Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The verbal and the visual: why the Fedora installer doesn't work

Jun 26, 2014 GMT

Last week, I did a fresh install of Fedora for the first time in several years. The installer, I noticed immediately, had become an example of minimalism -- that is, its screens were heavy on the visual and as light as possible on the words. Almost immediately, I found myself fumbling, trapped in an presentation of information that was foreign to me, and wondering how intellectually limited I must be that I had trouble with such a simple design.At first, I thought the problem was that I am far more verbally oriented than visually. Unlike many people, I never thought found the Debian installer that difficult -- even before the current version was introduced. If anything, the Debian...
Choosing an email reader for encryption

Jun 17, 2014 GMT

Most modern email readers support encryption, but that's only half the story. Despite the growing public interest in security and privacy, most readers are still designed on the principle that if you want encryption, you will have no trouble figuring how to configure it.To say the least, this is an ungrounded assumption. All too often, poor documentation and interface design, as well as complicated procedures conspire to keep encrypted email out of the reach of all but the expert or patient few. A little research may tell you that you need a PGP public key, but how easy is it to made your email reader aware of the key?Here's how seven of the most popular email readers on Linux answer that...
Why instructions are not enough for promoting email encryption

Jun 10, 2014 GMT

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) took a step in the right direction when it recently released Email Self-Defense, a guide to encrypting email using Enigmail and GNUPG. More screen shots might improve it, but on the whole it's a clear and well-organized explanation of a topic that puzzles even some intermediate users. I suspect, however, that to get people to encrypt email is not so much a matter of releasing clear instructions -- many of which already exist -- as a matter of overcoming deeply embedded attitudes.Admittedly, privacy and personal security have become popular topics in the media over the last couple of years. However, to conclude from this popularity that people actually...
Finding a DRM-free replacement for Firefox

May 30, 2014 GMT

By now, you may have read Mozilla's reluctant decision to ship with the ability to support Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) in Firefox. You may have read, too, the Free Software Foundation's condemnation of Mozilla's decision. Consequently, you may be starting to look for a DRM-free replacement for Firefox.Mozilla's announcement seems to have caught many projects off-guard. However, here are five leading alternatives: SeamonkeySeamonkey bundles a web browser, mail reader, HTML editor and chat application all into one. The project has close ties to Mozilla, and its browser is based upon a relatively recent version of Firefox.Seamonkey did not reply to my request for comment, but its...
The mysteries of positioning pictures in LibreOffice & OpenOffice

May 25, 2014 GMT

Positioning picture has been a problem ever since LibreOffice and OpenOffice were -- and possibly before. Inserting graphics is no problem, but try to anchor, align, or indent, and the picture changes position, sometimes by a matter of centimeters, but just as often jumping to a different place entirely on the page, leaving users frustrated and uncertain about the solution.Over the years, some palliatives have been discovered. Power Users know that things are more likely to go wrong with the default anchor, To paragraph, and will replace it with As character instead. Often, too, users are unaware that adding a caption throws a frame around a graphic, and choose one when...
7 branding fonts for free software

May 21, 2014 GMT

Apple has its Myriad, and IBM its Bodoni. In recent years, though, it has been the turn of free software projects to adopt a typeface as part of their identity.The use of typefaces in branding is nothing new, of course. A consistently used font can immediately suggest a company or group, even to people who have no conscious awareness of typography.However, such concerns are new to free software. The fact that they are becoming common now reflects, perhaps, the increased interest in design and usability encouraged by major projects like Ubuntu and GNOME. A well-chosen font can both complement a theme and increase legibility on the desktop.But the best thing about the branding fonts of free...
Review: Jono Bacon's "Dealing with Disrespect"

May 09, 2014 GMT

Few people can match Jono Bacon's experience as a community leader in free software. Not only has he been Ubuntu community manager for nearly eight years, but in The Art of Community, he literally wrote the book on community, and has talked extensively about issues like burnout at conferences. Given this background, his latest book, Dealing with Disrespect, comes with high expectations. Nor does it disappoint, except in Bacon's tendency to see problems in terms of individuals rather than systems.The strength of Bacon's writing has always been that he is approaches his topics in terms of problems to solve -- problems, presumably, that he has encountered in his work. This approach...

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