Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Why free hardware fails

Jul 23, 2016 GMT

Free-Licensed hardware has yet to have even a moderate success. Detractors take this fact as proof of the unviability of free hardware; supporters as a reason to despair.Both conclusions, however, are premature. Most new products fail, and, although free hard has some unique processes, enough free hardware has not been released for any accurate estimations of its chances of success.I first learned this basic lesson around the start of the millennium, but nothing I have heard since convinces me that anything has changed. Crowdfunding is helping would-be producers of free hardware, but, as any product manager can tell you, bring any product to market is a slow and difficult process....
Why LibreOffice Writer is a Desktop Publisher, Not a Word Processor

Jul 18, 2016 GMT

You could be forgiven for thinking that LibreOffice Writer is a word processor. After all, that is what the writing tool in an office suite is usually called. However, Writer is more accurately classified as a desktop publisher (DTP) -- and if you don't know the difference, you can quickly become frustrated.The distinction is just a matter of semantics. Both a word processor and a desktop publisher are writing tools, but their orientations are very different. A word processor is for shorter, often one-off documents, and offers tools that are good enough for most office or academic purposes. By contrast, a desktop publisher is for longer documents that are re-used and offers extensive...
How graphical installers introduced the user

Jul 07, 2016 GMT

Last weekend, I was exploring GuixSD, the distribution that introduces a universal package manager developed by The GNU Project. Part of the novelty was the lack of a graphical installer, a luxury that most Linux users expect today, but was once controversial, as well as Linux's first encounter with user experience.Early Linux installations were generally script-driven. Many had the advantage of optimizing installations for the hardware they used, but none were for the casual or curious. Aside from the fact that many system drivers were lacking, the installers were designed for the experienced. Most people who attempted a Linux install usually took several tries, assuming that they didn't...
Is the cost of diversity a lack of innovation?

Jun 29, 2016 GMT

Journalism is the first draft of history. That is why I was glad to see Christine Hall's article on how the reactions to GNOME 3 created more choices on the free desktop; too often, the community forgets itw own history. However, I would like to expand on her narrative by offering my own variation.To start with, I would suggest that the current diversity on the desktop was not due entirely to reactions to GNOME 3. When GNOME 3 came out in 2011, it was the third effort in as many years to provide an innovative desktop.By that point, the free desktop had caught up with proprietary ones after years of struggle. The desktop in general was struggling to deal with vastly more data than when it...
Why Debian Policy is important to package quality

Jun 27, 2016 GMT

Unless you are a Debian maintainer, you probably haven't read the Debian Policy Manual. However, when Ubuntu started promoting Snappy packages as a more secure solution to package management, the claim was challenged, not by reference to the technical structure of Debian packages, but to the Debian Policy Manual.In fact, veteran Debian developer Josh Triplet went so far as to write that what makes "a real Debian package is Debian Policy.  Debian without the .deb format would still be Debian; Debian without Debian Policy would just be Sourceforge, or rpmfind" -- that is, a random collection of applications.Other distributions, of course, have their own sets of standards for...
The nostalgia of Windows is everyday Linux.

Jun 22, 2016 GMT

A few days ago, I read a mailing list discussion about the advantages of running a computer in the 1980s. A few, like the lack of Digital Rights Management (DRM), were points well-taken. Others may have been tongue-in-cheek, but might also express personal preferences. However, most of the rest were advantages that I still enjoy (or could enjoy) as a Linux user thirty years later, partly because that is how Linux is designed, and partly because of my personal choices.Don't believe me? Then consider some of the advantages I saw mentioned: Instant shutdown: Windows may take 5-10 minutes to shutdown, but my Debian installation shuts down in under ten seconds unless I've scheduled a script...
Open Standards and buying Linux Hardware

Jun 09, 2016 GMT

In the last six weeks, I have outfitted my Ubuntu tablet, bought a webcam and a microphone, and replaced my main computer. In the middle of all these purchases, I suddenly realized that one of the signs of how far Linux has come is the ready availability of compatible hardware.It didn't used to be that way. Less than a decade ago, buying hardware for Linux was a research project. You saw what was available at the store or online, and then headed to obscure sites on the Internet to learn what would work and to what degree. You asked for other people's experiences. You carefully learned a few basic rules, such as the fact that a Postscript printer would always work, or that, while Logitech...
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