Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Ubuntu Accomplishments: Fad or Future?

Jun 21, 2012 GMT

These days, Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm, tends to get more press than Ubuntu itself. What deals Canonical has made, what new features will be in the next release to nudge the company towards profitability -- these are the subjects that tend to be covered, not what is happening in the community. The tendency is unfortunately lopsided, because the Ubuntu community can be even more innovative than Canonical. Consider, for example, Ubuntu Accomplishments.Like a surprising amount of the innovation in the Ubuntu community, Ubuntu Accomplishments are the brainchild of community manager Jono Bacon. In fact, judging from his blog, the idea has occupied much of his time in the last six...
KDE Activities: A Personal Case Study

Jun 12, 2012 GMT

Activities are both KDE's most talked-about and least understood features. Whenever I enthuse over them, I am invariably greeted with so much bafflement that I suspect that they are also KDE's least used features. So, for those who keep asking, "What's the point?" I thought I'd give a detailed description of how I use them.The typical desktop environment is built around applications, and designed for general purposes. By contrast, KDE Activities are task-oriented, and each one is customized for its specific task, and can have its own layout, widgets, icons, and startup applications. The result is an extension of the concept of virtual desktops (although, somewhat confusingly,...
Passwords and Convenience

Jun 07, 2012 GMT

The cracking of at least six million passwords from LinkedIn this week ( had me scrambling to change my own password. It also has me considering whether LinkedIn is a social media site I could do without. But mainly, it has me thinking how predictable -- and, in many ways, how useless -- the response has been.The problem is not that LinkedIn hasn't handled the situation well by the usual standards. The company responded quickly, and posted blogs telling users what was happening, what would happen, and how to set a strong a password...
Sarah Stierch: Closing the Wikipedia Gender Gap

May 31, 2012 GMT

In January 2011, the New York Times noted in a series of articles that less than fifteen percent of Wikipedia contributors -- more likely, as little as nine percent -- were women. The news proved a wakeup call, and quickly resulted in efforts to improve that percentage. Over the last year, Sarah Stierch, a Community Fellow for the Wikmedia Foundation and Wikipedian in Residence at the Smithsonian Institution Archives is a (, has emerged as a central figure in those efforts.Stierch describes herself as a non-technical person who has found herself increasingly involved in technology and the free culture movements. "I never thought I was...
Facebook: Like the Dot-Coms All Over Again

May 27, 2012 GMT

I was nonplussed about Facebook becoming a public company. Part of my reaction was due to the fact that I'd been expecting the IPO for some time. An even larger part is attributable to my deep-misgivings about Facebook, for all the usual reasons from privacy concerns to the amount of time it can suck up. But I took a while to realize the greatest source of my reaction: I've seen it all before.The year was 1999. I had newly discovered free and open source software (FOSS)), and was newly employed in a company on its cutting edge (or so I thought at the time). Eighteen year old coders were camping overnight in the boxes that office furniture came in -- not because it was crunch time, but...
Imitation and mobile devices

May 24, 2012 GMT

Whenever I review a new desktop environment, someone is sure to comment that desktops are obsolete. Apparently it has become the conventional wisdom that the future of computing lies in mobile devices. But, like all bits of conventional wisdom, that assumption deserves questioning, especially when it comes to interface design. So far, mobile interfaces have done little innovating, and mostly borrowed unthinkingly from traditional desktops.Enthusiasts always exaggerate the impact of new technologies, and mobile devices are no exception. As Larry Cafiero has pointed out repeatedly, while mobile devices are undoubtedly growing in number, traditional computers are not about to disappear...
When is a release not a release?

May 08, 2012 GMT

Sixteen months after its last release. has released version 3.4, its first as an Apache Incubator project. The release was covered matter of factly by The H (, and with a dash of skepticism by Brian Proffitt ( A week ago, it was even trash-talked by LibreOffice developer Michael Meeks (, whose eagerness to discredit it was just a bit too obvious.I can't help wondering, though, whether this latest version is a release in the ordinary sense of...

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