Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

How graphical installers introduced the user

Jul 07, 2016 GMT

Last weekend, I was exploring GuixSD, the distribution that introduces a universal package manager developed by The GNU Project. Part of the novelty was the lack of a graphical installer, a luxury that most Linux users expect today, but was once controversial, as well as Linux's first encounter with user experience.Early Linux installations were generally script-driven. Many had the advantage of optimizing installations for the hardware they used, but none were for the casual or curious. Aside from the fact that many system drivers were lacking, the installers were designed for the experienced. Most people who attempted a Linux install usually took several tries, assuming that they didn't...
Is the cost of diversity a lack of innovation?

Jun 29, 2016 GMT

Journalism is the first draft of history. That is why I was glad to see Christine Hall's article on how the reactions to GNOME 3 created more choices on the free desktop; too often, the community forgets itw own history. However, I would like to expand on her narrative by offering my own variation.To start with, I would suggest that the current diversity on the desktop was not due entirely to reactions to GNOME 3. When GNOME 3 came out in 2011, it was the third effort in as many years to provide an innovative desktop.By that point, the free desktop had caught up with proprietary ones after years of struggle. The desktop in general was struggling to deal with vastly more data than when it...
Why Debian Policy is important to package quality

Jun 27, 2016 GMT

Unless you are a Debian maintainer, you probably haven't read the Debian Policy Manual. However, when Ubuntu started promoting Snappy packages as a more secure solution to package management, the claim was challenged, not by reference to the technical structure of Debian packages, but to the Debian Policy Manual.In fact, veteran Debian developer Josh Triplet went so far as to write that what makes "a real Debian package is Debian Policy.  Debian without the .deb format would still be Debian; Debian without Debian Policy would just be Sourceforge, or rpmfind" -- that is, a random collection of applications.Other distributions, of course, have their own sets of standards for...
The nostalgia of Windows is everyday Linux.

Jun 22, 2016 GMT

A few days ago, I read a mailing list discussion about the advantages of running a computer in the 1980s. A few, like the lack of Digital Rights Management (DRM), were points well-taken. Others may have been tongue-in-cheek, but might also express personal preferences. However, most of the rest were advantages that I still enjoy (or could enjoy) as a Linux user thirty years later, partly because that is how Linux is designed, and partly because of my personal choices.Don't believe me? Then consider some of the advantages I saw mentioned: Instant shutdown: Windows may take 5-10 minutes to shutdown, but my Debian installation shuts down in under ten seconds unless I've scheduled a script...
Open Standards and buying Linux Hardware

Jun 09, 2016 GMT

In the last six weeks, I have outfitted my Ubuntu tablet, bought a webcam and a microphone, and replaced my main computer. In the middle of all these purchases, I suddenly realized that one of the signs of how far Linux has come is the ready availability of compatible hardware.It didn't used to be that way. Less than a decade ago, buying hardware for Linux was a research project. You saw what was available at the store or online, and then headed to obscure sites on the Internet to learn what would work and to what degree. You asked for other people's experiences. You carefully learned a few basic rules, such as the fact that a Postscript printer would always work, or that, while Logitech...
Why Licensing Limits Ebooks

May 25, 2016 GMT

   One year in which traditional books outsells ebooks, and suddenly headlines are announcing, "Books are back," citing a small increase in book sales and a small decline in ebook sales.   The headlines may be right, but the articles beneath them fail to consider that the reason for any decline may be something that Linux and free software users deal with daily -- licensing and the terms of use.The headlines are based on the figures for book and ebooks in the United Kingdom in 2015. According to the Publishers Association, £2,760,000,000 in physical books were sold in 2015, compared to £2,748,000,000 in ebooks the previous year. By contrast, ebooks in 2015...
Exploring Desktop mode on the Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition

May 16, 2016 GMT

I am writing this article on an Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition tablet, using LibreOffice with a mouse and keyboard. I am working in Desktop mode, experiencing what Ubuntu describes as "convergence," the ability of the hardware to run both as a tablet and a personal computer. And make no mistake -- convergence is comfortingly familiar to a long-time Linux user and makes productive work on a tablet much easier. However, when Ubuntu claims that the tablet "turns into a full PC," I have to make allowance for the exaggeration of advertising. More accurately, I would say that the current state of convergence reproduces some of the convenience of a laptop or workstation, but...

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