Why Open Source Has Become A Must For Me

While the Internet is doubtlessly a great invention and I wouldn't want to miss it in my daily life anymore there are certainly downsides to it. Last year I summarized them in a post titled „The Anti-Freedom Side Of The Internet“. While I have found solutions for some of the issues I discussed there such as privacy issues around remotely hosted cloud services, I have touched one topic too lightly that has become much more apparent to me since then: The changing business models and interaction of software companies with their customers that is not necessarily always to the advantage of the customers compared to pre-Internet times.

In the pre-Internet times software was bought on disks or CDs and installed on a computer. For most commercial software you got a usage license with an unlimited duration and the user was in control over the software and the installation process. Fast forward to today and the model has significantly changed. Software is now downloaded over the Internet and installed. The user's control over the process and privacy is largely gone because most software now requires Internet connectivity to communicate with an activation server of some sort before it installs. While I can understand such a move from the software companies point of view I find it highly controversial from a user's point of view because there is no control what kind of information is transmitted to the software company. Also, most software today frequently 'calls home' to ask for security and feature updates for security and perhaps also for other purposes. While this is good on the one hand to protect users it is again a privacy issue because a computer frequently connects to other computers on the Internet in the background without the users knowledge, without his consent and without his insight into what is transmitted. Again, no control as to what kind of data is transmitted.

And with some software empires on the decline, a new interesting license model, not thought of in pre-Internet times, is the annual subscription model. Adobe is going down that path with Photoshop and Microsoft wants to do the same thing with their Office suite: Instead of buying a time unlimited license once, they now want to sell time limited licenses that have to be renewed once a year. Again, understandable from the software companies point of view as that ensures a steady income over the years. From a users point of view I am not really sure as that means there are yearly maintenance costs for software on computers at home that simply was not there before.

I wonder if that will actually accelerate the decline of those companies? If you buy software once you are inclined to use it as long as possible and perhaps buy an update every now and then. But if you are faced with a subscription model where you have to pay once a year to keep that software activated, I wonder if at some point people are willing to try out other alternatives. And alternatives there are such as Gimp for graphics and of course LibreOffice.

Already today I see a lot of people using LibreOffice on their PCs and Macs so that trend is definitely well underway. Perhaps it also triggered by people not only using a single device anymore which would require more than one paid license. Also, the increasing number of different file formats and versions that make sending a document for review to someone else and getting a revision that is still formatted as before it was sent a gamble, so why stick to a particular program or version of a word processor?

In other words, Open Source is the solution in a world where the Internet allows software companies to assert more control over their customers than many of them are likely to want. Good riddance.

2 thoughts on “Why Open Source Has Become A Must For Me”

  1. There are some parts of the open source discussion I agree with Martin. Most of which you state here that I do agree with.

    For open source to work best, most users need to also have a semblance of programming. Or, like in my case, understading enough to put pieces together from what’s made, and then create their ideal UX. That’s just hard for most folks (let alone myself). I think the other leg of the discussion is what’s more important.

    Open licenses, or at least permissible ones, in which people are free to share, free to acquire, free to learn, and free to make capital on top of, is what we are in right now. The revolution you, me, and others persist in is that software as developed has been licensed away from those roots to permissible use. Its restricted, and because of some of those restrictions, we get great applications and services, and also those which fragment the imagination instead of empower it.

    This is the harder cookie to crack. And one where I hope that in your efforts, and the efforts of others, that we see something better for the knowledgeable users – to create tools and moments where those who don’t realize they are restricted that they can do more.

  2. I use opensource at home for wordprocessing and graphics, but at work, Word is dictated and necessitated by the organisations we deal with expecting Word format – I know opensource can write .docx etc, but in IT, ‘nobody got fired for buying IBM’ still rules. I guess there’s also a distinction between opensource and free (such as GoogleDocs which is pretty good, but you never know where your IP is going to end up).

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