[Ed note: I changed the title of this article from ‘Why I prefer open source software’ to ‘A few good reasons why I prefer open source software’. My boss read my posting and correctly pointed out that there are many other good reasons why someone would prefer an open source model other than just the choice/freedom point I make. In hind site I happen agree with her. Please keep that in mind when reading.]
Apparently I’m seen as a bit of an open source software advocate within my company. I admit that I can’t say I’m displeased with that description, but I caught myself asking why that is? And why am I happy as being seen as such?
Sure, I have purchased a “few” T-shirts from the Mozilla foundation and CafePress that help reinforce an indisputable image of my beliefs among colleagues, but still. Why do I prefer open source software over proprietary alternatives?
Choice and freedom
Open source software means different things to different people and there any many other good aspects of adopting an open source software strategy. However, I think one of the main reasons I like it boils down to promoting choice and freedom. In general, I don’t like being forced to do anything I don’t want to do. I like to make my own choices.
Choice is good
When developing software the goal is usually to create components that have high cohesion and low coupling. Well designed software enables you to react easily to change, and the lower the correlation between components, the easier it is to alter behavior. Choice is good, so when picking the software I want to use in my everyday life, or within the systems I want to build, I want to experience the same kind of freedom. I want the freedom to use a set of software components that match my specific needs, and not ones forced upon me because they coincidently just happen to be the ones my operating system supports. I want the freedom to replace any of these components at a later date, with better alternatives should I wish to do so, for whatever reason. And should the person, project or company, behind a particular software component on which I depend, decide to abandon support or further production then I have the freedom to carry on development on my own merit since I have the source code available. That is my prerogative. The choice is mine.
You can use the same analogy in other parts of life. If you are a car owner you wouldn’t accept having to fill petrol at only one brand of petrol station because your car happens to be incompatible with other pumps. Such a car just wouldn’t hit the market because nobody would buy it. The reason is apparent. No, you want the choice to shop for the best petrol price or just buy the first thing that comes along. You have the freedom to make that choice.
Paying for software
It’s not about price. Yes, free sounds great and it’s beneficial to have the option to try something for free instead of paying for a trial license, but in general I don’t mind paying for software and have done so many times in the past. However, I’m finished paying for things I no longer need. For example, I have followed Microsoft Windows since 1991 and have purchased licenses for Windows 3.0, Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows XP among other things. However, I can state with a high degree of certainty that Microsoft Windows XP will be the last Windows license I will ever buy. My company PC happens to use Microsoft Vista and there is absolutely nothing there that I feel I really need. 98% of my everyday needs are covered by using Kubuntu at home. Now, if only Adobe would consider open sourcing some of their products or at least offer their full portfolio on Linux…
So I guess this means I hate Microsoft? I don’t really. I dislike some of their business methods and the FUD they spread, but Microsoft is a corporation that exists to make money. That is it’s purpose – it is not a charity. Many people are unaware that when I left college my idea was to work for a company that developed Microsoft Win32 applications using C. I saw that as a great challenge and something I really wanted to do. I read many books on the subject. However, that never happened for me and I can’t say I lose sleep over it. I think I have gone on to better things, but I think it’s fair to say that I can see the view from both sides of the fence.
I don’t really dislike the Microsoft software portfolio, but I think some of the people using and promoting the software need to take a good, long look at some of the great open source alternatives available out there and assess if the proprietary software they are recommending is really worth the price. Just what is the total cost of ownership for the paying customer?
One thing that does annoy me is when people can’t distinguish between a PC, the Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft Office suite. Of course, this is more down to their own ignorance than anything Microsoft has done [can be disputed]. It’s a shame, but the market for good software alternatives has been so bad for the last 10 years or so that people have become accustomed to seeing these components packaged together that they just see them as one and the same. That’s a tough nut to crack.
The open source world is not what it once used to be. It’s still a movement, a rebellion in a way, but it is definitely growing. Open source software recently reached the boardrooms and more and more companies are reaping the benefits of developing products under an open source license. But let’s not beat about the bush. There is a lot more money involved in open source development today than ever before. Large corporations like Sun and IBM aren’t giving away software to be nice. It is clear that the mindset has changed and so have the business models.
As I said earlier, there are many other good reasons why open software is preferable. However, I can only cover so much in one posting. However, I think the steady rise of open source software is good news for developers, corporations and consumers alike. For the first time in many years they now have the freedom to choose between several viable alternatives and more and more of them seem to be breaking free of their shackles.