Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The Reviewers' Perspective

Jun 30, 2010 GMT

This may be one of my blinding flashes of the obvious, but it occurs to me that I look at new applications from two perspectives. The first is that of any other user, looking for whether I might want to use the application. But the second is that of a potential reviewer -- that is, from the viewpoint of looking for a possible topic for an article that will intrigue me as I write. It suddenly occurs to me that these two perspectives are incompatible, and that the second one may influence my reviews too strongly. This is a disturbing possibility, because I have always seen myself as holding reasonably balanced views. I am neither a technophile nor a technophobe, embracing or avoiding new...
You Say Linux, I Say GNU/Linux

Jun 25, 2010 GMT

The older I get, the more certain I am that most discussions consist of arguing over half-truths. In fact, the more strongly everyone argues, the more likely that nobody has the complete truth. And nowhere does these hard-won truisms seem more accurate than in the age-old argument over whether the operating system we all live by should be called Linux or GNU/Linux. Yet that does not mean that you should necessarily avoid taking a position, and, in my case, I have come down -- with some reservations -- on the side of using GNU/Linux.This argument recently flared up again on the GNOME Foundation mailing list. If you've been around the community awhile, you know the arguments: Free software...
Norwegian Free Software Center Opposes Government Pro-FOSS Policy

Jun 17, 2010 GMT

If a government proposed a pro-free software policy, who would you expect to object? Probably, proprietary software companies and conservative business interests. But in Norway, among the first to object are members of the local Free Software Center. To say the least, their position raises several political issues for advocates of free and open source software (FOSS).I don't speak Norwegian, and I am relying upon my shaky grasp of related languages and online translation to translate the page in which this objection appeared. However, to the best of my understanding, in an opinion piece entitled, "A political preference for free software -- no thanks!" developer Christer...
Review: Amarok 2.3.1

Jun 09, 2010 GMT

Except maybe for Pysol and Battle of Wesnoth, Amarok is my favorite leisure application. In fact, I frequently use it while working to play songs that have no lyrics to detrain my thoughts. Not can I be the only one who rates Amarok highly; Amarok 2.3.1 was in the Debian Unstable repository within hours of being released (by contrast, KDE 3.4 took six or seven weeks). But, at any rate, my interest was so strong that I was investigating the new features less than a day after the new release was available. I found them mostly minor, and sometimes in need of improvements, but on the whole welcome contributions to the existing functionality. The New FeaturesCompared to other 2.x releases,...
Icons and the FOSS desktop

May 31, 2010 GMT

Icons have always intimidated me. Except for the mouseover help, two-thirds of the time I would have no idea what function they represent. Shrink them so that they fit on a toolbar, and the obscurity is compounded by illegibility. On the free and open source software (FOSS) desktop, icons seem to be one of the last holdouts against usability, with neither of the two main strategies for designing icons being particularly successful.Admittedly, icons on the FOSS desktop have come a long way since the early years of this century, when GNOME's logout button looked like an illustration from Goodnight Moon, or possibly a sign indicating an outhouse. That icon disappeared when the first...
Installing Joomla! as a local server

May 21, 2010 GMT

Recently, I installed Joomla! as a local web server so I could develop a site for a friend. Almost at once, I ran into the problems that plagues most free software documentation. The problem is not a lack of information, but too much information, much of it obsolete, and little of it covering the most common situations on a modern desktop. Nor was most of it succinct.In fact, the process was not difficult. What was difficult was finding the relevant information. In the hopes of saving other people a few hours, here's my summary of the process:Installing the environmentRunning Joomla! requires a local web server (typically Apache), PHP, and a database (usually MySQL).A popular way to set...
Free Software Foundation Appoints Director of Access Technology

May 11, 2010 GMT

"People with disabilities deserve to have control of their own technological destinies."With this statement, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) announces that it is turning its attention to accessibility. In addition to explaining the important of accessibility in the newly released GNU Accessibility Statement, the FSF has appointed accessibility expert Chris Hofstader as Director of Access Technology Software, a position that combines both political activism and working directly with developers on various projects.The appointment comes after what Hofstader calls a "leadership vacuum" in accessibility, particularly in free software. Hofstader notes that, although the...

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