Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Icons and the FOSS desktop

May 31, 2010 GMT

Icons have always intimidated me. Except for the mouseover help, two-thirds of the time I would have no idea what function they represent. Shrink them so that they fit on a toolbar, and the obscurity is compounded by illegibility. On the free and open source software (FOSS) desktop, icons seem to be one of the last holdouts against usability, with neither of the two main strategies for designing icons being particularly successful.Admittedly, icons on the FOSS desktop have come a long way since the early years of this century, when GNOME's logout button looked like an illustration from Goodnight Moon, or possibly a sign indicating an outhouse. That icon disappeared when the first...
Installing Joomla! as a local server

May 20, 2010 GMT

Recently, I installed Joomla! as a local web server so I could develop a site for a friend. Almost at once, I ran into the problems that plagues most free software documentation. The problem is not a lack of information, but too much information, much of it obsolete, and little of it covering the most common situations on a modern desktop. Nor was most of it succinct.In fact, the process was not difficult. What was difficult was finding the relevant information. In the hopes of saving other people a few hours, here's my summary of the process:Installing the environmentRunning Joomla! requires a local web server (typically Apache), PHP, and a database (usually MySQL).A popular way to set...
Free Software Foundation Appoints Director of Access Technology

May 11, 2010 GMT

"People with disabilities deserve to have control of their own technological destinies."With this statement, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) announces that it is turning its attention to accessibility. In addition to explaining the important of accessibility in the newly released GNU Accessibility Statement, the FSF has appointed accessibility expert Chris Hofstader as Director of Access Technology Software, a position that combines both political activism and working directly with developers on various projects.The appointment comes after what Hofstader calls a "leadership vacuum" in accessibility, particularly in free software. Hofstader notes that, although the...
FOSS community, FOSS business, and the nature of allies

May 04, 2010 GMT

A couple of weeks ago, a former colleague pilloried me for mentioning the first tentative signs of commercial advertising on the desktop. According to him, disliking those signs made me an outdated purist, and -- he seemed to imply -- a hypocrite as well. At the time, I wasn't bothered by his disagreement nearly so much as I was by having words put in my mouth. But it took a post today by Aaron Seigo on branding free software as opposed to branding an individual distribution to help me articulate my response.Probably, I should start by saying that, if I was really opposed to commercial involvement in free and open source software (FOSS), I wouldn't have worked for two of the earlier...
The Prestige of Proprietary Software

Apr 27, 2010 GMT

I spent the weekend at the graduation for an art school. I had an overwhelmingly wonderful time -- except for one scenario that kept playing and replaying all weekend.As usual, telling people what I do for a living required some explanation of free and open source software (FOSS). Since I haven't met a student yet who had enough money, I supposed that the availability of professional tools at no cost would interest my audience. Gradually, though, I realized that my audience wasn't interested for a reason that I had never previously imagined: They wanted the prestige of using name brand products.Software and ProfessionalsI suppose that part of this reaction had to do with branding. If...
Patent Absurdity: The Case against Software Patents Comes to Film

Apr 18, 2010 GMT

Why are free software advocates challenging American patent law? How did American patent law come to apply to software? Why is the Bilski case potentially so important? If you want to be brought up to speed on such issues, then consider taking half an hour to watch Patent Absurdity: How Software Patents Broke the System. Directed by Luca Lucarini and produced by Jamie King with support from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), this short film is both informative and surprisingly engaging. Available in Ogg Theora format, it is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 license.Legal complexities rarely made for dramatic footage, but Patent Absurdity sidesteps this...
Cooking with Marcel

Apr 14, 2010 GMT

"I'm a serious technology geek," says writer Marcel Gagné, speaking with his usual hyper enthusiasm. The writer of six books on free and open source software (FOSS) for Addison-Wesley, as well as SysAdmin Corner and the extraordinarily popular Linux Journal column "Cooking with Linux," Gagné took an uncharacteristically quiet moment at the recent Calgary Open Source Systems Festival (COSSFest) to talk to me about his interests and his development as a writer, and how he ended up in his current gig as senior editor at Ubuntu User."I grew up watching Star Trek, and puppet shows like Thunderbirds and Stingray. the idea that there was this amazing technology just...

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