Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Free and Loving It

I have a soft spot for Open Source Software. When I compare two software products, I will almost always lean towards the Open Source alternative, if it can accomplish my task with some amount of pleasure.

Just tonight, I was working with Open Office with my fiancée. We ran into several kinks along the way, ultimately costing us the night. We couldn't finish our task, though I mostly blame my procrastination.

In particular, we were trying to print out some labels, given a spreadsheet of addresses. I had no problem finding howtos and working through the problem. However, we ran into small problems here and there. For example, I couldn't create a database out of a spreadsheet right away because Ubuntu didn't package the Database portion of Open Office along with the rest. I then innocuously named our database SomeName_12.1.2009. When trying to print, this ended with an error that it couldn't connect to the database. Renaming the database to SomeName_12_1_2009 solved the problem. Something we could figure out easily enough, but not something I would expect an average user to think of (nor do I think they should have to think of it). She became frustrated, rightfully so, and ultimately exclaimed that she's going back to Windows (for her Office needs).

At this point, it dawned on me that I don't mind giving Open Source the benefit of the doubt. The hacker in me enjoys figuring out how to work with the software (as long as what I want to do is possible, and reasonably easy). The hacker in me also appreciates that the project was built by people that are likely much more passionate about writing software, and much more passionate about getting something useful to people (instead of making a bunch of money). This is not to say there aren't people in the proprietary world that love software and want to deliver awesome stuff to people, but I just can't identify with that crowd of enthusiastic developers as much.

This is also why I foam at the mouth when I read comments like Jeff Atwood's:

as predicted, Google's "let's copy how Microsoft does phones, but open source!" model is a fail: http://is.gd/589U8


I've read the article he links to, and I consider it complete bullshit. I have a G1, and I love it. I have played with the Droid, and I drool over it. I know several people that have one (or some other Android powered phone), none are unhappy about the pick. Jason Calacanis of This Week in Startups (among many other things) has commented on his show that he loves his new Droid. Browsing some of the comments on that negative post, I see several that point to rogue processes as the likely culprit of the device slowdown discussed in the article. I've found this to be true of my G1. Sometimes I will discover my battery drained much faster with little reason during the day, or it will become extremely sluggish. Both cases I've had more than enough reason to believe it was a rogue process from something I had installed. With greater power comes greater responsibility.

In the Linux side of things, I have become far too attached to Emacs and the powerful command line based applications that I would never willingly go back to a Microsoft prompt. The Free world gets me, and I get them. I tend to believe in live and let live sort of philosophies, which has no room for restrictive licenses and the likes of DRM. Software patents scare me because I want to be able to develop anything I want, without having to worry that someone else may have already thought of the idea and patented it. I also don't care if someone takes my ideas and tries to make them better. I may be a bit envious, but I firmly believe the meat of a product is in the execution, not the imagination. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but passion for your users and the desire to develop something of quality and value is truly rare.

I don't understand the Microsoft world, and I don't want to. Which world do you identify with, and why?

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