Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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...
Kajongg: True Mahjong at last

Feb 28, 2011 GMT

For as long as I've owned a computer, I've been looking for Mahjong game. Not a decent Mahjong game, but any at all. Years ago, I found a monochrome shareware game for DOS, and later I found a Windows game, but both were soon rendered unusable by developments in hardware and software. Nor did I ever find a Mahjong game that ran natively in GNU/Linux -- not, that is, until KDE released Kajongg a couple of versions ago.I am not talking, you understand, about the matching game that masquerades as Mahjong. That is a game sometimes called Shanghai that uses Mahjong tiles, but has more in common with solitaire or patience than true Mahjong. You can find versions of the tile-matching game in...
Fans

Feb 17, 2011 GMT

"The first thing is, we're not fanboys," senior editor Robin Miller told me when I first started writing for Linux.com in 2004. He meant that, although that incarnation of the site was obviously about free and open source software (FOSS), its purpose was not to uncritically support it. He wanted the site to have some journalistic standards -- a difficult and frequently unpopular goal, considering how many parts of FOSS seem given over to fans. I found the comment reassuring, because I have always been of two minds about fan-like behavior wherever I've found it.Take, for example, the local Ubuntu meetup group. Closing in on five hundred members, it's probably the largest FOSS...
Is Debian Dying?

Feb 11, 2011 GMT

Steven J. Vaughan-Nicholls created a stir this week when he marked the release of Debian 6.0 by wondering if the distribution was still relevant. He was refuted by Joe Brockmeier, and the discussion spilled over on to Facebook, where a number of journalists (including me) speculated freely. But the noticeable lack of hard facts disturbed me, so I decided to see if I could find any indicators of Debian's health on-line.On Facebook, Vaughan-Nicholls explained that his basic question was, "'Where will the new Debian developers come from to keep it going?' I see 20-something developers working on Android or Ubuntu, Debian, not so much."That seems a reasonable place to begin, but it...
LibreOffice and support for Microsoft file formats

Feb 04, 2011 GMT

One of the intriguing aspects of LibreOffice, the OpenOffice.org fork, is that everything is open to debate. However, this atmosphere also means that the old debate about supporting proprietary Microsoft formats -- specifically the newer OOXML format -- is being revived. The trouble with this debate is that it is endless, since it is a specific example of the longstanding conflict of convenience and ethics in free software, and strong arguments exist on both sides.The latest round in this old debate seems to have been sparked by an article published by Groklaw on December 20, 2010, which documents Novell's involvement in promoting the OOXML format. Ten days later, a message on a...

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