Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

In Defense of Free Riders

Dec 07, 2011 GMT

Free riders, people who contribute nothing to the software they use, are to free and open source software (FOSS) what illegal downloaders are to the Recording Industry Association of America. They're people who are perceived as getting away with something, and are the subject of periodic rants. Really, though, I don't see what the fuss is about.Yes, FOSS projects might be better off if everyone who used their software contributed code, time, or cash. Projects could be finished faster, and core team members might be able to work full time on what is now an avocation. But the complaints would seem more valid if more projects made more effort to welcome newcomers and orient them. When the...
Back to the Future with GNOME Shell Extensions

Dec 02, 2011 GMT

When GNOME 3 was released, the marketing material emphasized how the new interface was uncluttered and contained nothing that users didn't need. In effect, the advertising copy was a repudiation of everything that the GNOME 2 series had become after seventeen incremental releases in nine years. A praiseworthy cleanup, you might imagine. So why are most of the extensions for GNOME 3 designed to put the clutter back, and make GNOME 3 look and act more like GNOME 2?Not all the extensions coming out have that intention. You can find several extensions for Zeitgeist, the combination calendar and file manager. There is also the usual array of minor enhancements, such as windowsNavigator, which...
Occupy Your Computer

Nov 25, 2011 GMT

As I write, many of the local Occupy movements are ending. They'll almost certainly be back, since the problems they address haven't been solved even slightly. Meanwhile, however, you might want to remind yourself just how radical an idea free technology and culture can be, and consider whether they should be part of the movements.I make this statement partly because, while free technologies don't seem to have played a major role in most of the local Occupy movements (in fact, some have shown what I consider an appalling fondness for Apple products), free technology and culture seem to have helped to create the atmosphere from which the local movements grew. Environmentalism played an...
Bar camps, not conferences

Nov 17, 2011 GMT

Last week, ApacheCon hit Vancouver. I duly attended, but a chronic knee problem forced me to sit out most of the conference at home. But I did manage to limp to the bar camp on the Saturday, so I only feel mildly short-changed.Bar camps, as you may know, began in 2005 as a democratic alternative to O'Reilly Associate's Foo Camp. Short for "friends of O'Reilly," Foo Camp is an invitation-only event. By contrast, bar camps are open to all comers, their name punning on "foobar," the placeholder name used by some coders. Like Foo Camp, bar camps are explained by describing them as "unconferences." Their rules are simple: at the start of the day, attendees gather...
A Disturbing Dialog About Ubuntu and Unity, Part 2

Nov 08, 2011 GMT

Last week, I wrote about an exchange between Mark Shuttleworth and bug-filer Tal Liron and others. The blog entry has attracted several dozen comments here, plus a number more on Facebook and Google+ and privately. In fact, they're still trickling in, so I thought that some of the thoughts and sentiments expressed deserved some answers, at least in general terms:Unity stinks! / Unity rocks!You might believe either of these statements, and I understand that, seeing Unity being discussed, that you might want to express your opinion. Fair enough. But that's not what I was writing about. I was writing about the apparent conflict between the Ubuntu community and Canonical's goals. More...
A Disturbing Dialog About Ubuntu and Unity

Nov 02, 2011 GMT

Curious about how design decisions are made for Ubuntu's Unity? About how the development team reacts to criticisms of its efforts? If you are, then a moment of unusual -- and troubling -- clarity emerged last week on Launchpad, Canonical's development site.The moment takes the form of Bug #882274, filed by Tal Liron under the title "Community engagement is broken." Although other people comment, much of the discussion is between Liron, an active bug-filer, and Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's founder. Liron writes as an Ubuntu loyalist, mostly succeeding in maintaining his politeness and trying to be constructive, but his frustration and feelings of being ostracized are obvious.The...
The Survey That GNOME Would Rather Ignore

Oct 27, 2011 GMT

As you may have seen, the Phoronix site is hosting a private survey about GNOME. The survey still has several weeks to run, but, so far, neither the circumstances surrounding the survey or the replies show the GNOME project in a favorable perspective.The survey was begun by Felipe Contreras, who first raised the idea back in July on the GNOME desktop-devel mailing list. "Lately I've [been] feeling that there's a lot of dissatisfaction with GNOME 3," he wrote. "Why not find for good what people are thinking with an user-survey?"Conteras spent considerable time in the past few months refining the questions in the survey, sparking long and sometimes heated discussions....

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