Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Console commander

May 22, 2009 GMT

The increasing divide between the desktop and the command line disturbs me. I appreciate the fact that many users prefer the desktop; I use one myself for about 80% of my routine work. But GNU/Linux is all about taking control of your computing, and you can only take full control at the command line. That's why I'm always interested in efforts to bridge the divide like console commander,a promising but extremely rough-edged effort to help new users ease into using the shell. Of course, the first thing new users need to do is download and install the software, which they may find intimidating all by itself. Fortunately, console commander only requires you to uncompress the download, then...
Gnash Readies for a push

May 14, 2009 GMT

Do you want to put your money where your mouth is and support free software? If so, I can think of few better ways of offering support than by responding to the Gnash project's current fund-raiser. Probably, I need to explain: The goal of Gnash is to provide a free, cross-platform replacement for Adobe Flash. By "free," of course, I mean a free and open source software (FOSS) replacement, since Flash Player is already free for the download and included in many distributions. Considering how Flash has become the default format for Internet video, the importance of this goal is obvious. Its completion is one of the main milestones before the FOSS desktop achieves parity with...
Transferring Email, Addresses, and Calendars

May 08, 2009 GMT

These days, you would think that transferring your personal data -- email, address books and calendars -- between applications would be a matter of a few mouse clicks. And, occasionally, it is. More often, however, transferring your data between Kontact/KMail, Evolution, and Mozilla (Thunderbird and Sunbird) is an unsystematic affair, with too many steps and kludges. No matter which of these applications you are transferring from and which you are moving to, you need to expect the unexpected. From Evolution I first discovered what a ramshackle affair moving personal data can be a few weeks ago, when I switched from GNOME to KDE for my main desktop (no great statement there; Debian...
Who needs software as a service?

Apr 28, 2009 GMT

Yesterday, Slashdot posted a link to an interview with Richard Stallman. It was a general interview, in which he explained his views on a number of free software issues. However, for some reason, Slashdot chose to focus on his views about software as a service. The reason for this emphasis is unclear, since Stallman said nothing new, and the passage in which he talks as software as a service is only a small and unremarkable part of an unremarkable interview. However, while reading the responses to the link, I found myself wondering, as I often do, why people bother with software as a service when they could use free software instead. Stallman, as you might expect, emphasized freedom:...
The Calgary Open Source Symposium Festival (COSSFest, 2009)

Apr 21, 2009 GMT

I long ago outgrew large conventions like LinuxWorld. They have become places for business with only token corners for community, and you can never find the people you want to meet unless you make careful arrangements beforehand. I much prefer smaller events like LinuxFest Northwest in Bellingham, Washington, or Open Web Vancouver, where you have a better chance of striking up a conversation, and talks have a way of spilling out in the hallway (where the really interesting parts tend to take place). That's one of the reasons that I jumped at the invitation to go to COSSFest (the Calgary Open Source Systems Festival) last weekend. Well, that, and the fact that I had never been to Calgary....
The Linux Foundation Video Contest: An Experiment That Failed

Apr 15, 2009 GMT

From the start, I viewed the Linux Foundation's contest to create an ad for GNU/Linux with apprehension. In theory, I can see where promotional material for free software is needed to help explain it to the average computer user. However, as someone who has deliberately developed his own mental version of ad-blocker, I find that the idea makes me uneasy. Today, advertising is one of the major repositories for visual cliche in our culture. Could the contest entries move beyond the usual cliches? More importantly, could they manage the difficult job of explaining free software in basic terms? Unfortunately, after looking at the winners and many of the other entries, I conclude that they...
Shutter: Finally, a screen capture utility worth having

Apr 08, 2009 GMT

Whether you write documentation or simply want to add pictures to your blog, a screen capture program is an essential desktop utility. The trouble is, none of the standard options is very satisfactory. While both gnome-screenshot and ksnapshot are minimalist programs with few options, the GIMP is overkill for editing, and its capture tool has the annoying habit of closing after every shot. Finally, though, GNU/Linux has a capture tool between these extremes in the form of Shutter (formerly GScrot). Better yet, although only at version 0.70.2, Shutter already has a selection of tools that is exactly what those who take screen shots are likely to need. Shutter is developed by a small team...

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