You still have choice to consider Free and Open Source Software

December 30, 2006

All I’m going to say here represents my own opinion which I would like to share with friends and IT enthusiasts.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on my own for the last two years; in which I’ve read many articles, studies, comments and people opinions about Microsoft softwares and practices and Free and Open Source Softwares and practices too.

What I’ve come to, can be presented in a sort of questions and answers.

First, I let’s ask these two simple questions.

Q: What does Microsoft mean to the simple man in the street?

A: The answer is simply nothing, what most people care about is that they need a computer with a working system to do their work, listen to music, share photos, print, web browsing and enjoy playing a game from time to time.

Q: What does Microsoft mean to an enterprise ?

A: An operating system (some may prefer the word platform) in which they run the software they rely on.

In both answers the word “system” is the keyword.

Now, what an operating system must to offer is Reliability and Usability.

  • Reliability here can be synonym to stability, security, availability and sustainability.
  • Usability here can be synonym to hardware support, multimedia, entertainment support and ease of use.

Now, if there is a new version of that operating system that will come out, what should it offer ?

The answer is modern ways of reliability and usability in addition to backward compatibility.

Easy, isn’t it?

Let’s apply this on Microsoft operating system and see what we get.

Q: Is any of Microsoft Windows versions reliable ?

A: After 21 years of constant development the answer is simply Not Yet!

Q: Is any of Microsoft Windows versions usable?

A: Yes and No, it offers only basic usability, it still lacks simplicity and ease of use.

Q: Is any of Microsoft Windows versions is Backward compatible?

A: Yes and No, Windows is backward compatible only to the things that suit Microsoft’s own interests.

It’s easy for anyone to identify these issues in any of Microsoft Windows versions.

Q: But if Microsoft Windows is still lacking what it ought to have long ago, then why people are still sticking to it ?

A: Because it the ecosystem around Windows that matters not Windows itself, and by this we mean

  • The software you use when you want to write a document, mix your collection of music, develop your own software, browse the web and enjoying it rich content, and editing photos.

  • The hardware you use to print, burn CDs, enjoy listening to High Definition audio and video, etc.

Q: But why Microsoft didn’t address these issues ?

A: In fact, Microsoft addresses this issues when it wants to, not when you want to. Why ? Because Microsoft holds nearly the entire desktop market which of course helps it to dictates its own rules form restrictive licenses, ignoring open standards,  to Microsoft’s favorite game, FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) to condition the market to its liking and drive completion out.

Q: Well, if what you said is true then the future may hold some bad moves from Microsoft towards it own customers?

A: The answer is already yes, if you closely watch Microsoft moves you will realize that this is happening today. For instance, look at Microsoft latest version of Windows, Vista. Microsoft succeeded to release a crippled version of the former Windows Longhorn and Windows XP Reloaded. Microsoft has simply omitted every most requested feature they promised long ago to ship in their next version of Windows in one hand; and on the other, they added annoying and restrictive licenses schemes, DRM & TPM which are simply designed to tell you want you can do and what you cannot, and also unjustifiable hardware requirements or hardware support issues.

Now, you’re going to ask me :

Q: look, all I want is to have a working computer. I don’t want to do politics. So, what are you trying to tell me ?

A: I want the same, I just want things to work as I expect, but I’m afraid that’s not going to be the case anymore because Microsoft plans are not clear and their actual business practices are scary.

So, this pushed me to consider a solution or a fall-back plan.

Looking for a solution wasn’t an easy task, however in doing so I come to the understanding that there are in fact many solution that may suit different needs.

The first thing that came to my mind when I was looking for a solution is Apple and their operating system called Mac OS X. Although their Operating system has the reliability and usability we are looking for, one problem remains. its cost.

In order to use Mac OS you need to purchase an Apple Computer and make sure that softwares you use exist on Mac OS X. Apple and Mac OS X remain as the last choice.

Thereafter, another solution came out, which is why not using GNU/Linux ?

Today in terms of reliability and usability, Linux on the desktop can satisfy the needs of many but it still has room for improvements. However, what makes GNU/Linux an attractive choice is that it is not held or controlled by a single company, instead ten of thousands of programmers are collaborating together to improve it. Which means there is more chance to get people exchange ideas, improve functionality, and address security and stability issues quicker than any given single company. Besides, its open nature allows everyone to customize it to suit almost any type of need. This is why there are many GNU/Linux distributions which you can choose from. Moreover, in terms of price it may cost you from nothing to a fraction of what you used to pay for other operating systems. And most importantly, it will run perfectly on same hardware you already own.

Q: Wait a minute, if what you’ve said is true then why haven’t I heard about GNU/Linux before ?

A: For many reasons, first of all Windows come bundled with every new computer; And since there’s no single company backing GNU/Linux, it receive from little to no marketing. Also, some people are afraid of change or don’t want to be in situation where they can’t be helped by their friends. Finally, there are still many hardware and software companies that refuse to collaborate with GNU/Linux community because they’re afraid to lose their market advantage to competitors due to the open and transparent nature of GNU/Linux community.

Q: Well, I think the road to Linux requires some sacrifices?

A: Yes and No. Most of the time GNU/Linux Distributions can recognize your hardware and provide you with the software you need. Only a few people are not so lucky because they either purchased hardware, or bought software that its vendor/developer refuse to support under GNU/Linux.

However, there is exist another scenario which is the open nature (availability of source code) of Free/Libre and Open Source Software help it to be port to other platforms such Windows.

Q: OK I’ve got it, You mean I can use FLOSS on Windows ?

A: Yes, many Free and Open Source software run natively under Windows such as Mozilla’s web browser Firefox, or Sun’s productivty suite OpenOffice.org and GIMP the photo Editor.

Q: but what do I benefit from using FLOSS, I think you’ve just made my life more complicated ?

A: Not that much 🙂 , there are two type of benefits, immediate benefits and long term benefits.

  • The immediate one is that FLOSS are most of the time free and cost nothing. They are inherently more secure because they are developed by many people and who can fix problems quicker. Also, they respect open standards which provides an assurance against any type of vendor lock-in.
  • The long term benefits are the ease of transition to any future platform you may move to; for instance like GNU/Linux. Also, with FLOSS there is no mandatory upgrades, forced contracts to extended support. And you don’t have to worry about your vendor bad business practices.

Now it’s time to sum up, if you feel you are not comfortable with Microsoft business practices today and in the future then you should know that you are lucky because right now you have choices, you can either

  • Use Free and Open Source Software like Firefox or OpenOffice.org for your home computer or your small business which will help you reduce costs and achieve more reliability.
  • Consider using Apple computers and their reliable Mac OS X
  • Or simply give some GNU/Linux Distributions (Ubuntu or PCLinuxOS for example) a try and see what all the hype is about.
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2 Responses to “You still have choice to consider Free and Open Source Software”

  1. christooss Says:

    Very nice post

    Happy new year Samesi


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