Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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...
Donate to Rock for Water

Nov 08, 2013 GMT

For many people, working in free software is itself an act of charity. After all, even if they are paid, others benefit and they are helping free software development. However, for Jono Bacon, Ubuntu's Community Manager, that was not enough. In celebration of his fifth wedding anniversary, he has started a crowdfunding campaign called Rock for Water to raise in support of WaterAid, a charity to bring clean water to poorer parts of the world that lack it.Supporters can download four songs written and performed by Bacon. The four songs were originally written for his wife Erica, and Bacon has re-recorded them for the project. "I asked her to pick the cause," Bacon says. "She...
My Wesnoth addiction

Oct 31, 2013 GMT

Except briefly for a review, I haven't installed Steam. Nor have I had a Windows partition for games for over a decade. It's not that I dislike games -- to be honest, the problem is I like them too much. I have a hard enough time keeping PySol, GNU Backgammon, and Kajongg from eating up most of my work hours without installing more elaborate diversions. But worse of all is Battle of Wesnoth, which could occupy days at a time, if I let it.You wouldn't think Wesnoth was so potentially harmful, just to look at it. It's turn-based, not real time, and its two-dimensional might have been state-of-the-art fifteen years ago. But its strategies are both easy to learn and challenging to master,...
Why is interest in free office suites declining?

Oct 25, 2013 GMT

While I was getting serious about free software in 1999, GNU Parted appeared. I immediately assumed that it would mean the end of the market for proprietary partition editors, and I was puzzled at first when it didn't. Fourteen years later not much has changed, according to a Forrester Research survey on the adoption of Microsoft 2013, which suggests that the interest in free office suites like LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice has declined 8% since 2011.Or, to be exact, that is what one report of the survey is saying -- I don't have the $2500 necessary to view the original survey. However, assuming the report is accurate, in a 2011 survey, 13% said they would consider free office suites...
Analyzing Ada: Who wrote the notes attributed to Ada Lovelace?

Oct 15, 2013 GMT

Ada Lovelace is a hero of women in computing. Crediting her as the first computer programmer, her admirers defend her fiercely against detractors who question her accomplishments, pointing out the misogyny that lurks behind the attempts at debunking. However, so far as I know, nobody has attempted to challenge the detractors directly by comparing known samples of Lovelace's writing against the Notes that are her claim to fame.The issue concerns Lovelace's translation and annotation of Luigi Menabrea's transcript of a lecture delivered by Charles Babbage at the University in the early 1840s. With Babbage's encouragement, Lovelace added seven highly technical notes labelled A to G. The most...
Ubuntu, Knee-Deep in the Big Muddy

Oct 07, 2013 GMT

"We were knee-deep in the big muddy, And the damn fool said push on"- Peter Seeger by way of Dick GaughanCriticism gives you two main choices: either you can learn from it, or ignore it and keep on with what you are doing. Sadly, with the introduction of Smart Scopes on to the dash, Ubuntu 13.10 is mostly opting to ignore criticism, pushing ahead with changes that few seem to want and violating Unity's original design principles in favor of contradictory new ones.The criticism began just over a year ago, when Ubuntu announced that it would be adding Amazon search results to the dash. Since these results would be enabled by default, the move immediately raised concerns about...
The not-so-unchanging desktop

Sep 30, 2013 GMT

Imagine someone who last used a free desktop environment a decade ago. If you sat them down in front of a modern desktop, how long would they take to feel comfortable using it? Probably under ten minutes -- which might lead you to the erroneous conclusion that the desktop hasn't changed much recently.Admittedly, Unity might take them a little longer. KDE might, too, until they realized that while the organization had changed, the basic features hadn't. But with the other five or six major desktops, they would notice more eye-candy and more consistency in design. They might miss the classic menu whose sub-menus spill out over the desktop, but they'd have little trouble recognizing or using...

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