[Geek-post] Why I choose open source

I’m currently using an awful lot of software and getting to the stage where I’m having to develop my own.  For this reason I thought I’d keep a little track of what I’m using and why. I’m in the process of moving all of my computers across to Ubuntu for a number of reasons.  Really the tipping point came one day when Windows 7 (the uncrashable) blue screened on me one too many times.  Now I’m perfectly happy with my gaming machine to use Windows and crash occasionally.  This is because by and large (despite Wine trying hard) you can really only game in Windows, and that’s largely due to it being the largest market.  This combined with the fact that the machine barely ever has the sides on means that a crash or two is unavoidable.  However, this my work PC, the PC that has its core programs, talks to the internet and that’s it.

So, what with my work requiring a lot of linux, I had the thing set up with virtual linux machines anyway I’d just never much had the time or inclination to go the whole hog and convert. At the end of last week I decided to convert my work machine to a dual boot machine.  After struggling to get Fedora to set its installation up on a pen-stick (I liked the idea of being supported by RedHat), Ubuntu (renowned for its user friendliness and compatibility) it was.

After a seamless installation I jumped straight into it, and wasnt disappointed.  In fact I was playing with it for 2 days before I even realized that I’d set up the boot loader wrong and it wouldn’t actually boot Windows at all.

Whilst this is a relatively minor problem and could be easily fixed, I’m now actually struggling to think of a reason why I’d want to.  From Ubuntu I can see all of my windows files and access them, so there’s no problem there. And I find myself actually in a much better position than I was in.  Everything that I used to do, I can do quicker and cheaper than in Windows and often much prettier.

This really feeds into my socialist belief that, for something to really progress it requires co-operation; and as time has gone by and all of the less complicated discoveries have been uncovered that only leaves the complexities.  And I believe that software should be much like science in that the whole community should work toward making the best, most complete solution for everyone.  Furthermore I believe that if something goes wrong, then anyone (with admittedly some level of knowledge in the matter) should be able to find out what is going wrong and attempt a solution.

People shouldn’t be discriminated against, or just kept in the dark for no reason.  How many times has Windows crashed on you and its then asked if you’d like to submit an error report.  When clicking yes you get a little animation implying something might be happening and that’s it.  The Apple website has a submission area where you enter any faults, problems or even suggestions.  To that you only get a “Continue” button.  I didnt even get a confirmation email for all my iPhone woes.

So, now I find myself using open source for almost everything.  And the more I use it, the more I like it, the more I investigate and the more I understand about how software actually works.

At the end of the day, I like control.  I like to be in control of my devices. And it’s for exactly this reason I have an Android phone (and not some Apple controlled fenced garden), a Linux operating system, Open Office (for the few times I require office applications these days), Firefox web browsing, Thunderbird email, etc, etc

I appreciate that paid software has a place in this world.  Millions of people use it everyday without even thinking.  Something Microsoft has gotten very rich off (not bad when they didnt really write any of it themselves). But when it goes wrong, you’re stuck and you have to wait for a patch.

I love Corel Draw, I grew up with it as my drawing program of choice.  But the new version is £750! Whereas, yesterday I downloaded Inkscape from the Ubuntu software centre for free and in 4 minutes I was drawing like I’d used it as if it was the new Corel update and I’d been using it for years. And I’m sure many people feel the same with Photoshop and GIMP, but unless you are a professional design photographer I doubt you use 10% of photoshop.

For that matter I doubt anyone uses more than 10% of Word. Microsoft know this. Their response to continue making money, is to change all of the menus and change the document format so that nothing’s compatible anymore. Is that really in the interest of the user?


This page previously appeared on morganbye.net[^1][^2]

[^1:] http://morganbye.net/2010/07/geek-post-why-i-choose-open-source) [^2:] http://morganbye.net/uncategorized/2010/07/geek-post-why-i-choose-open-source

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Lecturing eh?

What distinguishes you from other developers?

I've built data pipelines across 3 continents at petabyte scales, for over 15 years. But the data doesn't matter if we don't solve the human problems first - an AI solution that nobody uses is worthless.

Are the robots going to kill us all?

Not any time soon. At least not in the way that you've got imagined thanks to the Terminator movies. Sure somebody with a DARPA grant is always going to strap a knife/gun/flamethrower on the side of a robot - but just like in Dr.Who - right now, that robot will struggle to even get out of the room, let alone up some stairs.

But AI is going to steal my job, right?

A year ago, the whole world was convinced that AI was going to steal their job. Now, the reality is that most people are thinking 'I wish this POC at work would go a bit faster to scan these PDFs'.

When am I going to get my self-driving car?

Humans are complicated. If we invented driving today - there's NO WAY IN HELL we'd let humans do it. They get distracted. They text their friends. They drink. They make mistakes. But the reality is, all of our streets, cities (and even legal systems) have been built around these limitations. It would be surprisingly easy to build self-driving cars if there were no humans on the road. But today no one wants to take liability. If a self-driving company kills someone, who's responsible? The manufacturer? The insurance company? The software developer?