Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Transferring Email, Addresses, and Calendars

May 08, 2009 GMT

These days, you would think that transferring your personal data -- email, address books and calendars -- between applications would be a matter of a few mouse clicks. And, occasionally, it is. More often, however, transferring your data between Kontact/KMail, Evolution, and Mozilla (Thunderbird and Sunbird) is an unsystematic affair, with too many steps and kludges. No matter which of these applications you are transferring from and which you are moving to, you need to expect the unexpected. From Evolution I first discovered what a ramshackle affair moving personal data can be a few weeks ago, when I switched from GNOME to KDE for my main desktop (no great statement there; Debian...
Who needs software as a service?

Apr 28, 2009 GMT

Yesterday, Slashdot posted a link to an interview with Richard Stallman. It was a general interview, in which he explained his views on a number of free software issues. However, for some reason, Slashdot chose to focus on his views about software as a service. The reason for this emphasis is unclear, since Stallman said nothing new, and the passage in which he talks as software as a service is only a small and unremarkable part of an unremarkable interview. However, while reading the responses to the link, I found myself wondering, as I often do, why people bother with software as a service when they could use free software instead. Stallman, as you might expect, emphasized freedom:...
The Calgary Open Source Symposium Festival (COSSFest, 2009)

Apr 21, 2009 GMT

I long ago outgrew large conventions like LinuxWorld. They have become places for business with only token corners for community, and you can never find the people you want to meet unless you make careful arrangements beforehand. I much prefer smaller events like LinuxFest Northwest in Bellingham, Washington, or Open Web Vancouver, where you have a better chance of striking up a conversation, and talks have a way of spilling out in the hallway (where the really interesting parts tend to take place). That's one of the reasons that I jumped at the invitation to go to COSSFest (the Calgary Open Source Systems Festival) last weekend. Well, that, and the fact that I had never been to Calgary....
The Linux Foundation Video Contest: An Experiment That Failed

Apr 15, 2009 GMT

From the start, I viewed the Linux Foundation's contest to create an ad for GNU/Linux with apprehension. In theory, I can see where promotional material for free software is needed to help explain it to the average computer user. However, as someone who has deliberately developed his own mental version of ad-blocker, I find that the idea makes me uneasy. Today, advertising is one of the major repositories for visual cliche in our culture. Could the contest entries move beyond the usual cliches? More importantly, could they manage the difficult job of explaining free software in basic terms? Unfortunately, after looking at the winners and many of the other entries, I conclude that they...
Shutter: Finally, a screen capture utility worth having

Apr 08, 2009 GMT

Whether you write documentation or simply want to add pictures to your blog, a screen capture program is an essential desktop utility. The trouble is, none of the standard options is very satisfactory. While both gnome-screenshot and ksnapshot are minimalist programs with few options, the GIMP is overkill for editing, and its capture tool has the annoying habit of closing after every shot. Finally, though, GNU/Linux has a capture tool between these extremes in the form of Shutter (formerly GScrot). Better yet, although only at version 0.70.2, Shutter already has a selection of tools that is exactly what those who take screen shots are likely to need. Shutter is developed by a small team...
Review: FLOSS Manuals' Introduction to the Command Line

Mar 29, 2009 GMT

As a full-time writer, I'm skeptical of collaboration. I have collaborated, with varying degrees of success, but the process has always seemed too time-consuming to justify the results. Still, having just submitted my first command line column for Linux Pro Magazine, I was curious to see the results of the FLOSS Manuals' sprint to produce a book entitled during last week at the Free Software Foundation's (FSF's) LibrePlanet conference. And, having done so, I think I'll have to reconsider my position on writing collaborations. While the result of the sprint is not perfect, it is certainly no worse than many books written by a single writer. LibrePlanet is the collection of speeches and...
Linux Syndicate Launches

Mar 18, 2009 GMT

Like many people, I start most mornings by visiting sites devoted to free and open source software (FOSS). Even though I often weed my list, I still look at several dozen on any given day, so I appreciate aggregator sites that collect URLs and save me time. That's why I appreciate the launching of Linux Syndicate, a new site run by David Graham, a former colleague of mine at The site has only been active a few days, and Graham is still tweaking it, but already it promises to be one of the most complete FOSS aggregators. Graham has been a GNU/Linux user since 1995, and a Debian user since 1998. He is a co-founder of the Open and Free Technology Community, an organization...
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