Reflections

An attempt to keep the world in perspective

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The Open Source mindset - it's about choice
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imlad
In a recent conversation, I was trying to give concrete examples on how free, open source software is different from proprietary, for fee software.  Being a user rather than a developer, I was trying to provide a user's perspective.  Upon reflection, I think that with open source I am afforded an opportunity to be much more focused on what I need to accomplish rather than on the software that is (hopefully) getting me there.

Ubuntu comes bundled with OpenOffice; I find OpenOffice a very good piece of software which allows me to do what I need to do by way of word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations.  Whenever I need to do something atypical (at least for me), I figure it out fairly quickly - usually by accessing help or doing a search on a pertinent forum.  The other day I was in a rush.  I got a comma separated file from someone that I needed to look at there and then, and then make some very time sensitive decisions that were required by my boss.  For whatever reason, the OpenOffice spreadsheet didn't like my file and would not import it.

I had literally minutes in which I had to rectify the situation, so it was all about the path of least resistance.  In that context, my quickest potential solution was to get an alternative piece of software that would do what I needed.  I went to the Ubuntu Software Center, searched on spredsheets found an alternative to the OpenOffice one (the laternative was called Gnumeric), selected to install it, opened it and read in my file.  All of that took place over the course of about 2 minutes, which put me on my way to do the analysis that I needed to do and be done.

My point here, is that my mindset was about the work I needed to accomplish, with an implied assumption that multiple tools to accomplish the same task exist.  While it may sound simplistic, open source and free software is about maximizing choices - I could tinker with OpenOffice OR seek another piece of software; what I ended up doing depended on the specific circumstance (as a rule, I try to resolve a problem rather than try a different tool, but here I just did not have the luxury of time) and I chose what suited, and ultimately served me.  Not having a choice, or having a choice for which I would have had to pay a non insignificant amount of money would have slowed me down, preventing me from accomplishing the task by locking me into a particular solution that wasn't working fir ne at the moment.
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The conclusion you draw here is fundamentally flawed. Open source software is not about choices in the way you suggest.

Open source is about being able to share and change a piece of software. It's about being able to go to anyone you want and have them fix or extend the software. Those are the choices that are guaranteed by its nature as open source—nothing more.

That there happen to be multiple open source spreadsheet implementations is lucky for you. It is certainly not true of all applications.

(Speaking as someone who's been writing "open source" software for more than 20 years.)

Having gotten up from my prayer rug (anyone having spent a score years writing "open source" software deserves to be one's Mecca and Medina) I became full of grief that flow of my conclusion is fundamental.

Snarky remarks aside, I should have given a better perspective; my interest and perspective in this post is that of the user - not the developer - of open source software. Thus, the results (intended or not) and consequences of this approach to software writing are what interest me, not the intentions of individual contributers. As such, options are exactly what I end up having - options and easy access to said options in the case of free software.

Naturally, this is just one perspective (of someone who probably will never write a line of code (though you never know), but who might end up creating blueprints and/or participate in sprints). What I didn't intended was to present my perspective as THE CORRECT one, as, IMHO, anyone who does, exhibits the type of myopia which makes me want to shower thoroughly after having been exposed to it.

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