Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Styling

Sep 13, 2013 GMT

I'm constantly bemused that the same people who spend hours getting a small code feature right frequently can't be bothered to learn how to use a word processor correctly. This attitude is so widespread that a disturbing number of new features in free office suites seemed designed to cater to this attitude, giving people what they want while condemning them to much greater effort than a little education in styles and formatting would.Why should this matter? Consider the way that most people use a word processor like LibreOffice's Writer. Whenever they want to change the default formatting, they select part of the document – for example, a paragraph or a page -- and then apply the...
The State of Linux Distros

Sep 11, 2013 GMT

In the middle of a discussion about whether the number of Linux distributions was declining, I suddenly realized that I didn't need to rely on my own power of observations. For years, Distrowatch has been summarizing the characteristics of distros and making the results available in an easily searchable database. The point of the site is to help users choose a distribution, but the information works just as well as a description of the current state of distributions -- not just their actual numbers, but also such facts as their purposes, the desktops they include, and the distributions they are based on.Of course, this information is only as good as the categories Distrowatch provides. In...
caliber: a battleground for function versus form

Aug 30, 2013 GMT

Because of my experience with graphic design, I like to think that an application's layout matters as much as its design. However, the release last week of calibre 1.0 challenges my outlook. As a regular user, I'm pleased to see this milestone, but it's definitely a triumph of features over design.Calibre is one of those comprehensive applications that I associate with what's best in free software. Its development goal appears to be to place everything you could possibly need to deal with ebooks into a single window. Not only does the project add drivers in a matter of weeks for new devices and firmware releases, but it also includes a comprehensive list of options for every task....
Choosing which fundraisers to support

Aug 23, 2013 GMT

These days, I can hardly log on to Google+ or Facebook without being bombarded by a dozen fundraising campaigns. Musicians, film makers, game makers, authors, charities, free software projects, manufacturers, non-profits, for-profits -- everyone seems to be asking for a slice of the crowdfunding pie. I could easily spend my month's income in a morning, pledging money for good causes -- so, consequently, I've been forced to set some guidelines in the hopes of finding a more responsible approach to making donations.These guidelines are practices I've built up from years of charitable donations. They come, too, from my experiences over the years of hiring people, which has taught me that,...
The oldest bug

Aug 18, 2013 GMT

Last week, I did something that I had meant to do for over a decade: I filed a bug against LibreOffice's Bibliography Database. As I tweeted immediately afterwards, somebody had to do it.Part of the delay was due to the fact that I haven't been an academic for some years now. In the last decade, I've written exactly one scholarly paper, so defects in the Bibliography Database were less than a pressing concern of mine.Another part was that the bug -- or most of it -- was so simple that I was sure somebody else would get around to correcting it.But apparently I under-estimated the degree to which the Bibliography Database was being avoided. Although I was aware that many LibreOffice users...
The Linux malware story comes around, again

Aug 11, 2013 GMT

Very few computer journalists or users understand that security means more than regular updates and virus-scans. As a result, every now and again, a scare makes the headlines. The latest scare is the Hand of Thief trojan described last week by RSA that is supposed to target Linux specifically.These scares are predictable in their content and claims. One popular pronouncement is that Linux has only escaped its share of malware because of its relative unpopularity, and the latest scare is a sign that things are about to change. This prediction can be guaranteed to draw sniggers from Windows users, who are tired of the weaknesses of their operating system being constantly mentioned, and...
Reglue piggybacks on Ubuntu Edge's crowdfunding

Jul 30, 2013 GMT

To say that Larry "the Free Software Guy" Cafiero  criticizes Ubuntu and Canonical is like calling a hurricane breezy. A journalist in his work and a blogger in his spare time, Cafiero frequently shows himself to be harder hitting and more to the point than most free software writers. Recently, however, he has found a way to highlight his criticism while encouraging critics and supporters alike to donate to a cause in which both can believe.Ever since the Ubuntu Edge fundraising campaign was announced last week, Cafiero has expressed his low opinion of it. Inspired by insommia, early one morning, he even commented on it using a number of popular memes (my favorite is Sean...

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