Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Facebook: Like the Dot-Coms All Over Again

May 27, 2012 GMT

I was nonplussed about Facebook becoming a public company. Part of my reaction was due to the fact that I'd been expecting the IPO for some time. An even larger part is attributable to my deep-misgivings about Facebook, for all the usual reasons from privacy concerns to the amount of time it can suck up. But I took a while to realize the greatest source of my reaction: I've seen it all before.The year was 1999. I had newly discovered free and open source software (FOSS)), and was newly employed in a company on its cutting edge (or so I thought at the time). Eighteen year old coders were camping overnight in the boxes that office furniture came in -- not because it was crunch time, but...
Imitation and mobile devices

May 24, 2012 GMT

Whenever I review a new desktop environment, someone is sure to comment that desktops are obsolete. Apparently it has become the conventional wisdom that the future of computing lies in mobile devices. But, like all bits of conventional wisdom, that assumption deserves questioning, especially when it comes to interface design. So far, mobile interfaces have done little innovating, and mostly borrowed unthinkingly from traditional desktops.Enthusiasts always exaggerate the impact of new technologies, and mobile devices are no exception. As Larry Cafiero has pointed out repeatedly, while mobile devices are undoubtedly growing in number, traditional computers are not about to disappear...
When is a release not a release?

May 08, 2012 GMT

Sixteen months after its last release. has released version 3.4, its first as an Apache Incubator project. The release was covered matter of factly by The H (, and with a dash of skepticism by Brian Proffitt ( A week ago, it was even trash-talked by LibreOffice developer Michael Meeks (, whose eagerness to discredit it was just a bit too obvious.I can't help wondering, though, whether this latest version is a release in the ordinary sense of...
Naming names

Apr 23, 2012 GMT

Today we have the naming of parts.-Henry ReedTitles come hard to me. I always avoid them until I've finished writing, and, even then, I have to agonize over them to make them even marginally suitable. Maybe that's why I'm fascinated at how projects and applications are named, a topic that has been in the news recently.What strategies are used for names? What are the dangers in a name? The ideal strategy? These little-discussed questions interest me because I'm constantly dealing with them in my own work.Because of my own difficulty with titles, I sympathize with those that choose a name that has no obvious connection with the project. Instead of hunting for a name that's both descriptive...
Convincing artists not to cling to copyright fears

Apr 18, 2012 GMT

I spent the last weekend at an art school graduation, surrounded by artists in various stages of their careers. Several times, I urged the advantages of an active online presence But, more often than not, those with whom I was talking balked at the idea, citing worries about copyright violation. Their reaction was a reminder of just how different the attitudes are in the free software and open source community from those of the general public -- and how hard that difference can be to overcome.Mind you, I sympathize with their concerns. Artists are miles away from a soulless corporation that could suck up the losses due to copyright violation. Many are near or below the poverty line. In...
Drinking at conferences

Apr 11, 2012 GMT

Usually, I'm not slow to give an opinion. However, after reading Ryan Funduk's "Our Culture of Exclusion" (, and its discussion of binge drinking at conferences, I realize that I don't know nearly enough to venture an opinion -- at least one that is worth reading, anyway. The most I can do is express the suspicion that Funduk might be right.The reason I can't address the question with any authority is that I spent the first decade of the millennium caring for my sick partner. She could neither travel nor drink for much of that time, so for the most part neither did I. And, since her death, I haven't really resumed either habit.If...
The Parallel Evolution of OS/2 and Free Software

Apr 05, 2012 GMT

Earlier this week, you might have noticed Esther Schindler and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols writing about the twenty-fifth anniversary of OS/2, IBM's operating system of the 1990s. So did at least half a dozen others.Why bother, you might ask? OS/2 still exists today as a hobbyist operating system under the name of eComStation, but it's been a long time since it had any influence on the direction of mainstream computing. Nor is eComStation free software, although many of the applications it runs are. You might be tempted to attribute the interest entirely to the nostalgia of the middle-aged. In my case, that would definitely be a factor; I not only ran OS/2 for six years, but the first...

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