Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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...
Review: FLOSS Manuals' Introduction to the Command Line

Mar 29, 2009 GMT

As a full-time writer, I'm skeptical of collaboration. I have collaborated, with varying degrees of success, but the process has always seemed too time-consuming to justify the results. Still, having just submitted my first command line column for Linux Pro Magazine, I was curious to see the results of the FLOSS Manuals' sprint to produce a book entitled during last week at the Free Software Foundation's (FSF's) LibrePlanet conference. And, having done so, I think I'll have to reconsider my position on writing collaborations. While the result of the sprint is not perfect, it is certainly no worse than many books written by a single writer. LibrePlanet is the collection of speeches and...
Linux Syndicate Launches

Mar 18, 2009 GMT

Like many people, I start most mornings by visiting sites devoted to free and open source software (FOSS). Even though I often weed my list, I still look at several dozen on any given day, so I appreciate aggregator sites that collect URLs and save me time. That's why I appreciate the launching of Linux Syndicate, a new site run by David Graham, a former colleague of mine at The site has only been active a few days, and Graham is still tweaking it, but already it promises to be one of the most complete FOSS aggregators. Graham has been a GNU/Linux user since 1995, and a Debian user since 1998. He is a co-founder of the Open and Free Technology Community, an organization...
ScanTWAIN, Proprietary Companies, and Free Software

Mar 13, 2009 GMT

Kodak's recent announcement about the release of ScanTWAIN, a desktop application for scanners, was quickly picked up by the free and open source software (FOSS) media. After all, here was another large company now supporting the cause. Moreover, Kodak was doing so with TWAIN, the standard protocol on most operating systems, rather than just SANE, the FOSS protocol developed for scanners when TWAIN support for free operating systems was unavailable. The announcement seemed too good to be true -- and, unfortunately it was. Instead of being a minor cause for celebration, it raises the perennial question: When will traditional companies get serious about porting their products to FOSS? ...
Eagle Mode: A practical Zoomable User Interface

Mar 07, 2009 GMT

As I begin this new blog, I can't think of a better first topic than the future. Or, to be exact, a possible future. Specifically, I am talking about Eagle Mode, a proof of concept project by Oliver Hamann designed to show the possibilities of a zoomable user interface (ZUI). Using Eagle Mode, you may take a while to get past the sheer novelty, but, once you do, you may find the concepts behind it intriguing. Released under the third version of the GNU General Public License, version 0.7.3 of Eagle Mode is available as source code, or a downloadable Live CD based on the Slax distribution if you prefer not to compile for yourself. To start Eagle Mode, either run the script...

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