Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

How to make free software as popular as recycling

Oct 20, 2009 GMT

Joe Brockmeier, my one-time colleague at, has been blogging recently about how to present free software to non-technical users. He suggests that the community approach the problem as a marketing exercise, emphasizing benefits rather than the ethical issue of freedom. My own take is somewhat different: The problem is not so much talking about ethics as the fact that we have not been talking about the benefits of ethics. Instead of the four freedoms that appeal to developers, we need a similar list that explains what advantages free software offers for ordinary users.Much of my thinking on this issue stems from an interview I did in 2006 with Peter Brown, the executive director of...
Why people don't use free software

Oct 14, 2009 GMT

Whenever ideas run short, columnists and bloggers like to pontificate about why free and open source software isn't more successful. Inevitably, they trot out the same old explanations. Microsoft's monopoly, lack of vendor support, community unfriendliness and infighting, and inertia are some of the most popular ones. Not having anything new to contribute (or any shortage of ideas to run about), I've avoided such discussions until now. Recently, though, my efforts to persuade people to use free software have suggested to me an explanation so simple that it is seldom mentioned -- people just don't understand the concept, or why it should interest them. The whole idea runs so counter to the...
Writing about FOSS sexism

Oct 09, 2009 GMT

A month ago, I wrote an article about sexism in the free and open source software (FOSS) community. The result has been educational, to say the least. It's one thing to know about issues intellectually, and quite another to plunge headlong into a firestorm of reactions.So what have I learned exactly? To start with, while members of the FOSS community like to think of themselves as rational beings, when subjects like gender issues are raised, emotion swamps logic to an alarming degree. This tendency shows up occasionally among feminists in over-reactions, such as the call by srlinuxx on to boycott Ubuntu because its founder Mark Shuttleworth made some sexist remarks in his...
A belated report on the mini-summit on women in free software

Oct 01, 2009 GMT

(Ordinarily, I wouldn't report on an event that happened almost two weeks ago. However, considering how little attention the Free Software Foundation (FSF)'s mini-summit on women in free software has received, and the importance of the issues it discussed, I'm making an exception here).According to Stormy Peters, executive director of the GNOME Foundation, the subject of women's lack of involvement in FOSS is not new. "It was just time again to have the conversation," she says. Deobrah Nicholson, FSF membership coordinator, sees things differently, suggesting that reactions to incidences of sexism brought attention to the problem and that "this year, a lot of people saw it...
Mono: A modest proposal

Sep 23, 2009 GMT

OK, I'm conflicted.According to one report, last Saturday at the Software Freedom Day event in Boston, Richard Stallman called Miguel de Icaza “a traitor to the Free Software community" because of de Icaza's involvement with Microsoft-based technologies like Mono and Moonlight. On the one hand, I can easily imagine the frustrations that led to this description. But, on the other hand, before members of the free software movement applauds the description, I hope they will look for another reaction that would do more to advance its goals.Before saying anything more, I should probably explain that I consider myself a supporter of the free software movement. I am not an uncritical one,...
How GNOME and KDE spend their money

Sep 16, 2009 GMT

Quarterly reports are the stuff of business. In most people's minds, they are as far from the spirit of free and open source software (FOSS) as anyone can imagine. All the same, as non-profit organizations, many FOSS projects issue them. And while your first reaction may be to avoid quarterly reports, they can give some insights into projects, especially if you read between the lines. For instance, if you have been assuming, as I have, that GNOME has more corporate support than KDE, and a larger budget, a look at the latest report for GNOME and KDE may surprise you. Together, the two reports give an entirely different impression than you might assume.Neither quarterly report has much in...
GNOME's new Font Manager

Sep 13, 2009 GMT

One key configuration tool that has been missing from GNOME for years is a font manager. In fact, years ago, I often installed KDE primarily so I would have a graphical font manager. In recent years, the situation has improved with applications like Fonty Python and Fontmatrix, but I'm always watching for new applications that will save the drudgery of manual installation and management. Font Manager is a relatively new effort, but, at 0.3 release, is already showing the promise of becoming one of the simplest font managers available.Font Manager is available as source code, and in packages for Fedora 11 and Ubuntu 9.04. It is designed for GNOME, but works with both KDE and Xfce so long...

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