Open Source Switch By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

Open Source Switch By Josh Blagden


A lot of Linux guys think FOSS** is all-or-nothing, that if you’re going to use FOSS at all, you have to use it exclusively. They think that you should only use FOSS software. While I understand their ideals, it's very difficult to switch because many proprietary programs and operating systems are used in businesses and schools. If you work for or with a school, a business, or a municipality, you’re going to have to use closed-source software, like Skype and Microsoft's fonts. You might even have to use Microsoft Office specifically. And if you're in tech support, you might be asked a question like "How do you copy the value of a cell instead of the formula in Excel?", a question which requires that you have a lot of experience with the program in question, which is ironic since some proponents of open-source software may very well be IT professionals, all of whom realize the importance of proprietary software. “Free Software" supporters make the mistake of thinking with their hearts instead of thinking with their heads, using emotional reasoning instead logical reasoning.


It seems like the main proponents of open-source software are programmers, which is ironic considering that they usually have to work for a company which makes proprietary software, so they can spend their free time creating open-source software because it's really hard to get paid to write open-source software. It's much easier for programmers to only use FOSS because they generally don't need to use the same software that others need, like AutoCAD and Adobe Photoshop. Many proprietary programs are standard in industry, and you’re probably not going to find an organization that uses open source software, in whole or in part. This is partially due to the issue of tech support -  when you have a program or an OS which is an industry standard, you're more likely to find a tech support guy who can help users with it. For example, it's a lot easier to find someone who can help users with Microsoft Office than LibreOffice. Another issue is that in the world of open-source, it often happens that there's no commonly-used program for a specific task. for example, in industry, Adobe Premier and Apple Final Cut are the standard, while there are at least three different video editors. Another example is that in industry, the standard photo editor is Photoshop, while in the open source world, you have Gimp, Krita, Paint.Net, Cinepaint, and Pixia. With open-source, there's really not standardization of programs where nearly everyone uses the same program for a particular type of work, which makes tech support much more difficult because then you have to be familiar with all of the programs of a particular type, or at least the most common ones.


The only way you're going to get people who aren't isolated developers to switch to open-source software either entirely or in part, is to a) improve the software enough so it can really compete with commercial software, b) make good alternatives for most or all industry standard programs, c) Make the transition as easy as possible, including supporting file formats used by proprietary software - no one wants to switch to a new system if they can't take their  data with them -  and d) find an way of convincing everyone to switch to open-source software. Also, the switch has to be near-simultaneous so FOSS users won't have compatibility problems with folks who haven't switched yet. 


The problem with the Free Software movement is that it focuses too much on its own ideology rather than functionality. Supporters of the Free Software movement are more interested in the concept of everyone using ditching proprietary software for open source software instead of trying to figure out how to get the average Joe to switch to FOSS. They don't realize that most folks aren't going to switch unless they see a really good reason to do so. That's why I prefer the Open-Source software movement - it's a lot more practical - it's supporters realize that it is often necessary to use proprietary software, and that while it would be nice to have the whole world using FOSS, that's not something which is likely to be accomplished. If a mass switch to FOSS is ever accomplished, it will take a long time and a lot of work. Also, the problem with the entire world using open-source software is that it would put a lot of companies out of business. Sure, there are ways for people to make money from “free" software, but it's a lot harder , and it's very unattractive to software giants like Adobe, Microsoft, and Apple.


When a program is an industry standard, it's very hard to uproot. One of the only ways to make a mass switch to FOSS possible is to split up the companies which are making the industry-standard software, which is unlikely to occur since the anti-trust laws have not been used to split up a company in many years. The only other way I can think of is for congress - as well as legislative bodies of other countries -  to pass a law which requires that the source code for all software be publicly available, which again raises the question: How are you going to make it happen? The means of implementation far outweighs the end goal of the whole world exclusively using FOSS. In other words, instead of focusing on how cool or how good it would be to have everyone using open-source software, you must focus on how you're going to make that happen, and you must be realistic. This is why President Trump is filling many government positions with captains of industry - because they're interested in facts, not ideology. Ideologues like Richard Stallman make the mistake of thinking with their hearts instead of with their heads, and consequently have emotionally-clouded judgement, causing them to think up (and implement) preposterous strategies which are doomed to fail. Their extreme zeal for their cause blinds them from reality and causes them to miss key details of implementation.


It's practically impossible to use only "free" software unless you're a software developer who only works with other software developers. Most folks use Microsoft Office, so you have to be able to use Microsoft fonts and formats. Many people use Photoshop, so you should be able to work with Photoshop documents. Hardly anyone uses open-source codecs (i.e. OGG, WebM), so you have to be able to play files which are encoded in a proprietary format (i.e MP4). Only Linux users would even think to use an open-source instant messenger or an open-source video chat program, so you need to at least have Skype installed on your computer.


While I agree that it would be best for the world to only use "free" software, I know that's not possible at the moment, and it probably will never be possible. The advantages of free software are really nice, but that's not enough. You need to be able to convince enough people to switch, and make the switch as easy as possible for them. But the question is: How to you do that?


Now, I don’t know how to convince people to switch to FOSS. But what I do know is that people aren’t going to switch just because you told them about the benefits of FOSS. Even if a person does switch to FOSS, it’s going to take time, effort, and cooperation. By cooperation, I mean that everyone they know and work with would have to be using FOSS, in order for the person to switch over completely. That’s the only way a person could completely switch to FOSS. And even then, they might still need to have a Windows PC lying around just in case they need to use a proprietary program. That’s why when Rusty Russell was asked about his prediction about 50% of all computers running Linux (timecode 21:36), he said “50% of my computers are running Linux”, meaning he still has to run Windows or Mac OS X to be able to use proprietary software which is not available for Linux either because there aren’t enough Linux users or because there aren’t enough Linux users who would be interested in a particular program. 






** I’m using the abbreviation FOSS (Free Open Source Software) to avoid controversy. In my mind, “free softw”are and  open-source software are the same thing. But to Richard Stallman and his followers, open-source differs philosophically in that the free software movement is all-or-nothing while the open-source movement is more practical and slower, taking the time to convince companies to open-source their software, while also tolerating the existence and use of proprietary software. When you separate the followers from the concept, the goal is having open-source software, which can be read by anyone, which would free many from the injustices caused by the proprietary software companies.  


© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015