Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The oldest bug

Aug 18, 2013 GMT

Last week, I did something that I had meant to do for over a decade: I filed a bug against LibreOffice's Bibliography Database. As I tweeted immediately afterwards, somebody had to do it.Part of the delay was due to the fact that I haven't been an academic for some years now. In the last decade, I've written exactly one scholarly paper, so defects in the Bibliography Database were less than a pressing concern of mine.Another part was that the bug -- or most of it -- was so simple that I was sure somebody else would get around to correcting it.But apparently I under-estimated the degree to which the Bibliography Database was being avoided. Although I was aware that many LibreOffice users...
The Linux malware story comes around, again

Aug 11, 2013 GMT

Very few computer journalists or users understand that security means more than regular updates and virus-scans. As a result, every now and again, a scare makes the headlines. The latest scare is the Hand of Thief trojan described last week by RSA that is supposed to target Linux specifically.These scares are predictable in their content and claims. One popular pronouncement is that Linux has only escaped its share of malware because of its relative unpopularity, and the latest scare is a sign that things are about to change. This prediction can be guaranteed to draw sniggers from Windows users, who are tired of the weaknesses of their operating system being constantly mentioned, and...
Reglue piggybacks on Ubuntu Edge's crowdfunding

Jul 30, 2013 GMT

To say that Larry "the Free Software Guy" Cafiero  criticizes Ubuntu and Canonical is like calling a hurricane breezy. A journalist in his work and a blogger in his spare time, Cafiero frequently shows himself to be harder hitting and more to the point than most free software writers. Recently, however, he has found a way to highlight his criticism while encouraging critics and supporters alike to donate to a cause in which both can believe.Ever since the Ubuntu Edge fundraising campaign was announced last week, Cafiero has expressed his low opinion of it. Inspired by insommia, early one morning, he even commented on it using a number of popular memes (my favorite is Sean...
Corporate Crowdfunding

Jul 23, 2013 GMT

Like many who write about free software, I spent yesterday writing about Ubuntu Edge, the effort to crowdfund a project to promote innovation in the phone market. The story had more than enough points of interest to keep me busy, but one aspect I didn't have time to examine in depth was the idea of a company attempting to crowdfund. In some ways, the attempt seems contrary to the whole idea of crowdfunding.Make no mistake -- that is what Ubuntu Edge is about, despite the fact that the name includes Ubuntu rather than Canonical. Even though it's unclear whether Ubuntu Edge is intended to be even modestly profitable, the total absence of any mention of licensing suggests that Ubuntu Edge...
The struggle for politeness in the

Jul 16, 2013 GMT

Every few months, someone accuses Linus Torvalds of being abusive and rude in his leadership of the Linux kernel. Yesterday, it was kernel developer Sarah Sharp's turn, in an attack that was as noteworthy for its idealism as its deplorably poor tactics.The discussion began on the kernel mailing list when Torvalds suggested, perhaps facetiously, that lead developer Greg Kroah-Hartman might benefit from being less polite.Sharp intervened with a critique of Torvald's own behavior, telling him that "you're one of the worst offenders when it comes to verbally abusing people and publicly tearing their emotions apart. " In response, Torvalds defended his tone as a tool for getting...
Writing about Diversity on the Desktop

Jul 12, 2013 GMT

Writing about the Linux desktop used to be simple. I wrote about GNOME and KDE, and, if I really wanted to be complete, I mentioned Xfce. Very occasionally, I might mention a few window managers. But those simple ways were lost in the fragmentation of GNOME over the last three years, and now writing about the desktop is vastly more complicated than it used to be.Today, the number of desktop environments with significant market shares has tripled. To do a thorough job, I can no longer talk about just GNOME and KDE. At a minimum, I also need to talk about Cinnamon, Mate, Unity and Xfce -- and I'm not sure I shouldn't add LXDE and maybe a handful of others to the list.From a user's...
First contact

Jun 27, 2013 GMT

Fourteen years ago  to the day, free software became part of my life. Ever since, nothing in my life has been the same.It wasn't my first encounter. I had spent six months documenting applications that ran on Slackware, including generating my own description of the file-hierarchy. But I knew nothing of the community that was building Slackware, much less any other project, and my own efforts to set it up unassisted had been spectacularly unsuccessful.However, I did have a distaste for Windows, and had used alternate versions of DOS and OS/2. It would be a couple of years before how IBM had betrayed OS/2 would become common knowledge, but what happened was already obvious in general...

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