Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

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...
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., 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...

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