Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Leaders, Rock Stars and Ninjas

Jan 18, 2017 GMT

In recent weeks, I find myself thinking about Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian and my former employee. Ian, you may remember, died a year ago after being beaten by the police. At the time, I described him as demonstrating "the modesty of a man who has nothing to prove." It's a description that the description applies to most of the best-known developers in free software.Not that as a non-programmer I haven't had my share of grief. Worse, I entered free software as a technical writer, so over the years I got used to being in a gunslinger scenario for the first few weeks of any contract.Part of the problem is that most developers have seen their share of incompetent technical...
Ventures in Open Hardware

Jan 11, 2017 GMT

For over a year now, I have been watching the efforts to develop open hardware. I have been especially interested in the combination of open hardware and crowdfunding. Not only are the lists of open hardware campaigns like an adult version of a toy catalog, but the combination helps small businesses and is becoming a source of new businesses as well. Sadly, though, in my own experience, the resulting products have left a little to be desired.The Pi-Top LaptopThe first open hardware project I backed was Pi-Top. Its product was a do-it-yourself laptop running on a Raspberry Pi. I reviewed the Pi-Top enthusiastically -- to the point that I worried if I could discuss it impartially, but,...
LibreOffice MUFFIN risks being half-baked

Dec 26, 2016 GMT

On December 21, The Document Foundation announced that LibreOffice 5.3 would include MUFFIN (My User Friendly FLexible Interface) -- a feature for configuring toolbars that includes an option similar to Microsoft's Ribbon toolbar. With its emphasis on choice, MUFFIN is being well-publicized, although one documentation did worry that it would require LibreOffice's manuals to be completely re-written. However, while I like choice as much as anyone, while investigating I found MUFFIN an over-hyped and misplaced effort that is right in the middle of an old controversy in office suites.To start with, when I enabled MUFFIN from Tools > Options > LibreOffice > Advanced > Enable...
How Signal does security right.

Dec 21, 2016 GMT

A couple of weeks ago, I was writing about Echo Whisper Systems' Signal, which encrypts voice and text messages for Android and iOS phones. Signal is an essential privacy tool, and has become a standard part of my installations. However, as I started using it, I quickly realized that Signal not only offers some useful functions, but is also a rare example of security added so that average users will actually use it.In these days of anxiety, new security and privacy apps are popping up every few days. Most of them, however, do little to integrate into the desktop. All too typically, especially with distributions, they install a bunch of utilities, then leave users to figure them out for...
Taking a stand for ethical tech

Dec 15, 2016 GMT

Several weeks ago, I discussed taking a stand against unethical parts of your work. Ever since the American elections, this topic has been a concern for many, so I am not surprised to see a few publicly declaring themselves. I only wish that corporate leaders would do the same.I am talking about, a statement signed by over 1400 tech workers. The signers include American employees of organizations ranging from Microsoft and the Mozilla Corporation to the GNU Project and the Kubuntu Council including such free software figures as Matthew Garrett, Matt Lee, and Valorie Zimmerman. Although the statement does not specifically mention Donald Trump, it is obviously a response to...
The obstacles to Linux security

Dec 07, 2016 GMT

Improving security and privacy is the most important issue in modern computing. Yet even Linux, whose architecture gives its a built-in advantage, is moving slowly on these issues. The prevailing attitudes and the innate difficulties of bringing security to the desktop mean that the progress is slow.To start with, despite the media attention of the last few years, many Linux users -- even many developers -- fail to see the urgency. They fail to distinguish the difference between the fact that Linux has the tools for security and privacy with how it is actually configured. In some circles, even mentioning that Linux might not be configured securely raises accusations of FUD (Fear,...
Who cares about market share?

Nov 30, 2016 GMT

On Google+, my colleague Swapnil Bhartiya has been reviving old claims. Free software applications, he proposes (perhaps playing devil's advocate) do not meet professional standards, and the Linux desktop will never be commercial grade. After seventeen years of using primarily Linux, I find myself unimpressed by either claim.For one thing, when people denigrate free software, what they often mean is that it is different from rival proprietary applications. It functions differently, and features have different names or different positions in the menu. However, instead of taking the time to learn, or to find the appropriate tool, they make a hasty judgment, influenced, perhaps, by the...

Issue 195/2017

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