Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Wikileaks and the Choice Between Openness and Secrecy

Dec 21, 2010 GMT

The headlines about Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange are bringing countless issues to the attention of the general public. For instance, what privacy, if any, is possible with modern technology? How does technology change the relationship between those who govern and the governed? And -- on a more personal level -- does being at best a selfish lover and at worst a possible rapist invalidate a man's leadership or the ideals he claims to espouse? But what occupies most of my thoughts is the basic question about the desirability of openness.In theory, I am all for openness and transparent decision-making. I have a lifelong dislike of hierarchy to begin with, and I could not have...
Waiting for the rapture

Dec 14, 2010 GMT

To my surprise, I have been involved with free and open source software (FOSS) for the better part of twelve years. For ten years of that time, I have made my living from FOSS, either as an employee or as a free-lance writer. But sometimes, I have to admit, I get tired of waiting for FOSS to fulfill its potential. While it has come a long way, FOSS still isn't as universal as I thought it would be by now. Sometimes, I think the movement -- and I -- have lost sight of the goal among the day to day necessities.I remember the first time I became convinced that FOSS could become the norm. It was when I first saw GNU Parted. I had been a user of PartitionMagic from its earliest days as an OS/2...
FocusWriter, Wannabes and Practicing Writers

Dec 09, 2010 GMT

I generally write in Bluefish. It has just about everything I need -- a word count, a spell-checker, and shortcuts to produce clean HTML (if that's what the editor requires), and little of the overhead and distractions of a word processor. But I am always on the lookout for other tools, which is why FocusWriter interested me. Unfortunately, while it shows some promise, it turns out to be another writing tool designed more for wannabes than a working writer.I am actually surprised and disappointed to make that statement. Graeme Gott, FocusWriter's developer describes it as a "fullscreen, distraction-free word processor," which sounds like something that should suit me. And,...
Ryzom MMORPG releases native GNU/Linux client

Nov 30, 2010 GMT

When the Free Ryzom Campaign failed to purchase the online role-playing game Ryzom, organizers promised that their effort was just the beginning. Now, four years later, after a convoluted history, the dream of the campaign supporters is coming true: Winch Gate, the current owner of Ryzom, is releasing a native GNU/Linux client, and announcing a contest to celebrate the fact. It's news that you don't need to be a gamer to appreciate.The news follows the announcement in May 2010 that the source code for the end-user client, content creation tools, and server were being released under the GNU Affero General Public License, and the artwork, including some 20,000 textures and 3-D objects,...
Documenting and challenging community misogyny

Nov 19, 2010 GMT

So far, the main result of the OpenRespect project has been that Jono Bacon has handicapped himself in responding to detractors -- so much so that he has apologized at length about his own minor lapses of civility while others have launched ad hominem attacks on him without backing down in the slightest. But the culture of denial and blame-the-messenger that operates whenever the lack of civility is examined seems almost insignificant when you compare it to the reactions to reports of misogyny in the community. That, too, is a matter of disrespect, although the word seems an inadequate understatement. But the reactions are far, far nastier than those to OpenRespect, and go mostly...
OpenRespect and the Problems of Endorsing Civility

Nov 12, 2010 GMT

Two years ago, I suggested that the free and open source software community could use a code of conduct to make conversations more polite and more constructive. My views haven't changed any, so I am delighted at Canonical Community Manager Jono Bacon's launching of that attempts to codify respectful conduct. My only concern is that the effort is already receiving some of the abuse that it attempts to counter.The project home page starts with the declaration that "Our methods and opinions may differ, and our definitions of what constitutes freedom and openness may vary, but this united belief in freedom and openness remains the same." It then goes on to list five...
Why your desktop still matters

Nov 05, 2010 GMT

I was surprised by the passion generated by my blog entry last week about Ubuntu's decision to replace GNOME with its own Unity desktop. Apparently, contrary to the pundits and usability experts, users have strong feelings about their interfaces of choice. But, when I stop to think, I should have expected that. For many free software users, the choice of desktop is still a deeply personal matter.Journalists like me often leap to write about what's new. That tendency can be seen as a service, but it also means that the importance of trends is often exaggerated in the rush to report first. For instance, in the last five years, network appliances and cloud computing have been hailed by many...

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