Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The pi-top revisited

Sep 12, 2016 GMT

Publication schedules mean that reviews are rarely the result of more than a few days of testing. Should the product develop long-term problems, they remain undocumented. Such is the case with the pi-top, the do-it-yourself laptop powered by the Raspberry Pi. Nine months after I reviewed it, I realized that I was spending more time trying to get it to run properly than I was using it, and could no longer recommend it with a clean conscience.No one could have been more excited than I was about the pi-top. I not only gave it an enthusiastic review, but also wrote an article to help people assemble it with fewer problems, and interviewed the company founders a couple of times. Financed...
OpenOffice: A Project in Search of an Exit Strategy

Sep 07, 2016 GMT

In theory, I should be all over the story about Apache OpenOffice's struggle for survival. Over the years, I have written dozens of articles about, OpenOffice, and LibreOffice, and, although I titled my book Designing with LibreOffice, it includes some mention of OpenOffice, too. Yet now as OpenOffice tries to revive itself, my main thought is:Could someone please put OpenOffice out of its misery? The time for heroic measures is past. All that is left now is to shut down with whatever grace can be mustered.I understand the historic reasons why OpenOffice and LibreOffice exist. I understand that the developers who wanted a faster development pace and...
LibreOffice's Legacy Debt

Aug 30, 2016 GMT

LibreOffice has had so many changes of name that its age is hidden. However, go back through Oracle OpenOffice and, StarOffice, StarDivision and StarWriter, and the word processor is over thirty years old. Probably, very little of the code written in 1985 remains in use, but many of the features do -- and that means that LibreOffice is carrying a legacy code debt that is becoming increasingly irrelevant.Obviously, some features never age or go out of fashion. Character and paragraph styles, for example, should always remain useful. However, to understand why this legacy debt matters, you have to have survived the 1980s.The 1980s were when word processors first arrived on...
Whatever happened to free software feminism?

Aug 23, 2016 GMT

I first wrote about sexism in free software in 2009. I was far from the first; Alex Bayley and a handful of others had been raising the issues for over a year. In fact, I had been inspired by a guest of honor speech by Angie Byron of Drupal at the Open Web Conference in Vancouver a few weeks before I wrote. It seemed something that needed talking about, and ever since, I have whenever I could. Recently, though, I have started worrying that the topic of women in free software is no longer news, any movement or activism having stalled far short of where it should be.Not that feminist causes are no longer a concern. Free software is still full of women and men who support its tenets. Small...
Why Design Matters

Aug 16, 2016 GMT

Until about 2005, Linux users were focused almost entirely on function. Considering that the operating system was trying to catch up with its proprietary rivals, that focus was only natural. However, over a decade later, many users still have some misleading ideas about design and dismiss its importance.At least four of these misleading ideas are still so common as to be almost universal in free software: #1: Design is secondaryThe first misleading idea is that design is an after-thought. If they had to choose, they would pick function over design. The trouble with this idea, however, is that it frames the relationship between function and design in either-or terms. You might as well say...
What Windows Users Don't Know

Aug 09, 2016 GMT

When I wrote manuals and on-line help, I prided myself on being able to get inside user's heads. So when my cousin recently asked if I could help her friend install Ubuntu, I was surprised at how little I anticipated about a Windows user's basic knowledge.I replied to my cousin's friend with instructions to download a Ubuntu image and burn it to CD, turn off any secure boot features, and set the machine to boot from the DVD drive. Once the installation program started, I added, it should be mostly self-explanatory, but would provide help.The next day, the reply came: "I don't have the technical acumen to do that. I have that link, and...
Six Monospaced Free-Licensed Fonts

Jul 29, 2016 GMT

Monospaced fonts are defined by having letters and spaces of equal width. Today, they are rarely used except for command lines displays and for specialized uses such as media scripts because they are associated with typewriters and are rarely as elegant as the serif and sans serif fonts that become popular with the rise of the word processor. In fact, in some cases, monospaced fonts do not have the resolution for typography. Free licensed monospaced are no exception. Still, if you search, you can almost certainly do better than the clichéd and downright ugly Courier. Bitstream Vera Sans Mono The Bitstream Vera fonts were among the first free-licensed...
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