Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Debian: Yesterday's Distribution?

Aug 19, 2010 GMT

The latest Debian Project News recently announced a code freeze in preparation for a new release by the end of 2010. It's a sign of the times that the news went mostly unreported. Which makes me wonder: What is Debian's role today?There's no doubt that, in most people's minds, Debian no longer occupies the place it once had in free and open source software (FOSS). Five or six years ago, upcoming Debian releases, or elections for Debian Project Leader were major news in the community (I know, because I covered them). Now, few of the news sites gives much attention to either event.Partly, this change is due to shifting priorities. The emphasis in FOSS today is on usability, and Debian...
There's more to FOSS than the Linux Foundation

Aug 12, 2010 GMT

As a Canadian, I'm always irked by airy statements by Americans that they won World War II. Yes, the Americans entry into the war was decisive, but their side was not called the Allies for nothing, and many other countries contributed to the victory or at least kept the fight alive in the years before the United Stated joined in. With all respect, I feel much the same way about the recent interview on with Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation/Published to coincide with this week's LinuxCon in Boston, the interview begins by describing Zemlin as "part legal guardian, part keeper of the flame. The non-profit foundation he runs is charged with promoting...
The Girl with the PGP Encryption Programme

Aug 06, 2010 GMT

Earlier this week, a neighbor loaned me Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the mystery that everyone seems to be reading this summer. Mostly, it's an intelligent light read -- even if the climax does occur three-quarters of the way through-- and the book is very lucky in its translator, Reg Keeland. However, my enjoyment is diminished by the sometimes less than expert treatment of computer security issuesLarsson gets some things right when he discusses computers. His detailed stats for a state of the art Mac in 2005 sound correct to my memory, and his assumption that most people do not protect their computers with a password, much less any other security measures is --...
Privilege and free software

Jul 31, 2010 GMT

Over at the Geek Feminism site, a discussion is going on about an article entitled, "If you were hacking since age 8, it means that you were privileged." As I usually do with anything remotely connected with computers, I immediately started wondering how I could apply the topic to free software. Specifically, is free software the product of privilege? Or does it work against privilege? My tentative answer is that free software is a paradoxical combination of privilege and resistance to privilege.As you might guess from the title, the article on Geek Feminism points out that, anyone who is an adult today who had early access to a computer probably comes from a middle class or...
The Free Software Foundation: New Home Page, New Directions

Jul 27, 2010 GMT

Ordinarily, a change in website design doesn't rate a mention these days. However, the recent change in the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) home page is an exception. It marks not just a change in aesthetics, but of organizational direction as well. Instead of being directed at the free software community, the site is now intended as an introduction to free software and the social and political issues that surround it.Go to the site, and the change is immediately obvious. A few weeks ago, the FSF home page was a typical minimalist site, of the sort that content management solutions generate by the millions. Now, it looks more like a a commerce site for web hosting or a travel agency,...
Ebooks outselling hard covers? Where's the news?

Jul 22, 2010 GMT

 Just by choosing which stories to cover, journalists and editors decide what is news and what is not. Since you can never cover everything, that is inevitable, and the alternative to being selective is to despair and cover nothing at all. But I despise news that is manufactured out of nothing or next to nothing. This week, for example, Amazon announced that it is selling an average of 143 ebooks for its Kindle reader for every 100 hardcovers – and, suddenly, everyone on the Internet is pontificating about the success of ebooks and anticipating the death of paper books. Why is this non-news? Not because, as some allege, the figures are heavily qualified and do not accurately...
Recommendations from Women in Free Software: Too Mild for Its Own Good?

Jul 20, 2010 GMT

The Free Software Foundation’s Women in Free Software has published its recommendations for encouraging women’s involvement in free software. I admit that I am curious to see what reactions it invokes – or, for that matter, whether it gets noticed at all outside of feminist circles.The analysis of Women in Free Software is not particularly new. It notes the barriers that many others, including me, have commented on in the past, noting that free software is perceived as a “boy’s club” where women are made to feel unwelcome and experience sexism. The closest that the group comes to saying anything new is when it notes that girls are not exposed to free software, and “finances...
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