Sign-off : The very definition of irony

peteWalking down the road to the shops the other day I started thinking about the differences between the Open Source movement and the proprietary model.  In recent years it really has seemed to be a battle.  The tiny, yet still significant faction of the Open Source movement, against the large corporation that is Microsoft.

Funnily enough, on closer reflection it really is like a small group of mercenaries trying to take down a large organisation because of what they believe in, because of what is right.  I’m not saying that this is the right view, but no one can deny that both parties are fighting for the same thing.  Adoption.

“there are some pieces of free software that are not quite as robust…….I have seen equally as many pieces of proprietary tat„

You can’t really deny that.  No one writes a piece of software so that it won’t get used.  No, the onus is always that the piece of software brings something new, unique, better to the market.  The thing that got me thinking more than anything is the entirely ironic nature of this.  The Open Source community is fighting for adoption, yet what are they asking for from their user base.  Money?  No.  Feedback?  Sometimes.  Yet realistically, the Open Source demands nothing from the userbase.

Now lets look at the flip side.  Microsoft and other commercial entities are requiring money to use, that’s right we’re not getting access to any source code here. They are requiring money just to use their product.  The end user usually obtains no rights to any source code, including, but not limited to, duplication, modification, or anything other than just using the software.  In some cases these companies also require other ludicrous client access licenses just for interoperability with existing installations.  These really get my goat, but I’ll groan about these at another time.

My point is that you’d expect that for the right to copy, modify and distribute a piece of software you’d pay far more than simply purchasing a license to use the damn thing.  The truth however is far from this, and it is this ironic nature that made me chuckle to myself as I walked to the shops.

“they walk away, generally mumbling something about us smoking crack, or living in a fairy land„

Why then do we find it so difficult to get people to try and to accept Open Source.  We bring them a piece of software and say, “Here, have this.  It’s free.  You can copy it.  You can give it away.  You can modify it.”  Then they say, “How much does it cost?”  We say “Nothing” and they walk away, generally mumbling something about us smoking crack, or living in a fairy land.  We’ve even seen stories about people thinking that we are actually in the wrong, that it is we who are the pirates, because of course nothing can ever be given away for free, can it?

I’m expecting there are a large number of people screaming “Quality, quality, quality” At which point I would ask you to kindly step down off the soap box and let me finish. Whilst I agree that there are some pieces of free software that are not quite as robust as their proprietary counterparts, look at Firefox, OpenOffice and Blender. To counter the quality argument, I have seen equally as many pieces of proprietary tat that are being sold by both small and large companies alike as I have badly written Open Source applications.

I guess the truth is we live in such a world now where it seems that nothing is ever given away for free and people who do are seen as crazy fools who have obviously got something wrong in their heads.  Volunteer work for charity is one thing, but people actually working, coding for free?  They must have a screw loose.  I’ve faced it several times, very good friends of mine have turned round and called me stupid for spending time working on the Ubuntu project.  “Why don’t you make money from it?”  Why not?  Because for me anyway, that’s not what it’s all about, and in fact to me, that’s where the industry and society in general has gone wrong.  People are willing to do things for free, for a variety of reasons; learning, helping, even just that feel good factor.  It’s time we started taking this message to people.  “Free doesn’t mean bad necessarily, maybe it just means different.”

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  1. April 17th, 2009

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