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.
- The Open Source mindset - it's about choice