Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

LUbuntu: A desktop pared down for action

Sep 03, 2009 GMT

Two years ago, when I last looked at LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment), no code had been committed for over a year, and many believed that the project was dead. Since then, LXDE has greatly revived, attracting a new team of developers, and being offered on a number of distributions. Recently, the project has released a test release of LUbuntu, an official mutation of Ubuntu that may one day become official. Running Openbox for a window manager and requiring less than half a gigabyte of RAM to run, LXDE is a desktop worth looking into if you appreciate speed and minimalist interface design. Use it long enough, and you just might reconsider what you actually need.LUbuntu is...
A taste of tiling with X-Tile

Aug 31, 2009 GMT

For years, tiling window managers have been a popular, but minority interface choice for GNU/ Linux. Ion, dwm, awesome and others differ in implementation, but what all have in common is that they divide the desktop into separate frames to avoid problems with overlapping windows. You can even mimic tiling in Windows by selecting them in the taskbar while holding the Ctrl key, then making a choice from the context menu. Now, thanks to X-Tile (, you can mimic tiling in GNOME as well.Why would you want tiling? The answer is that Metacity, GNOME's default window manager, does not open windows efficiently. Although Metacity makes some effort to avoid...
FSF launches Windows 7 Sins campaign

Aug 27, 2009 GMT

The Free Software Foundation is following up its Bad Vista campaign with a new campaign called The Windows 7 Sins. The campaign is timed to coincide with the upcoming release of Windows 7, but is aimed at not only Microsoft products, but at proprietary software in general.What distinguishes the campaign from the typical anti-Microsoft complaints is that its focus is not the technical problems with Windows, but the ethical issues involved. Peter Brown, the FSF executive director, notes that enlisting people against Windows Vista was relatively easy because of the widely known problems with the release. Now, however, the FSF is stressing the ethical arguments against proprietary software in...
Saving keystrokes with AutoKey

Aug 19, 2009 GMT

AutoKey reminds me of Writer's AutoText feature. With AutoText, you can save often-used text or images and assign them a keyboard shortcut to paste them at the mouse cursor. AutoKey is a similar feature, except that it can be used anywhere on your GNOME or KDE desktop. You can use it like AutoText in open applications, or to run Python scripts on the desktop.AutoKey is available as a zipped tar file or as a .DEB package for Ubuntu or Debian. However, it requires Python 6.0, which Debian currently does not carry. You will also need to install three dependencies -- python-configobj, python-xlib, and python-gamin -- even if you are using the .DEB package, since the package...
Google Chrome for GNU/Linux remains a work in progress

Aug 07, 2009 GMT

Eleven months ago, Google Chrome was announced as the browser that would revolutionize the Internet. Since then, everybody has learned that the browser is only part of a new operating system, and watched impatiently while the new browser has failed to mature as quickly as anyone would like. The result is that, while the first packaged developer build for GNU/Linux (specifically, for Ubuntu and Debian) has not bred contempt, it has produced a certain amount of ennui, going largely unreported. Most people have long ago satisfied their curiosity with the Windows version, and the result is that, eleven months after the drama of the initial release, the GNU/Linux build seems only mildly...
Red Hat's POSSE introduces academics to FOSS

Jul 29, 2009 GMT

Last week, five college professors spent an intense five days with Red Hat employees and other members of the free and open source software (FOSS) community. Red Hat called the experience POSSE (Professors' Open Source Summer Experience). The goal of the week was to show how FOSS could be used in post-secondary education, and to create a community to further the goal.Greg DeKoenigsberg, Senior Community Architect at Red Hat has been promoting the FOSS as an educational resource for over a year, most notably at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada. He notes that, while many post-secondary instructors express an interest in using FOSS in the class room, when asked about implementing a program,...
Using a Sansa Clip music player under GNU/Linux

Jul 25, 2009 GMT

Having arrived in middle-age far too starry-eyed for my own good, I always go to some lengths to find hardware or software compatible with GNU/Linux. My search for a portable music player was no exception. Eventually, I found what I wanted in a Sans Clip 4 gigabyte player, but at times I wondered if the manufacturer was trying to hide the compatibility.My demands were simple. I wanted a player that supported Ogg Vorbis format, which is not only a free standard but -- so far as I can hear -- superior in sound quality to MP3. I also wanted one that included Ogg support out of the box; I knew that I could use Rockbox or iPodLinux to liberate an iPod, but I was no more eager to give my money...

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