Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

NTPsec: The Wrong Fork for the Wrong Reasons

Feb 23, 2017 GMT

 Forks -- the splitting of one project from another -- are a natural part of free software. They are implicit in the Free Software Foundation's Four Freedoms, and I would no more attempt to deny the right of a fork to exist than I would attempt to insist that everyone use one Linux distribution or desktop environment. However, a few weeks ago, while preparing an article about the animosity between the Network Time Protocol and its hostile fork NTPsec, I came to the conclusion that there are forks that deserve support, and others that do not. The more I investigated, the harder a neutral presentation of NTPsec became. Increasingly, it seemed a fork made for most of the wrong...
Having a bug fixed

Feb 15, 2017 GMT

Last week, for the first time in a long while, a bug I filed saw action. I filed it over a year ago, and had almost forgot about it, which made the sudden activity around it especially welcome.I filed Bug 98993 for LibreOffice in March 2016, as I was putting the final touches on my book Designing with LibreOfice. As I was writing, I noticed that how LibreOffice Writer handled line spacing had changed some time around release 4.2. Before then, line-spacing could be set to one-tenth of a point. After that, however, any attempt to use decimals was automatically rounded off.If you never design documents, that change may seem trivial. After all, a point is a measurement equal to 1/72 inches,...
Wanna-be Software for Wanna-be Novelists

Feb 06, 2017 GMT

A whole industry exists to encourage would-be writers. Magazines, websites, seminars, and reading services all support an entire sub-culture that for many becomes more of a social club than a means for members to realize their literary ambitions. Written in Java, bibisco is a free software contribution to this sub-culture: a database for planning everything in a novel from the characters to the setting and the plot. As a way to organize your ideas, it seems sensible enough, but whether it is actually useful probably depends on your work habits. Personally, as a very occasional fiction writer, I remain skeptical.The most useful feature of bibisco is its organization. It consists of a...
KDE Comes to a Commercial Laptop

Jan 27, 2017 GMT

The newly announced KDE Slimbook is not free hardware. All the same, it is an important step in bringing Linux and related technologies to a commercial audience. Unlike last year's Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition, the KDE Slimbook is a high end machine, with a mature desktop environment – KDE Plasma – that should show off free software to full advantage. Recently, I talked with Aleix Pol, the Vice President of KDE e.V, the governing body for the popular desktop environment, about how the project came about.According to Pol, the venture  began in Madrid in April 2016 at Akademy-es, a Spanish gathering for KDE. "one of the presenters, Pol recalls, was Alejandro López, the founder...
Adding a Bluetooth Speaker to Linux

Jan 25, 2017 GMT

These days, support for various technologies under Linux can often be taken for granted. An exception is Bluetooth, whose configuration remains arcane, as I found when trying to add a Bluetooth speaker to my workstation. My efforts were dogged by outdated information, and sometimes lack of information, but the audio improvement added by a high-end speaker made the effort more than worth my time.As you might expect, the best time to add support for any Bluetooth device is during a fresh installation. However, adding Bluetooth after installation is also possible. It consists of four steps: enabling general Bluetooth support, pairing the speaker with the computer, configuring the computer to...
Leaders, Rock Stars and Ninjas

Jan 18, 2017 GMT

In recent weeks, I find myself thinking about Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian and my former employee. Ian, you may remember, died a year ago after being beaten by the police. At the time, I described him as demonstrating "the modesty of a man who has nothing to prove." It's a description that applies to most of the best-known developers in free software.Not that as a non-programmer I haven't had my share of grief. Worse, I entered free software as a technical writer, so over the years I got used to being in a gunslinger scenario for the first few weeks of any contract.Part of the problem is that most developers have seen their share of incompetent technical writers. Far too...
Ventures in Open Hardware

Jan 11, 2017 GMT

For over a year now, I have been watching the efforts to develop open hardware. I have been especially interested in the combination of open hardware and crowdfunding. Not only are the lists of open hardware campaigns like an adult version of a toy catalog, but the combination helps small businesses and is becoming a source of new businesses as well. Sadly, though, in my own experience, the resulting products have left a little to be desired.The Pi-Top LaptopThe first open hardware project I backed was Pi-Top. Its product was a do-it-yourself laptop running on a Raspberry Pi. I reviewed the Pi-Top enthusiastically -- to the point that I worried if I could discuss it impartially, but,...

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