, the report provides glimpses into both Canonical's global activities and the challenges that the company faces before it can become profitable.The report lists three sources of income for The Canonical Group: engineering services to OEMs, consulting and cloud services to corporate customers, and online services to end-users.If you read just the report, you might conclude that all three have equal weight in Canonical's financial plans. However, after watching Canonical's increasing...
9 KDE widgets that add functionality

Jan 16, 2014 GMT

Widgets -- small utilities for the panel or desktop -- used to be standard on Linux desktops. Today, however, GNOME and Unity have abolished them as clutter, while on most other desktops, they are mostly confined to system meters and standard desktop features such as task bars and notification trays. Linux Mint's Cinnamon is starting to offer a few innovative ones, but, of the six major desktops, only KDE has encouraged an extensive ecosystem of widgets that provide extra bits of functionality.KDE does have its share of system meters and standard features in its list of widgets. You can also find toys like a bouncing ball and a puzzle, and pieces of functionality that you can also find...
Letting off Steam

Jan 08, 2014 GMT

"Look around, you must be joking, We've come all that way for this."- OysterbandMy father-in-law was religious. I am not, but I always admired the sign he kept on his desk at the company he ran for fifty years. It was from Mark 8:36: "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?" As I read the enthusiastic coverage of Valve's Linux-based gaming console, the question seems appropriate to ask.If you read the coverage, mainstream gaming's discovery of Linux is the best thing that ever happened to Linux. Last year's release of Steam for Ubuntu and the recent announcement of Debian-based gaming consoles are supposed to make Linux a serious...
2013 on the Desktop

Dec 29, 2013 GMT

The desktop is supposed to be dying, but you would never guess from the number of environments available for Linux in 2013.True, nothing radical happened in the last year. But the desktop diversity that has emerged in the last few years became more firmly established than ever, with half a dozen choices available where two or three existed five years ago. Here's how the major desktops fared in 2013: Cinnamon2013 was a growth year for Cinnamon, Linux Mint's most modern operating system.  The 1.8 release saw improvements to the file manager, and the creation of a control center to replace the multiple configuration tools in earlier releases, as well as the introduction of desklets, or...
11 ways to fit into a free software project

Dec 23, 2013 GMT

Many technical writers believe that all they need are writing skills. Consequently, my contracts usually began with a period of proving to developers that I could handle the technical details as well. Talking about Linux worked wonders, but it could still be an uphill battle. Later, I found journalism required much the same process of overcoming a closed community's reaction to an outsider long enough to gain useful information.With these experience, I was surprised the other week to come across several complaints that the free software community was hostile to outsiders. I had never found it particularly so -- but then, I've always approached it as someone worth placating, either to...
Gluglug Laptops Get FSF Respect Your Freedom Certification

Dec 18, 2013 GMT

To some, free software is just a pay cheque or a way of life. However, for some, it means working towards the goal of free-licensed computers that are fully controlled by their users. Progress towards that goal is slow, but it takes a couple of steps forward with the announcement that Gluglug, a small English vendor, has received Respect Your Freedom certification from the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for its line of refurbished IBM Lenovo X60 ThinkPad laptops.As the name suggests, owner Francis Rowe originally started using the name Gluglug with the intention of starting a Gnu/Linux users' group. However, six months ago, Rowe became interested in the challenges of building a completely...
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