I’ve been an advocate for free software ever since I started using it in 1999 (or was it 1998?). Some who know me would probably say that I’m an anti-Microsoft, pro Free software zealot. Maybe that’s true.
The way I see it, there are three camps. Those who think that open source software is good and so choose to use it; those who think that all software should be free (libre) and that proprietary software is evil; and, those who hate Microsoft and will use anything but.
I want to be in the first camp.
However, it’s true that I also want to convert people to free software. I do. Sorry about that. I want to get people off Windows and Mac and whatever else they are running and onto a free system like Linux. I want others to join me, because I think it’s the better way. Who am I though, to suggest what’s best for someone else?
I don’t like the fact that our Government is a Microsoft shop and spends half a billion dollars on proprietary software licenses a year. Likewise the fact that they create all their data in closed proprietary data formats which I have to try and make available years down the road (as a part of my day job). I wish that people could use an operating system of their choice at work, instead of being forced to use Windows.
Most importantly, I wish that people had choice when it comes to buying a new machine and generally I wish that Microsoft didn’t have their monopoly (can anyone argue that it’s actually been good for the industry as a whole? I think it’s a stretch to say that we wouldn’t have cheap hardware without Microsoft).
Recently, Internode (my much beloved ISP) dumped free software and instead rolled out Microsoft Exchange for mail, calendaring, etc. CEO Simon Hackett outlined his reasons for the migration and it’s a compelling argument.
We’ve been trying to get a working, open source based, cross platform calendaring system happening at Internode for years and years.
And we’ve never managed it.
OK, so that does read a lot like a Microsoft PR statement, but if Internode can’t get it right what hope does the rest of the world have?
I remember a prominent free software developer (someone whom I respect greatly) saying to me something along the lines of (and I’m paraphrasing here):
Just because something is open source, doesn’t make it better. Use the best tool for the job, even if it’s proprietary and closed source.
Is that true? If so, then why do I persist with various free software projects which are inferior to their proprietary counterparts?
I guess that it really comes down to your definition of “best” tool for the job. If your set of criteria for best tool does not exclude costly licensing fees, then a closed source solution be the best for the job. On the other hand, if access to the code is important to you, then it doesn’t matter how “great” a closed tool is, it’s never going to be the best tool for the job. So, this is why for some people, Apple iPod might be the best tool for the job, but for others it doesn’t even rank (like me, who has all their music in FLAC).
So you see for Internode, the best tool for the job was one that offered seamless syncing with their iPhones.
C’est la vie.
In writing this I am reminded of a friend who would laugh at me while I spent half an hour on the terminal trying to connect to a WPA encrypted wireless network. His Mac would just work straight away (like what we have now with NetworkManager). For me, a closed operating system wasn’t the best tool for the job, so I persisted with countless hours of command line work to associate with an access point.
I know that this boils down to a world view and I don’t consider myself a free software Zionist, but maybe I have been – or maybe I am. If so, maybe I shouldn’t be.
It’s too tiring to keep on fighting for the adoption of free software and maybe we just shouldn’t be in the first place. I’m reminded of that quote from Linus:
The thing is, at least to me personally, Microsoft just isn’t relevant to what I do. That might sound strange, since they are clearly the dominant player in the market that Linux is in, but the thing is: I’m not in the ”market.” I’m interested in Linux because of the technology, and Linux wasn’t started as any kind of rebellion against the ”evil Microsoft empire.” Quite the reverse, in fact: from a technology angle, Microsoft really has been one of the least interesting companies. So I’ve never seen it as a ”Linus versus Bill” thing. I just can’t see myself in the position of the nemesis, since I just don’t care enough. To be a nemesis, you have to actively try to destroy something, don’t you? Really, I’m not out to destroy Microsoft. That will just be a completely unintentional side effect.
I like that. He’s just getting on with the job of making great open source software because he believes it’s a better way. He doesn’t care what the rest of the world does (at least, that’s what I read from it). That’s what I want. I just don’t want to care any more.
So what’s the point of this post? Well I feel that more and more my own attitude is changing from one of championing free software regardless of circumstance, to a more apathetic position something along the lines of, “I use Linux, you use whatever you want. If you want Microsoft Windows and Office, then go use that.”
If you think that .NET is the future of the Linux desktop, then go right ahead and use it.
Wanna store all your data in proprietary formats? Feel free.
My brother loves Linux and free software now (it’s taken about 10 years of constant barraging to get him to use it) but his wife simply “must” use Outlook. So he still runs Outlook for all their mail. Weird, but OK.
From now on, I won’t push Linux and free software (I’ll probably re-do MakeTheMove to reflect this, someday). This has all been the result of a long time frustration bubbling under the surface, but more recently the culmination of hundreds of events, conversations and epiphanies I’ve had and experienced over the last 6 months or so. I’m done. I’ll simply use what I want to use and leave everyone else to their own devices. If they want to also use free software, as always I’ll be happy to help.