Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The Difference a Decade Makes

Apr 07, 2010 GMT

I spent part of the last week reviewing GNOME 2.30. As I worked, I kept returning to the fact that 2.30 is probably the last release of the GNOME 2.0 series, which began in June 2002. That, in turn, got me flipping through the Progeny Debian User's Guide that I did in May 2001 (the last major manual that I wrote), and thinking of all the developments that the last decade or so have seen in GNOME in particular and the free desktop in general.Writing in April 2010, the state of the free desktop in the early years of the millennium seems unbelievably primitive. The desirability of a free desktop was understood by some, and both GNOME and KDE had been up and running for several years. Yet...
Fellow travelers, part 2: FOSS journalists, and the separation of topics and personal beliefs

Mar 26, 2010 GMT

As I write, I am receiving the occasional email about an article I wrote yesterday called "The Mono Mystery That Wasn't." The article debunks two ideas: that an SD Times article has disappeared from the Internet, and that Miguel de Izaca, in talking about how Microsoft's restrictive patent practices have handicapped .NET, has suddenly reversed his opinions. Unlike de Icaza, I don't support the use of .NET in GNU/Linux, but some of the emails landing in my Inbox today assume that I do, and take me to task with varying degrees of politeness.This is another of the assumptions that free and open source software (FOSS) journalists face any time that they write anything more than a...
MindTouch releases list of influential voices in open source

Mar 17, 2010 GMT

If you want to spread information about an open source topic, who are the people who can help you? MindTouch, a producer of wiki-like solutions for business, has the answer in the form of a list of the top fifty most influential voices in open source -- those whose blogs and microblogs are most likely to be picked up and echoed by others.The list is a follow-up to MindTouch's list of Most Influential People in Open Source released in October 2009, in which fifty executives of open source companies voted on the most influential people in their community.Talking about the previous list, Aaron Fulkerson, MindTouch's CEO,says, "I didn't expect it to be so well-received, nor so...
Ad-blocking and the compromises of conscience

Mar 11, 2010 GMT

After reading Ken Fisher's "Why Ad Blocking is Devastating the Sites You Love," I admit to mixed emotions. In fact, I wonder if I can possibly navigate the issue without revealing myself as hopelessly hypocritical.Fisher is writing after Ars Technica, for which he works, blocked content from ad blockers for twelve hours. Technically, the experiment was a success, but it met with mixed reactions. "There was a healthy mob of people criticizing us for daring to take any kind of action against those who would deny us revenue even though they knew they were doing so," Fischer writes. "Others rightly criticized the lack of a warning or notification as to what was going...
Learned helplessness and the hacker mentality

Mar 08, 2010 GMT

Like anyone with even a modest claim to computer expertise, I am often asked to help neighbors and friends. I tend to mutter about the blind leading the blind, because what small expertise I've accumulated is in GNU/Linux, not Windows nor OSX. Yet, a surprising amount of the time, I can help, generally not because of any prior knowledge, but because I have absorbed enough of the hacker mentality that I'm a systematic troubleshooter. That used to be a given among GNU/Linux users, although lately I've worried how much longer that will remain true.The difference between me and the average Windows user is not that I have any arcane programming skills. I know no scripting or development...
The allure of the phone app stores

Feb 25, 2010 GMT

I was at a news conference today when two men pulled out their iPhones simultaneously. In less than ten seconds, they were comparing apps, their original purposes forgotten.This is a scene I've seen repeatedly in the last six months. Every time, I wonder what the excitement is about. After all, as a GNU/Linux user, I've been able to download software on a whim for years -- and not just the equivalent of KDE's widgets or GNOME's applets, but complex applications like Inkscape or Amarok.Moreover, that software is free of cost, unlike a lot of the apps on the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android stores.Mind you, I understand the excitement. Back when I was first understanding free and open source...
Damned Lies and Statistics, FOSS Sexism and Education

Feb 17, 2010 GMT

The trouble with statistics is that they can be easily abused. This insight is hardly new to me, but its truth was reinforced when I read Mark Guzdial's suggestion that free and open source software (FOSS) was not a good match for education because few women or minorities participated in it.Guzdial makes his comments in an article entitled, "The Impact of Open Source on Computing Education." After talking with Michael Terry, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo who has studied open source usability, Guzdial suggests a number of reasons why FOSS might not be a good fit for computing education.Guzdial suggests, for instance, that the myth that FOSS developers work...

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