Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

A Primer on Unity

Apr 28, 2011 GMT

The first time that you log in to Natty Narwhal (Ubuntu 11.04), expect a surprise. In many cases, the familiar GNOME interface is gone, replaced by Unity, a new interface that evolved out of Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Unity is designed to be easy to use, but you should spend a few minutes exploring before you settle down to working in it. As you familiarize yourself with Unity, its strangeness might seem less if you keep reminding yourself that Unity is a GNOME shell -- an interface that runs on top of GNOME. Although Unity is radically different from any version of GNOME that you have ever seen, most, if not all the usual GNOME applications are still available, as well as features unique to...
Free software and redundancy as a marketing benefit

Apr 24, 2011 GMT

Outsiders often criticize free software because it offers too much choice. Choice confuses people, they say, and free software would be more efficient if everyone concentrated on improving the best application in each category instead of developing alternatives. To me, this argument has always seemed conditioned by monopoly, but recently I found reason to believe that it couldn't be more wrong.The insight came when I was trying to set up a local Apache installation so I could develop a Joomla! website, using MySQL as a database. I am not proficient in MySQL, and, in a moment's carelessness, I wrecked the database KDE uses for personal information management. Suddenly, KMail no longer...
Eulogy for Groklaw

Apr 11, 2011 GMT

When I got up this morning, the news was all over Facebook and the free software news sites: Groklaw, the site that was influential in the SCO legal cases, will stop publication on May 16. It's news that I hear with decidedly mixed feelings.Pamela Jones, the site's owner and chief writer, announced the decision in a post on April 9. "The reason is this: the crisis SCO initiated over Linux is over, and Linux won," Jones writes, although the last acts in the long drama are still being dragged out. "I kept going all these years because when SCO attacked in the media and in the courtrooms, there was nobody to do what we did. Only the community could have answered SCO,...
GNOME 3 and Its Fallback Desktop

Apr 06, 2011 GMT

Okay, that was unexpected.I like the GNOME 3 fallback desktop better than GNOME 3 itself.Amid all the attention given to the new GNOME 3 with its overview page, you don't hear much about the fallback. Nor are you likely to stumble across it on your own, since it's buried in Applications -> System Settings -> System Info -> Graphics -> Forced Fallback -> On, a location that's both obscure and deep.However, you might want to search out the setting if your computer lacks the hardware acceleration needed to run GNOME 3. Set it to On, and the next time you log in, you'll be using the fallback.Midway between GNOME 2 and 3The fallback could be described as a compromise between the...
Bodhi Linux sticks with design principles

Mar 29, 2011 GMT

After your first fifty distribution reviews, a certain ennui creeps in. Most have the same selection of software, and GNOME or KDE for a desktop, and, if they are new, are derived from Ubuntu. Under these circumstances, features worth writing about tend to be rare. That is why Bodhi Linux has been attracting attention from reviewers -- because it has actually done a few things differently.Not that Bodhi is revolutionary. You can find other distributions with small footprints, such as Puppy Linux or Damn Small Linux, and other distributions such as Elive that use the Enlightenment window manager as a desktop. However, except for using Ubuntu's Lucid repositories for packages, Bodhi's...
Documentation and free software

Mar 25, 2011 GMT

As a former technical writer and a sometime reviewer of software, I don't need anyone to tell me how important documentation is -- nor how often it is the last part of a project if it is considered at all. But recently, I had a frustrating reminder.The reminder came when I was setting up my new computer. All went smoothly through my backup, installation, and restore, during which I suffered nothing worse than boredom. I was just wrapping up the final touches, indulging in the obligatory musings about how, these days, I hardly had to worry about GNU/Linux hardware compatibility -- when, suddenly, I found myself in undocumented territory.What I wanted was trivial, and not even remotely...
Bulk Renamers

Mar 18, 2011 GMT

Almost always, command line tools are more efficient than desktop ones, especially for file management. Recently, however, I found myself needing to clean up the file names from six hundred ripped CDs, removing illegal characters, replacing spaces with hyphens, and half a dozen other minor adjustments. To my surprise, the most convenient tools for the task were on the desktop: The Thunar Bulk Rename utility, KRename, GPRename, and pyRenamer.The trouble was, I needed more options that the mv command supports. Working on a Debian system, I could have used the rename command, if I remembered enough Perl to make it effective. And, of course, I could have written a BASH script or played around...

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