Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Why your desktop still matters

Nov 05, 2010 GMT

I was surprised by the passion generated by my blog entry last week about Ubuntu's decision to replace GNOME with its own Unity desktop. Apparently, contrary to the pundits and usability experts, users have strong feelings about their interfaces of choice. But, when I stop to think, I should have expected that. For many free software users, the choice of desktop is still a deeply personal matter.Journalists like me often leap to write about what's new. That tendency can be seen as a service, but it also means that the importance of trends is often exaggerated in the rush to report first. For instance, in the last five years, network appliances and cloud computing have been hailed by many...
Ubuntu's "risky step" of standardizing on Unity instead of GNOME

Oct 29, 2010 GMT

OK, it's finally happening. For a couple of years, the standard for desktops has been edging towards mobile devices with every new netbook interface. Now, with Ubuntu's decision to replace GNOME with its own Unity desktop, the shift away from the workstation standard has actually arrived. But while the decision may be in keeping with the times, it's still every bit the "risky step" that Mark Shuttleworth described it as when he made the announcement earlier this week.In making the announcement, Shuttleworth focused on technical issues. The GNOME project, he said, had made some design decisons that were not in keeping with what Ubuntu wanted to do. He also mentioned the greater...
The Cold War Between and LibreOffice

Oct 22, 2010 GMT

For the past month, I've wanted to express an opinion about LibreOffice and However, I've refrained, because I didn't know what to think either way. I still don't, but my conviction is growing into that this uncertainty is worth expressing. Although many people want to see a hero or a villain in events, I'm not convinced that anyone who is involved deserves the uncritical support of the community.If you follow free software development at all, then you know what's been happening. Mistrusting Oracle's intentions towards, a group of developers announced The Document Foundation, an independent organization that is developing an fork called...
Microsoft compares Writer and MS Word

Oct 15, 2010 GMT

Until now, I had somehow missed Microsoft's "Why Microsoft" videos, explaining why users should choose Microsoft Office over The title of the series alone warns you to expect bias, but you might not expect are the high number of errors, omissions and misleading statements in the videos. In fact, there are so many that it took me over twenty minutes to view the six minute video on Microsoft Word and Writer, since I had to stop after almost every sentence to take notes about my problems with what was said.The video's narrator, Jake Zborowski, a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, starts by explaining that he is going to show you "a few of the...'s 10th Anniversary: The Difference a Decade Makes

Oct 08, 2010 GMT

October 13, 2010 marks the tenth anniversary of the project. It's a significant landmark, both for me personally and for free software in general.For me, was the wedge I used to find a niche in computer journalism. In the early years of the millennium, few people were writing about Almost by accident, I started comparing it with Microsoft Office, and writing How-Tos in my spare time. Before I knew it, I was writing full-time. For a while, I was worried that I would be too closely identified with to sell stories on any other subject, but, with that worry long behind me, today I can thank (or blame) for what I am...
Forking Time

Sep 29, 2010 GMT

According to one theory of history, in the right circumstances, certain developments are inevitable. Given a few decades of an industrial revolution, half a dozen people will invent the steam engine. Given a few decades of biological studies, and theories of evolution start to emerge. If that is so, then for the last year or so in the history of the free and open source software community we have been in Forking Time -- and for the life of me, I can't decide whether this is a healthy development or not.Certainly, there have been no shortages of recent forks although they do not always go by that name. In fact, those involved in forks often go to great lengths to deny that they are...
OOo4Kids: A workable compromise

Sep 22, 2010 GMT

I am always of two minds about office suites or applications for children. On the one hand, I can see the value of offering a simplified interface for learning on. On the other hand, I wonder if children shouldn't start with the interface they will be using as adults, so they don't how to learn the interface all over again. OOo4Kids balances these conflicting needs better than any application I've ever seen -- so much so that I think that the main project could benefit from adopting its code.As the name implies, OOo4Kids is a version of designed for children between the ages of 7 and 12. Its recently-announced 1.0 release is available in 13 languages, and on...

Issue 23: Raspberry Pi Adventures/Special Editions

Buy this issue as a PDF

Digital Issue: Price $15.99
(incl. VAT)