Linux: Open Source Theory

Recently I’ve been rather interested in the whole theory that Linux runs on: Open-Source. Open source software is free software. Free as in freedom, not only free beer. We’ve all heard that phrase before. At the other end of the spectrum is proprietry software, such as Microsoft’s XP, Vista, and the whole series. The main advantage that proprietry software gets over the open-source equivalents is that they get easier access to money, and its this very same money that they can blow on advertising, providing top notch development workspaces, and the like.

Whereas in the open source theory, with Linux being the prime example, we see people dedicating hours of tough work to produce something they’re going to give to everybody. It’s a bit like doing unecessary homework at school – if I’m allowed to use an analogy. The main benefit to the person slaving away their hours is simply self-satisfaction. Whereas the proprietry software folks get some money.

Not to try to suggest anything negative about open-source development, but this is strikingly similar to the idealogy behind blokes who produce computer viruses. Sure, they don’t share their code all the time, and sometimes the incentive behind it is for money, but the rest of the time, they just feel like annoying the heck out of others. This being the Antichrist example of open source probably has a lot to say about why people do things – which is something I’ve been noticing a lot myself lately. Do I feel like I want to start up a huge successful website to get huge amounts of money, or would I rather develop my own skills in other areas that probably won’t immediately give me large sums of cash? The answer at the moment is leaning towards the personal development side of things.

The main point is what happens when open source and proprietry software compete? Proprietry software obviously have the upper hand when getting customers. Open-source is believed to be a lot better/faster/securer method of producing a “quality” product (using the theory of synergy). Proprietry software have more influence over potential business partners and complementary products. Open source guys offer freedom of choice. In my personal opinion, this leads to a total mess of everything. For example:

Windows 95, 98, 2000, XP, Vista.

Linux: Ubuntu (Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Edubuntu), Gentoo, Mandriva, Suse, Debian, Redhat, Mint, Fedora, Sabayon, Xandros, DSL, Slackware, Puppy, Arch, MEPIS, Linspire … and the other 200 or so. Not to mention GNOME, KDE, Blackbox (and deriviatives), Ratpoison, Enlightenment, XFCE, Rox … etc. Each of these with their own versions.

The general outcome of this is that freedom of choice leads to arguments. I’m not saying all open-source folks do this, but we occasionally get the boron who says “Mine is better than yours”. Even right now we have people petitioning for others to say “I like what I choose. You like what you choose. We’re all a big happy family.”

In reality, let’s take a look at how competition actually is. Windows owns 90% of the computer market, with Linux chugging around 1.3-1.4%. Windows (yes, really) owns 70% of the server market now. We also see that for years Linux folks have been predicting the day where Linux will rule the world. 2002? 03? 04? 05? 06? 07? 08? Now what, 09?

Look at reality. Absorb it.

No, seriously. Statistics are probably the most blunt way of expressing things. Can Linux’s market share be accurately measured? What about computers which shipped with Windows but were replaced? What about older computers replaced with Windows? Is open-source dying, when we clearly see applications like Blender, OpenOffice, Firefox and the such rising at such incredible speeds? It doesn’t matter. The fact is, now, we’re not exactly getting anywhere that people can say “wow – I see the light”. Sure, we got some deals with Dell and whatnot which’ll be a popular asset in the future, and we’ve also got “We’re Open Souce” becoming as hip and trendy as “We’re Green” – but in the end, it’s what people see that count.

The real question is, what’s the method to right all this madness and put Linux’s place where it truly belongs? Is using commercialised avenues the right way, does it ruin the whole concept open source is run on?

Yet again, another open-source article ends with no real point being made. I hope you enjoyed reading it, and I’ll probably come up with more meaningful rants in the future.

Dion Moult

I've been developing software for well over 10 years, work as an architect (not the computer kind, the regular sort), and am classically trained as a pianist. I try to do the right thing when I get the chance in my field, such as through contributing to open-source communities and promoting sustainable living.

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