Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Technophile / Technophobe

May 24, 2013 GMT

After a few drinks, I've been known to hold forth on my theory that humans have evolved to be a mixture of 20% technophiles and 80% technophobes. The technophiles, of course, are needed for progress. But experimenting can be chancy (Gurk! So that mushroom is poisonous!), so the technophobes are needed, too, to keep the species going in the face of disaster.I suspect that free software is unusual in being a community of technophiles. After all, the cautious are likely to stick with what the majority are using, and avoid what is rapidly evolving. However, I often suspect that a dash of technophobic caution would be as much a benefit to free software as to the human species. The limits of...
The Limits of Anonymity

May 14, 2013 GMT

An unsettling thing happened on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. Without meaning to, I found myself suggesting that anonymity was not always a good idea.This was an unexpected position for me to be arguing. Although I have rarely taken advantage of anonymity myself, I have always believed in the right of others to do so. In the past, I have pointed out publicly that in many countries, using a pseudonym is legal unless you are doing so for criminal purposes.I have acknowledged, too, that many people use pseudonyms for legitimate reasons, such as to hide from abusive spouses or to fulfill the terms of employee contracts that limit their expressions of opinions. At times, I have come close to...
Suggestions for improving Yorba's crowdfunding campaign

May 07, 2013 GMT

All through April, I watched Yorba's crowdfunding efforts for Geary, its new email reader. Sometimes, I checked the progress daily. Not only does Yorba have fresh ideas about application design, but the campaign was one of the first crowdfunding efforts for a standard application, rather than a new one. To the discouragement of future efforts, the campaign reached only half of its goal of $100,000, and people immediately started trying to explain why -- although often with suggestions that, although plausible, explain only part of the reason at best.Joey-Elijah Sneddon at OMG! Ubuntu! explores five suggestions. The goal was too high, he suggests, and the idea of a new mailreader too...
Until we no longer need lists

Apr 30, 2013 GMT

Joshua Gay at the Free Software Foundation has asked me if I would be interested in writing about the fact that ThinkPenguin's Penguin Wireless N USB Adapter for GNU / Linux  has earned the FSF's Respects Your Freedom certification. I'm happy to provide the signal boost, but sad to reflect that such announcements are still necessary in 2013.For those who have never heard of it, the Respect Your Freedom program is a list of hardware that does not use so-called Digital Rights Management or proprietary firmware -- in other words, of hardware that is free-licensed in every sense of the word. It doesn't restrict how the hardware can be used, and doesn't spy unasked on how it is used. As...
Leaving out Linux

Apr 24, 2013 GMT

I've often criticized Canonical and Ubuntu. In fact, I've criticized them often enough that some people are convinced that I have a grudge against them. But there's one point on which I'll defend them: their decision to minimize the use of the word "Linux" on their website and in other public communications.This policy is not new, but it is periodically rediscovered by various members of the free and open source software (FOSS) community. It rarely fails to provoke outrage. Is Ubuntu pretending it isn't dependent on Debian and several dozen other upstream projects? The rediscovers ask. Is Canonical trying to claim credit for all the work of others that goes into Ubuntu?These...
I've signed to write an advanced book on LibreOffice

Apr 12, 2013 GMT

I signed the contract this week, so now I can make the announcement: I'm writing a book. Tenatively titled Styles and Templates in LibreOffice, it will be published by Friends of OpenDocument ( using a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, probably towards the end of 2013.This is a project I've wanted to do for almost a decade. Back when I started writing about free software, one of my main subjects was Over the years, I must have written at least sixty or seventy articles on the subject. I've lost the exact count, but most of them were written for the Linux Journal site, and, more recently, the blog.I...
The Dangers of a Post-License Era

Apr 10, 2013 GMT

You don't see many discussions about free software licenses any more. Once a burning issue, licenses and their implications hardly seem to be mentioned these days. Increasingly, we seem to be moving into a post-license era, and the implications for free and open source software are potentially troubling.  The reasons for this apparent shift of interest aren't hard to find. To start with, most of the important license issues have already been resolved.  It's hard to imagine any licensing issue today that would be as significant to the community at large as the release of the code in 2000, or of the discussion of the third version of the GPL in 2005-07.Yes, the...

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