Some people are more than familiar with the term “open-source”. Those that are not can briefly look here.
What many people do not seem to realise is that open-source software is actually a movement, hence the “open-source movement”. This is very much akin to a political movement. The roots of this political movement are earthed in anti-capitalism and anti-consumerism. If you have not already realised, you will understand by the end of this article exactly why the open-source movement has already proven itself to be the way forward for a positive, relaxed and productive society.
Many people, particularly those in business, might be thinking this: if money is no object, why abandon “more professional” commercial software in favour of “amateurish” open-source programs? My answer to this question is best summed up by this infamous YouTube video. Have the “prison walls” put in place by commercial software (I’m talking to you Apple users especially) ever led you to mimic the stressed office worker in that video? All of that stress goes away when using open-source software. The reason is simply that open-source software has no hidden agenda. It is made and improved by users, for users. It has no prison walls, nor any need for them. At some point, almost everyone has been vexed over a copy protection scheme that seemed such a long-winded and unnecessary endeavour (such as the machine ID, key and response code scheme employed by certain audio software developers). The open-source movement has none of that.
Commercial software is crippled. It is crippled by the paranoia of its developers (which, I might add, simply encourages crackers more). It is also crippled by the working ethic so many commercial developers adopt. Essentially, it would seem commercial developers believe that users do not, or can not, know what they want. Commercial developers might argue that a user can not know what he/she wants if the technology is not there yet, and it is only after the technology has been created that a user’s imagination can flourish. To me, this sounds very much like an arrogant act of impudence towards users — effectively, customers. This is the reason why updates are so few and far between from commercial software. Often, when new updates do arrive, they do not address issues raised by users since the previous version and even more often do not resolve bugs in the software. The open-source movement, on the other hand, is driven by its users (despite them not being customers, per sé) and gives users what they want/need with as little stress in use as possible. Bugs and problems are fixed much quicker in the open-source world than in the commercial world since commercial developers need to wait until there is a trendy “go faster stripes” gimmick feature added which will boost the saleability of the new version of the software, whether users (customers) requested it or not. Personally, I believe the building of gimmicks on a foundation that still has bugs and other problems is an utterly fatuous exercise in capitalist ignorance. I have friends and acquaintances who have abandoned commercial software in favour of the open-source movement who one-hundred percent agree with me. If you wish to join those acquaintances and voice your agreement, please comment at the bottom of this article.
I already mentioned that open-source software is not just about software, it is a movement like a political or social movement. The commercial software developers are naturally threatened by this movement, yet continue to steal ideas from its advances. To prevent such theft is against the nature of the open-source movement, an earmark which could spell its demise as large companies like Microsoft questionably attempt to mould the US legal system regarding software patents (see this article) to discredit and destroy the open-source movement it has, in essence, been stealing from. So far, the courts have adopted a conservative viewpoint and seem much in favour of the open-source movement. Personally, I am convinced that the only reason Microsoft were not punished more harshly for their claims is because to dissolve a company like Microsoft would result in the money from the assets going to the US government. If that happens, the smoke of a thousand riots will be seen from Canada — the demands of the American people as to how the money should be spent would fall on deaf ears for sure.
Defensive attacks on the open-source movement aside, looking at some of the excellent open-source software out there it is clear that almost all of this software is as advanced, some even more advanced, than their commercial counterparts. For example, I do not use Adobe Photoshop. I prefer to use The GiMP. It has most of Photoshop‘s features built in with many more features in the form of third-party plugins and extras. It now has native support for Python as well as its own Script-Fu language. It does not have the prison walls of Photoshop, though, be they copy protection schemes or just forced software limitations.
Another example of great open-source software is OpenOffice.org. It perfectly replaces Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc (ie Microsoft Office) and even opens documents from those programs. It does not, however, have any of the little features or bugs that irritate me, particularly with Microsoft Word and its frankly useless help character (the paper-clip etc) that can never truly be disabled. For me, that paper-clip always returns while I am typing and I end up typing in the help search bubble that appears — this bug has been present in several versions of Microsoft Word. I am not sure if it has ever been fixed, which makes it a fine example of why everyone should go open-source.
Lastly on the brief list of open-source software worth mentioning is Linux (see the exhaustive Wikipedia entry on its history) and all its derivatives. Linux is, essentially, the open-source release of the Unix operating system. It has evolved since its conception in 1991 to many human-usable derivatives and even more server-intended derivatives. Numerous derivatives of Linux come in a variety of “flavours”, or editions. Ubuntu is increasingly popular for home PCs as an alternative to Microsoft Windows. Ubuntu comes in various flavours, including UbuntuStudio, Kubuntu and Edubuntu. Other popular Linux derivatives include Fedora (previously RedHat), Debian and Gentoo. It is nothing short of astonishing what has been achieved since 1991 and just how widely Linux has spread and evolved. Driven by users, its evolution has walked two paths: one, a path towards human intuition and usability, the other a move towards speed and reliability in maintaining a network or internet server.
However, there has been a third path walked by Linux since 1991. Apple’s OS X operating system, common in newer Macs, is based on Unix and could be considered to stem from the same source as the various modern incarnations of Linux. Therefore, it is interesting to compare the result of commercialisation, OS X, to Linux, a result of the anti-consumerist sentiments of the open-source movement. My experience with Macs (and all things Apple) is a fairly negative one. I appreciate there are happy Mac users out there, but most of the ones I encounter do not seem savvy enough to be concerned with what is “under the bonnet”, nor savvy enough to really extensively use the machine. I, on the other hand, am savvy enough. It does not take me long to crash a Mac machine. If it can go long enough without crashing, I find bugs with OS X or just those prison walls I keep mentioning; that point where the software prevents you from doing the thing you want to do — usually for commercial reasons (“sorry, that will cost extra”). The cost may not be a great concern of mine, but the frustration and wasted time caused by these crippling prison walls is a concern, especially when their numbers are so great. I have been using Ubuntu for roughly eighteen months now (at time of writing). I will not attempt to wax lyrical about everything that is great about Ubuntu, but readers can take my word for it when I say, compared to OS X, it is a whole other world — one without those prison walls, without the stress of being slowed down by obstacles and crashes preventing you from reaching your goals. Similar can be said of entire open-source movement.
Naturally, the open-source movement is not just limited to software. It spreads to document formats and data file types. For example, the human-editable/readable XML-based OASIS OpenDocument Format or the migration of the TrueType font standard to OpenType, a standard now maintained by the ISO. The open-source movement even applies to video footage and audio (see archive.org).
Recently, Microsoft have been running an advertisement campaign with the slogan “life without walls“. It is ironic that when compared to the truly “wall-less” life lived when using open-source software, Microsoft Windows is far from describable as “life without walls”. Instead, the slogan “life without walls” is maximally appropriate for the open-source movement as a whole.
The mission of the open-source movement has proven to be to liberate the world from stress, from unnecessary hindrances in working life, business, art and so on and to slay the paranoia of the west in a way that seems to move towards a median between capitalism and communism. Did communists start this movement? I do not believe so, in fact it seems Americans first really kicked off the movement as it stands today by releasing the Linux source code. Could this suggest that for all its arrogance, the west actually would prefer a happy medium between itself and communism? Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe time will tell.
I only hope this article encourages more people to abandon their money-grabbing commercial software in hope of achieving this potential utopia.