Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Improving on bug reports

Dec 29, 2014 GMT

There's nothing like the comments to justify an article. After I wrote about the average user's difficulty with filing bugs, the responses came rapidly. Many agreed with me, or were willing to consider my comments plausible, but two with long histories of involvement with free software seemed only intermittently aware that any problem existed, and were more interested in faulting me for not suggesting more solutions.As I said in the original article, my priority is timely articles, not contributing solutions. Moreover, in this case, I'd argue that voicing a problem that no one likes to discuss is a contribution in itself. Still, I prefer to contribute more when I can, so let me point out...
The problem with license trends

Dec 22, 2014 GMT

The conventional wisdom is that free software licenses are rapidly evolving. The copyleft licenses are supposed to be in decline, and the permissive licenses gaining popularity, according to  two widely-quoted studies from Red Monk by Stephen O'Grady  and Donnie Berkholz, In fact, writing in 2012, Berkholz declares that new project licenses are more likely to use a permissive license than anything else. However, on closer examination, whether these conclusions are accurate is open to question.For one thing, both the Red Monk studies and their main source, Black Duck Software and its Open Hub site (formerly Ohloh) are business-oriented. Because permissive licenses are more...
Why I rarely file bug reports

Dec 11, 2014 GMT

"Any chance of a bug report?" a developer asked when I mentioned a problem with an application on social media. As a free software supporter, I felt an obligation to oblige, but in practice, the chance was slim. For those of us who don't regularly file bugs, the process is usually too demanding, and too dependent on bureaucratic whim to seem worth the effort.In theory, of course, I should be all in favor of reporting a bug. After all, free software depends on the efforts of responsible volunteers. Using free software regularly, surely I have a duty to get involved and to help improve the software for everyone.However, in my case, that's not my first obligation. I wouldn't spend...
LibreOffice: how to avoid manufactured font weights

Dec 03, 2014 GMT

LibreOffice does it. Calligra Suite and Abiword do, too. In fact almost all the word processors you ever used will manufacture bold and italic weights as well as small caps when no font metrics are available. Fortunately, you can work around this over-helpfulness, but you have to be aware of what is happening.For reasons still unclear to me, LibreOffice varies in its detection of font files. It is not, as I first thought, simply a question of whether font metrics for different weights are stored in one file or several. However, I do know that if you have different weights installed but the toolbar's list of fonts gives only the family name, nothing should be manufactured. By contrast, if...
The rise of Debian technology

Nov 25, 2014 GMT

Out of 285 active distributions on Distrowatch, 132 are based on Debian and 67 on Ubuntu. This predominance is not only unrivalled in a field as diverse as Linux distros, but has been true now for several years. I've cited it several times, but until now, I haven't addressed the question this observation also raises: how did this state of affairs come about?It wasn't always true. When I first dipped into free software in the late 1990s, Red Hat was the dominant distribution, largely because it was more polished and better documented than any of its rivals. When projects bothered with packaging development builds, they made .rpms -- to the intense annoyance of Debian novices like...
Not just token: Red Hat's Women in Open Source Awards

Nov 19, 2014 GMT

DeLisa Alexander would like to make one thing clear about Red Hat's Women in Open Source Awards (WIOSA): They're not just a token gesture towards diversity. Instead, she describes them as one step in a larger, more varied strategy to increase women's participation in open source."It's one key," says Alexander, executive vice-president and chief people officer at Red Hat. "But it's an important part of the puzzle to help tech and open source attract more talent." According to Alexander, the idea was first generated several years ago, but the company "waited until we had a larger sense of the puzzle."WIOSA, which is accepting nominees until November 21, will...
Are word processors becoming obsolete?

Nov 14, 2014 GMT

The other day on a mailing list, a poll of journalists showed that only one in fifteen was using an office suite for their work. The poll made no pretense of scientific accuracy, and only included about fifteen replies. Still, it made me wonder whether the word processor has outlived its day.Only one person said they used MS Word, and none mentioned LibreOffice. The others used Kate, Google Docs, or mobile apps like Evernote. I didn't reply, but I do most of my work in Bluefish, myself. I also used to know one journalist who used Vim, which seems a bit extreme to me, although it would be a good way to keep your hands on the keyboard and perhaps reduce repetitive stress injuries.The reason...

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