Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

RMS's Mostly Slax: Bad choices in a good cause

Feb 11, 2010 GMT

Free distributions -- ones that contain only free and open source software, and remove proprietary blobs from the kernel -- are a rarity. In fact, the GNU Project lists only nine. For that reason, I was immediately interested in the announcement of RMS's Mostly Slax, a project dedicated to putting a free distribution on a USB pendrive.Unfortunately, while focusing on freedom, the project defeats its own purpose, because it doesn't bother to make that freedom very attractive, especially for new users.The title of the distribution explains its origins: RMS's Mostly Slax is named for Richard M. Stallman, and is based on Slax, one of the oldest and most popular derivatives of Slackware. The...
Fellow travelers: The FOSS media and FOSS developers

Feb 04, 2010 GMT

Recently, Carla Schroder published an editorial in which she used the current version of KDE Gwenview image viewer as an example of how interfaces are dumbed down. A couple of days later, Aaron Seigo replied in detail, refuting many of Schroder's points and talking about the design philosophy behind Gwenview. Both Schroder and Seigo tried hard to keep the discussion friendly, but, overall, the discussion was typical of many exchanges between journalists who cover free and open source software (FOSS) and the developers who build it.I admit I cringed when I first saw the exchange. I am a friendly acquaintance of both Schroder and Seigo, so naturally I would prefer that they get along. Just...
The choices inside Ubuntu

Jan 27, 2010 GMT

Hearing that the next Ubuntu release will use Yahoo! as the default search engine in Firefox leaves me with a twinge of uneasiness. My misgiving -- and it's a small one -- is not so much with the decision as with why it was made.In itself, the decision is trivial enough. If you dislike Yahoo!, you can easily change the default by going to the search engine field in the upper right corner and clicking on the icon and choosing Manage Search Engines from the drop-down menu. More importantly, to my surprise, comparing half a dozen sets of search results in Google and Yahoo! suggests that Yahoo! generally returns more results than Google -- often at a ratio of three or four to one. Nor are the...
A 75% victory or 75% defeat?

Jan 22, 2010 GMT

Nonsense prevails, modesty fails, Grace and virtue turn into stupidity. While the calendar fades almost all barricades To a pale compromise.- Elvis Costello, "All This Useless Beauty"Hearing the news that 75% of contributions to the Linux kernel are by paid developers, my first reaction is to recall Alec Guinness in The Horse's Mouth. In this classic from the 1950s, Guinness plays an eccentric and disreputable artist who cons his way into becoming a caretaker of a luxury flat so that he can paint a mural on its wall. When, after countless mishaps, he looks at his finished work, he mutters, "It's not the vision I had in mind," and walks away.Then I wonder if I'm...
TinyOgg, software freedom and convenience

Jan 16, 2010 GMT

One of the last gaps in free software for desktop computing is a Flash player. Even if you are committed to free software, you are likely to want one two or three times a day. The Gnash project does its best to provide, but it is still not fully functional, despite years of effort. Now, GNU Generation, the Free Software Foundation's (FSF's) organization for pre-university students, is offering another solution: TinyOgg, an application that converts Flash files to Ogg format. It's a worthy idea, but an impractical one that highlights one of the issues of encouraging people to use free software.An entry in the FSF's blogs suggests that TinyOgg is preferable to Gnash because Gnash is...
Selling GPL Exceptions isn't Exceptional

Jan 13, 2010 GMT

Richard Stallman's willingness to accept the sale of exceptions to the GNU General Public License intrigues me. What intrigues me is not his acceptance of the idea; that seems in keeping with everything I've learned over the years about the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) philosophy and practices. Rather, what fascinates me is how many people are reacting as if his comments are something new.The issue first came to public attention when Stallman signed a letter to the Commissioner for Competition in the European Union opposing Oracle's acquisition of MySQL along with Sun Microsystems. In signing the letter, Stallman signified his approval of MySQL allowing clients to use MySQL under a...
Why can't we all just get along?

Dec 30, 2009 GMT

At the risk of sounding naive, I'm concerned about how members of the free and open source software (FOSS) community treat each other. No doubt in most parts of the community, people are getting things done while keeping civil. But, publicly, or when the big issues are raised, a sustained nastiness has crept into discussions over the last year or so. Mostly, I try to ignore the tone, but, if possible, I'd like to see it reversed.Maybe that sentiment sounds like wishy-washy hypocrisy coming from someone who often writes about contentious issues. I know, too, no war is fiercer than a civil war, and that part of the reason for the nasty tone is probably the growing pains of a rapidly...

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