Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

OS/2: The Forerunner of Linux

Oct 30, 2015 GMT

Today, OS/2 is mostly a footnote in computer history. If you are under thirty, you may never have heard of it. Yet OS/2 was in many ways the direct predecessor to Linux, and I suspect that its decline produced many of Linux's early adopters.OS/2 was originally a collaboration between IBM and Microsoft to create the successor to DOS. However, the two corporations quarreled over coding methods and their visions of the future, and by 1992, OS/2 was the leading alternative to Windows and DOS, running many Windows and DOS programs, as well as native OS/2 programs. It never managed to come anywhere near Windows for popularity, but by 1994, with the release of OS/2 (codenamed Warp), it had a...
The seduction of the new

Oct 26, 2015 GMT

Christiann MacAuley's cartoon, "An Upgrade Is Available for Your Computer"  has been making the uncredited rounds of social media sites for the last few years. The cartoon shows the reactions of users on different computers to the news of an upgrade: The Linux user is enthusiastic, the Windows user groans, and the Mac user is glad it will only cost him $99. I don't know about the Windows or Mac users' reactions, but the Linux user's always makes me smile as I recognize an attitude I see regularly and to some extent share. Free software users are always ready to upgrade, although their obsession is only partly rational.Not that the Linux users' perspective should come...
Open FOSS Training needs donations

Oct 21, 2015 GMT

Technical documentation was my bridge from academia to journalism, and remains a concern of mine. Free software frequently lacks documentation, and even more frequently, it lacks documentation for complete beginners. Open FOSS Training is a new project trying to do something about these lacks, and is currently half way through a modest Indiegogo campaign that I urge everyone to donate the odd fifty or two towards. Documentation has always been the poor cousin of programming, an unglamorous job in both proprietary and free software development. However, it's not a job that many people can do well. It requires technical expertise and writing skill alike, and few people have both. It also...
Linus Torvalds and the three stages of celebrity

Oct 15, 2015 GMT

No matter what you think of the accusations that Linus Torvalds encourages a culture of abuse in the kernel project, one thing is clear: he's well into the second level of celebrity, which complicates the situation immensely.For years, Torvalds enjoyed the uncritical first level. It may be hard to remember today, but when Linux first became newsworthy, he was presented as a kind of counter-culture Bill Gates. Twenty-four years younger than Gates, he was known by his first name, not his last. He was more concerned with programming than business, and showed no interest in being more than comfortably wealthy. Unlike Gates, he seemed endearingly shy, and more accessible than Gates with his...
The rise of open hardware

Sep 30, 2015 GMT

Free and open source software has a long list of accomplishments to its name. However, when the history of technology comes to be written, the greatest of those accomplishments might be inspiring open hardware. It might even be that open hardware will become eventually become even more successful and influential than free software itself.The idea of open hardware follows naturally from free software. Free-licensed software requires hardware to run, and that hardware requires software. Yet for years, the idea was more theoretical than real, with almost all computers running proprietary firmware and, often enough, proprietary video and wireless drivers. A few small vendors offered open...
Looking Back on Thirty Years of Free Software

Sep 23, 2015 GMT

As I reflect on the thirtieth anniversary of the Free Software Foundation, I'm reminded of a scene in The Horse's Mouth. Alec Guinness's character is standing in front of a large picture that he has gone to some trouble to paint. "It's not what I meant," he says before he walks away. "Not the vision I had in mind." Looking back over sixteen years of involvement with free software, I understand the sentiment exactly.Today, free software is everywhere, and running everything. In many ways, it seems well on the way to making the jokes about world domination a reality. Yet as I look around, I can't help thinking that we should have been careful about what we wanted,...
Microsoft and Linux detente

Sep 18, 2015 GMT

For as long as I can remember, Linux and Microsoft have indulged in mutual paranoia. So, naturally, when the news broke this morning that Microsoft had developed what seems to be a Linux-based operating system to assist Azure, social media was full of the story. It was a typical story of its kind: a vague muddle of one-upmanship and the memory of past wrongs, and all I could do was yawn and wish that everyone would get over it.The news is at least ten years too little and too late.Don't get me wrong. In the past, Microsoft's leaders have vilified Linux as "unAmerican" and "communist," and blackmailed corporations with unsubstantiated patent threats. I have no...

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