Matt Barton's articles

What’s a GNU/Linux distribution?

By now, almost everyone who has a computer has heard about something called “Linux”. Usually, what they hear goes something like this—“Well, Linux is free, but it’s very difficult to use. Don’t try it unless you’re a computer expert”. There is also generally talk about how “Linux” is incompatible with equipment like digital cameras, printers, and games. In short, “Linux” is generally thought to be a free but experts-only operating system. Fortunately for those of us who aren’t computer experts, almost all of these “facts” about “Linux” are completely wrong.

Needed: advice about free Content Management Systems

Greetings, everyone. I've been searching for months now for a free reliable CSS to replace the Drupal server we're currently running at Armchair Arcade. The problem is that our host, modserver, is very restrictive about how many simultaneous MYSQL connections we're allowed (25), and Drupal has been giving us fits. We really need to find a more efficient CMS, but we also need a few key features, particularly good support for images (we use lots of screenshots on our sites.) Furthermore, we need built-in support for captions for these images.

The Knights of Free Software

Lately, I've been thinking about what the free software movement is really about. Is it really just a bunch of guys who work with code, releasing it under a particular type of license? We seem to talk a great deal about "freedom" and insist that what separates free software from open source or proprietary is this philosophical, ethical, and legal insistence on total freedom for the user. All right; but is this all there is to it?

Preaching to the non-converted: FOSS and political activism

Bruce Byfield of Linux.com has a great editorial up about Why FOSS isn’t on activist agendas. Bruce points out that although FOSS enthusiasts are great at discussing their “shared values” within their own niche, they’re not very good at reaching out to the broader community—particularly folks over 40 who tend to be more active and influential in politics than the under 30 “techie” crowd:

Turnitin: Inculcating ideology, or enforcing proper attribution

A few months back on Kairosnews, we had a long discussion with Michael Bruton, a representative of Turnitin, a commercial "plagiarism detection and prevention service." In short, the question was whether it was ethical for teachers to use the service, since it involves uploading students' essays into turnitin.com's database, where they will ostensibly be encrypted and then used to guard against their being used illicitly in the future.

Ubuntu surpasses Mac OSX

I just read on the Linux Advocate that Google Trends is indicating that the Ubuntu OS has outpaced Mac OS X (as well as other free distros) by a pretty fair margin. However, as the comments on the article indicate, really this is just showing the relative number of searches for "Ubuntu" vs. "Mac OS X." Still, even if it's not an accurate indicator of how many people are installing either OS, I find it significant that a free OS would trump a powerful commercial OS like the Mac's in Google searches.

Microsoft acknowledges value of open source

Ever wonder how Microsoft feels about open source? You probably remember Gates' comparison of FOSS to communism, and how the FOSS movement was threatening to undermine the vast IP empire that America depends on to keep itself on top. Needless to say, then, I was surprised to see the following statement on one of the Visual C Express about pages: "Learn from the pros by looking through – and modifying – the source to commercial games such as Allegiance and Quake."

The price of obeying the law

One thing that separates free software enthusiasts from "pirates" is the desire to be the good guys. We may not agree with copyright law, but rather than break them, we've opted to subvert them—to use them against themselves. The result is much more freedom for the user, who's suddenly liberated in ways that she might not even appreciate or even be aware of. But what would happen in a world where every user of proprietary software was forced to obey all those EULA's to their fullest extent?

Attack of the 3D Desktop

I guess it's just natural that folks pondering the future of the GUI would turn to 3D spaces. After all, clearly 3D has played a dominant role in the most important software genre: videogames. However, past efforts towards the "3D Desktop" have seemed impractical. Nonetheless, I think BumpTop, which utilizes a tablet PC and pen tool, is on to something big. Watch the You Tube and see what you think.

Microsoft’s ME/98 patch dilemma: a golden opportunity for FOSS

A few days ago I posted about Microsoft’s efforts to curb unauthorized distribution of its products by misrepresenting a piece of malware as a “critical security update”. However, Microsoft’s also arousing ire by refusing to offer a patch to fix a critical security flaw in Windows ME and 98. In short, unless you want to risk exposing your computer to criminals, you need to either (a) pony up $100+ for XP or (b) switch to GNU.

Google's Spreadsheet

Sometimes I get the notion that everytime someone sneezes at Google, the snot shows up in 50 blogs the next day. Everyone seems to love imagining Google as the underdog in a boxing match with Microsoft, and Microsoft even seems to like playing into the role. At any rate, everyone is talking about Google's New Spreadsheet, though the reactions are somewhat mixed.

Adobe and Microsoft tussle over PDF

Well, I hate to say "I told you so", but it looks like Adobe has finally revealed that its "open" standard for PDFs was, in fact, a double standard. I've been warning colleagues for years about PDFs and urging them to avoid them in favor of a more truly "open" format, but my arguments tended to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps now that Adobe has refused to allow Microsoft to incorporate "save as PDF" into its new Office suite, I'll have an easier time of it.

Pirate Bay raided: fuels Swedish "Pirate Party"

Those familiar with the world of torrents may be disappointed today to hear that Pirate Bay has been raided by some 50 Swedish police. While it's certainly not unusual for torrent sites hosting links to copyrighted-data to get this treatment, I am a bit surprised that it would happen in Sweden, especially on this draconian of a scale. At any rate, though, apparently the news isn't totally bleak -- the Swedish Pirate Party is using the event to spur support for its movement to decrease the scope and reach of international copyright law.

Do you say "Linux" or "GNU/Linux"?

Puru Govind has posted a short article about the controversy over what to call our favorite OS: Linux or GNU/Linux.

For many of us here, this is an old controversy and a constant source of angst and frustration. I know I've given up trying to convince my friends and colleagues to use the more respectful term (GNU/Linux!). I just make sure I use it in my own speech and, if anyone asks, I'm happy to explain. I'm curious about the folks here. Do you bother to correct people who say "Linux" when referring to the OS?

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