Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The Changing Face of Debian

Mar 17, 2015 GMT

Like a rite of spring, the annual campaign for Debian Project Leader has begun. I've been watching these elections since 1999, and reading the platforms of the current three candidates (headlined, inevitably, as apt install dpl-install), I'm reminded about how Debian has evolved over the years.Debian, of course, was one of the earliest Linux distributions, as well as the most ambitious. By the time I became aware of it, the founding years had passed, and the people involved were on their way to becoming legend. When I went to work with Ian Murdock, Debian's founder, at a company funded by Bruce Perens, the implementer of the Debian Social Contract, friends were frankly envious. Non-geek...
Nine myths about styles in LibreOffice Writer

Mar 10, 2015 GMT

As Robin Williams (the designer, not the comedian) once explained in her book title, The PC Is Not A Typewriter. Office and layout programs are not just a keyboard with a screen, but an entirely different way of working. Central to that difference is the idea of styles -- a defined set of formatting options comparable to a variable declared in code. Yet  many writers refuse to use styles, preferring to format everything manually, even at the cost of making their work slower and more laborious.Every so often, the debate over using styles breaks out on the LibreOffice mailing lists. It soon becomes obvious that those who prefer manual formatting have little idea what using styles...
Why I'm switching from GIMP to Krita

Feb 25, 2015 GMT

I consider myself neither a technophile nor a technophobe. Yet every once or twice a year, I discover a piece of software so well-designed and useful that I spend whatever spare time I have learning it as thoroughly as possible. For the past couple of months, that software has been has been the paint program Krita. Now, with the  2.9 release coming out today, suddenly I have another long list of new tools to learn -- and I couldn't be happier about having new features to learn.I haven't got far beyond the basics yet -- just enough to work on a couple of projects. However, already I can see that Krita is destined to replace GIMP for me in the near future. Not that I have anything...
Writing online and on paper

Feb 19, 2015 GMT

Yesterday, I visited the Vancouver Pen Shop. The hoarded refills for my favorite pen had run out after a decade. However, to my annoyance, the Very Fine nibs I prefer are no longer being manufactured. They are a victim of the computer age -- apparently, the number of people still using pens has dwindled to the point where a selection of nibs is no longer economical. I regret the loss, because those nibs helped determine how I wrote by hand, which is very different from how I write on the keyboard.(And no, this will not be one of those laments for lost technology, in case you were wondering.)Time was when I never would have considered writing on a computer. I wrote all my university essays...
Flash in the pan

Feb 13, 2015 GMT

I've known for several years that development of Adobe's Flash player for Linux has ended except for service updates. In the last couple of months, though, maintaining it on my Debian system has become a series of rear guard actions. Each time I update my system with the last minor release, all is well -- then after a couple of weeks, Iceweasel (Debian's unbranded version of Firefox) fills every web page is full of notices that Flash needs to be updated again. The trouble is, I've installed the latest update in the repository, and I can't update.I suppose that Mozilla means well. Updates can help to make a system secure, and by most estimates Linux accounts for only a percent or two or...
LinuxQuestions' Members Choice Awards

Feb 08, 2015 GMT

Every year, I rely on LinuxQuestions' Members Choice Awards for a snapshot of the habits of part of the Linux community. True, the results can be idiosyncratic -- for example, I doubt that users in general would continually vote Slackware the distribution of the year. However, aside from Linux Journals' Reader Choice Awards, LinuxQuestion's poll is almost the only indicator available. Assuming that the The 2014 awards are even remotely representative, little has changed since last year. The great upheavals on the desktops have quieted down, and users seem well set in their ways, to the point that oligarchies or near-monopolies seem more common than the diversity than many pride free...
Why projects need task-based documentation

Jan 30, 2015 GMT

Documentation in free software has improved immensely in the last fifteen years, At least most projects have some, which is more than could be said when I first started using Linux. However, far too much of it stops with descriptions of menus and dialogue windows instead of being structured by tasks and user.The type of documentation you find in perhaps two-thirds of the most popular applications is what I like to call death marches through the menus. Like some forced march of prisoners, a death march starts resolutely with the first item in the File menu and tramps relentlessly down and up each menu in turn until it reaches the last item at the bottom of the Help Menu. Each menu is given...

Issue 178/2015

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