Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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...
Apache OpenOffice: Not Dead Yet

Sep 12, 2015 GMT

It's taken a year, but Apache OpenOffice finally seems to be moving forward. However, whether the progress will be enough to make the project a success remains impossible to predict.OpenOffice's last release was 4.1.1 on August 21, 2014. Since then, progress in the project has been glacial, with a security vulnerability left unpatched since April 2014. The position of release manager was vacant for nine months, and project reports admit to a shortage of developers and infrastructure for welcoming new ones. Noting such facts, several writers have described the project as almost dying, and called for its remnants to merge with LibreOffice, with which it shares the common ancestor of...
The sunset years of Flash

Aug 31, 2015 GMT

Come September, only primary Flash content will play automatically in the Chrome browser. By contrast, secondary content, such as ads, will have to be specifically clicked before it plays. It's a small change, done by Google in cooperation with Adobe, but it appears to signal the beginning of the end of Flasha nd a scramble by advertisers to change technologies. What's ominous, however, is the power that one corporation can have on the entire industry. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/08/28/google_says_flash_ads_out_september/?imm_mid=0d795f&cmp=em-prog-na-na-newsltr_20150829Flash, of course, has been a long time dying. First developed in the mid-1990s, Flash rapidly became the...
The Case for Paying Conference Speakers

Aug 25, 2015 GMT

Should speakers be paid at free software conferences? The question never occurred me until I heard a recent Finux Tech podcast talking about the issue in relation to security conferences. Now, however, I have to admit that the guests on the podcast make a compelling case, if only as a token sign of respect.Fifteen years ago, unpaid speakers were the rule. Conferences were community-based, and many attendees were at the start of their careers, and happy just to get together with one another. Probably, the sponsors didn't exist either. That is still the case today with community-based conferences like the locally organized, BSides, where no one is paid, so I am not talking about them.Free...
LinuxCon take-aways

Aug 21, 2015 GMT

Between becoming re-acquainted with Seattle and trying to attend all the talks at the same time, my inner extrovert was glad to slink back to his cage after three days at LinuxCon.  Maybe things would be less hectic if I attended more regularly than once every four or five years, but, still, I wouldn't have missed it. Not only did I finally meet face to face such people as Jono Bacon and Swapnil Bhartiya, but I know of no better way than attending LinuxCon to learn so quickly what the current trends are in free software.Over and over, I heard people saying that Linuxcon was the OpenStack Summit, Part 2. They meant, of course, that the major issues were cloud storage and containers....
The Ada Initiative leaves a mixed record behind it

Aug 04, 2015 GMT

I was one of the first to write about the Ada Initiative. I was also (as Anonymous Donor #1) -- the first to donate to it, and the first to resign from its advisory board. I've passed through personal distaste and disillusion to indifference, but, having written about The Ada Initiative's start, I feel an obligation to write about its end, and the legacies it leaves behind.The Ada Initiative was founded as a response to a sexual assault on Noirin Plunkett. Appropriately, the announcement of its end comes a day after Plunkett's memorial service. But you could have predicted what was about to happen for a couple of months.Long-time advisers resigned, and were keeping feminist solidarity by...

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