Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Is free software too good?

Feb 15, 2016 GMT

I never thought I'd say this, but maybe free software and hardware would be more widely adopted if their standards were lower.This thought occurred to me as I read Keyboardio's blog. Keyboardio, if you don't already know, is an open hardware company that is building what has to be the ultimate keyboard. It's ergonomic, the mechanical keys and their backlighting are fully programmable, and almost two-thirds of the keys are individually sculpted. The whole is mounted on two slabs of maple, resulting in one of the most beautiful pieces of computer hardware ever. In short, Keyboardio's keyboards are an act of love, created by two perfectionists who are clearly determined to see their vision...
Why are these still a thing in LibreOffice?

Feb 10, 2016 GMT

Don't get me wrong: LibreOffice is the premier office suite. I have just spent two and a half years preparing a book on LibreOffice, and I can appreciate it more than most people. I appreciate, too, how much LibreOffice has done to clean up the old code and interface. All the same, there are at least seven features whose revision, deletion, and, sometimes, proper documentation would make LibreOffice better yet.For example:1. The Alignment tab for paragraph styles includes several options for how to present the last line of a fully justified paragraph. The option is useful because the last line rarely occupies all the available space, which means that large spaces are left...
Security's weakest link is people

Jan 31, 2016 GMT

A few years ago, a neighbor asked me to help secure their computer. I'm not an expert on Windows, but I told them to run non-administrative accounts except when doing maintenance, and set passwords for their regular accounts. I also suggested that if they avoided dodgy download sites, they might not have to pay to have their computer cleaned up every few months.Several months later, I learned that they had gone back to using administrative accounts and stopped using passwords because they were "too much trouble." As for the hazards of download styles, they had just paid another $200 to have the malware and viruses removed.I think of these neighbors whenever I see efforts to...
Open hardware, free software, and crowdfunding

Jan 25, 2016 GMT

Open hardware is finally coming of age. Thanks to the combination of free software and crowdfunding, dozens of small projects and businesses are producing innovative and useful examples of open hardware. As a result, the idea of open hardware, first imagined over a decade ago, is at last being realized.Looking at sites like Crowd Supply, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter, I can see dozens of campaigns for open hardware that are either under way or scheduled to begin soon. However, some, especially those developing specialized smart devices, seem likely to appeal to only a handful of buyers. Others, of course, may not reach their campaign goals or ship products, let alone reach any level of...
11 Free-Licensed Sans Serif Fonts

Jan 21, 2016 GMT

Of the 708 free-licensed fonts currently available on Google Fonts, 191 are categorized as sans serif. That's not surprising, because sans serifs are among the most versatile  of modern fonts.Prior to the early 19th century, most fonts were serifs, so-named for the hooks or crosspieces at the end of character strokes. When sans serifs first appeared, their appearance was so unusual that they were often called Grotesques (Another early name for them was Gothics, meaning they originated in northern Europe, as opposed to Italy, where serifs originated).San serifs quickly gained in popularity, and by the early twentieth century, they had a reputation for having a clean, modern look. That...
Remembering Ian Murdock

Jan 01, 2016 GMT

The first time I met Ian Murdock, he was holding a sign with my name on it. He was meeting me at the airport along with three other members of Progeny Linux Systems, and I was in Indianapolis for the final stages of a job interview. We went out to a Greek restaurant, and while I felt myself outclassed by the rest of the team he was putting together, I must have said the right things, because for the next year I handled Progeny's communications and marketing, commuting every few weeks for several marathon days of catching up with everything that couldn't be done by email or phone.I knew Ian, of course, as the founder of Debian. I also knew that he had been on contract with the Free...
Have Proprietary Linux Games Failed?

Dec 29, 2015 GMT

Linux has a long history of doing what skeptics claim is impossible. No sooner does someone claim that Linux is unable to develop an advanced desktop (or an office suite, free-licensed fonts, a professional graphics application, or any of dozen other things) that it does exactly that. However, nearly three years after Linux games started being available on Steam, a proprietary gaming market may be an exception.One statistic alone tells the tale: In February 2013, just over 2% of those participating in the Steam Hardware and Software Survey ran Linux. By August 2014, the percentage had fallen to 1.06%, and by November 2015 it was .98%.When such statistics have been brought up in the past,...
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