Where FOSS Fails…

December 18, 2013

There are many instances in computing when the Free and Open Source methodology does not work. We live in a Capitalist society where software is just another product, a livelihood for a growing sector of the job market. I wish we lived in a world where everything was free, but paying rent is a thing, so I feel that a person has the right to make software proprietary.

By the same token, software patents are terrible. If someone can figure out how to make their program do what another does, as long as the code wasn’t stolen, so what? That’s natural, free market competition.

The worrying part of proprietary software is that it can have hidden features or code that some might consider malware. Code that “phones home” to a central server, or code that records information about you without your consent. Unfortunately, almost all BIOS software and drivers are closed-source. Protecting the intellectual property of a technology company is important (because as a software company, IP is your bread and butter), but I wish that companies were more eager to release drivers as open-source. Linux is great for just about everything except as a general purpose desktop, for namely three reasons:

  1. Linux has a lack of hardware drivers. While a lot better than in the past, expected features like GPU acceleration and WiFi may or may not work as easily on Windows. Sometimes not at all.
  2. The lack of available proprietary software. Again, this is improving, partially because Wine has gotten much better over the years. But again, whether the program will work can depend on its age, complexity, and popularity.
  3. Another system to learn. Today, people are bombarded with interfaces. Computers, smartphones, game consoles, ATMs, cars, and a growing number of other devices all have interfaces that people must memorize and understand. Because of this, the user must have a compelling reason to learn another interface. If the system can’t do what the user is accustomed to and they have to learn another interface, why would they bother?

I’d like to postface that by saying that I believe in the power of Linux. I’d never dream of running Windows on a web server (save for C#/.NET MVC apps, which can be really nice). Android, which is powered by the Linux kernel, is damned fine. But because of the longstanding allegiances to Windows and OSX that consumers have and the higher difficulty of use/install, Linux cannot succeed on the desktop.

Continued in Part 2.

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