Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

A 75% victory or 75% defeat?

Jan 22, 2010 GMT

Nonsense prevails, modesty fails, Grace and virtue turn into stupidity. While the calendar fades almost all barricades To a pale compromise.- Elvis Costello, "All This Useless Beauty"Hearing the news that 75% of contributions to the Linux kernel are by paid developers, my first reaction is to recall Alec Guinness in The Horse's Mouth. In this classic from the 1950s, Guinness plays an eccentric and disreputable artist who cons his way into becoming a caretaker of a luxury flat so that he can paint a mural on its wall. When, after countless mishaps, he looks at his finished work, he mutters, "It's not the vision I had in mind," and walks away.Then I wonder if I'm...
TinyOgg, software freedom and convenience

Jan 16, 2010 GMT

One of the last gaps in free software for desktop computing is a Flash player. Even if you are committed to free software, you are likely to want one two or three times a day. The Gnash project does its best to provide, but it is still not fully functional, despite years of effort. Now, GNU Generation, the Free Software Foundation's (FSF's) organization for pre-university students, is offering another solution: TinyOgg, an application that converts Flash files to Ogg format. It's a worthy idea, but an impractical one that highlights one of the issues of encouraging people to use free software.An entry in the FSF's blogs suggests that TinyOgg is preferable to Gnash because Gnash is...
Selling GPL Exceptions isn't Exceptional

Jan 13, 2010 GMT

Richard Stallman's willingness to accept the sale of exceptions to the GNU General Public License intrigues me. What intrigues me is not his acceptance of the idea; that seems in keeping with everything I've learned over the years about the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) philosophy and practices. Rather, what fascinates me is how many people are reacting as if his comments are something new.The issue first came to public attention when Stallman signed a letter to the Commissioner for Competition in the European Union opposing Oracle's acquisition of MySQL along with Sun Microsystems. In signing the letter, Stallman signified his approval of MySQL allowing clients to use MySQL under a...
Why can't we all just get along?

Dec 30, 2009 GMT

At the risk of sounding naive, I'm concerned about how members of the free and open source software (FOSS) community treat each other. No doubt in most parts of the community, people are getting things done while keeping civil. But, publicly, or when the big issues are raised, a sustained nastiness has crept into discussions over the last year or so. Mostly, I try to ignore the tone, but, if possible, I'd like to see it reversed.Maybe that sentiment sounds like wishy-washy hypocrisy coming from someone who often writes about contentious issues. I know, too, no war is fiercer than a civil war, and that part of the reason for the nasty tone is probably the growing pains of a rapidly...
GNOME, GNU, and a long memory

Dec 16, 2009 GMT

Reading the recent discussions about GNOME's position in the GNU Project, I'm reminded of Utah Phillip's comment that "a long memory is the most radical notion in history." The way that the discussion has been reported in the media, you would hardly guess that the discussion is the latest round in an ongoing and disquieting dispute -- largely because the origins of the dispute were never widely reported.The current discussion began on the GNOME Foundation mailing list, when Richard Stallman, president and founder of the Free Software Foundation, suggested that Planet GNOME, ( the conglomeration of GNOME developers' blogs, should exclude all references to...
Does a free software community exist?

Dec 07, 2009 GMT

Recently, I was taken to task for talking about the free software community. The criticism seemed motivated by spite more than anything else. But I admit that I often do refer to the community. So, since I believe in never leaving an assumption unquestioned, I started wondering: Does such a thing exist?At first, the idea seems absurd. Perhaps a free software community existed fifteen years ago, when the software and its ideals were shared by a small number of developers. But these days, most people involved in free software tend to stay within their own community. Is there really some common thread that links a member of large projects like Fedora or with small two-person...
The Windows 7 License can make you love free software

Dec 04, 2009 GMT

If you need to renew your dedication to free software -- if you ever find yourself wondering if your support of open source is worth the effort -- find a copy of the Windows 7 End User License Agreement (EULA). You will immediately stop taking software freedom for granted.Yes, I realize that reading EULAs is as exciting as watching a progress bar during a download. But the effort is illuminating, especially if, like me, you have fallen out of touch with proprietary licenses. As I found out last week, using the Windows Ultimate edition while preparing a couple of articles for Linux Pro Magazine about compatibility, the EULA goes far beyond the straightforward restrictions in the licenses...
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