Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

2013 on the Desktop

Dec 29, 2013 GMT

The desktop is supposed to be dying, but you would never guess from the number of environments available for Linux in 2013.True, nothing radical happened in the last year. But the desktop diversity that has emerged in the last few years became more firmly established than ever, with half a dozen choices available where two or three existed five years ago. Here's how the major desktops fared in 2013: Cinnamon2013 was a growth year for Cinnamon, Linux Mint's most modern operating system.  The 1.8 release saw improvements to the file manager, and the creation of a control center to replace the multiple configuration tools in earlier releases, as well as the introduction of desklets, or...
11 ways to fit into a free software project

Dec 23, 2013 GMT

Many technical writers believe that all they need are writing skills. Consequently, my contracts usually began with a period of proving to developers that I could handle the technical details as well. Talking about Linux worked wonders, but it could still be an uphill battle. Later, I found journalism required much the same process of overcoming a closed community's reaction to an outsider long enough to gain useful information.With these experience, I was surprised the other week to come across several complaints that the free software community was hostile to outsiders. I had never found it particularly so -- but then, I've always approached it as someone worth placating, either to...
Gluglug Laptops Get FSF Respect Your Freedom Certification

Dec 18, 2013 GMT

To some, free software is just a pay cheque or a way of life. However, for some, it means working towards the goal of free-licensed computers that are fully controlled by their users. Progress towards that goal is slow, but it takes a couple of steps forward with the announcement that Gluglug, a small English vendor, has received Respect Your Freedom certification from the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for its line of refurbished IBM Lenovo X60 ThinkPad laptops.As the name suggests, owner Francis Rowe originally started using the name Gluglug with the intention of starting a Gnu/Linux users' group. However, six months ago, Rowe became interested in the challenges of building a completely...
Free software's lack of women leaders

Dec 11, 2013 GMT

Sometimes, free software feminists can frustrate their supporters. Frequently, they seem to have only the vaguest sense of tactics, promoting pop psychology and working against acceptance of their cause with rash actions and statements. But if you even start to doubt that their basic critique of the free software community is valid, all you need to do to quiet your doubts is look at who is running projects and companies. Counting the number of women active in free software may be impossible, but governing boards and executive teams are listed clearly -- and women are seriously under-represented on almost all of them.Don't believe me? Then take a random sample as I did: Non-Profit...
Free fonts for the working day

Nov 30, 2013 GMT

Free-licensed fonts are one of the quiet triumphs of free software. A decade ago, the few that existed were poor in quality and selection. Today, they may still be available only by the dozen where proprietary ones are available by the thousands, but that is still enough that a graphic designer can submit professional work that uses only free-licensed fonts. The selection varies from fonts that are meant as substitutions for famous typefaces to original designs with support for a variety of languages.Digital fonts are dominated by the trio of Times Romans, Helvetica, and Courier. All of these have restrictive licenses, which can cause reformatting problems when Linux users share files...
The Typography Toolbar Extension for LibreOffice

Nov 22, 2013 GMT

LibreOffice Writer is not actually a word processor -- it is more of an intermediate desktop publisher. Thanks to features such as page and list styles, you can design in Writer with much greater precision and ease than in Microsoft Office or Abiword. However, it lacks several features that would make it an advanced publisher, which is where the Typography Toolbar extension comes in.As with other extensions, you can install the Typography Toolbar from Tools -> Extension Manager. The next time you re-start LibreOffice, the toolbar is listed in View -> Toolbars, currently lacking the penultimate "h" but all the same opening down the left side of the editing window. With 36...
Which desktop will be the default for the next Debian release?

Nov 13, 2013 GMT

Announcing that Debian was considering defaulting to Xfce instead of GNOME, Joey Hess described the news as boring, apparently in the desperate hope that it wouldn't get major media coverage. But there was never any chance of that -- comparisons of desktop environments is always news,  especially when they hint at the decline of a once-dominant project like GNOMEHess did acknowledge that GNOME was becoming more usable, and the final decision won't be made until August 2014, when the freeze for Debian's next stable release is scheduled to start. However, he did list four criteria that will be used to make the decision, which makes irresistible the temptation to predict the decision in...

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