25 September, 2008

The Nerdery: s02e20: On FOSS

I hate getting my calendar mixed up. I sat down this weekend to realize that next Saturday is software freedom day, and so this column misses out being read before then by a mere two (2) days. Oh well, better luck next year.

Let me begin by declaring my stance on the FOSS (Free, open source software) issue. I’m the uni’s Microsoft student partner. My personal servers run Windows Server 2003 and FreeBSD (using VMware). At work, I manage software projects that utilise php, Perl, MySQL and Oracle, and servers that run Linux (with Xen). I have a Mac laptop, and being the photography nut I am, I use Adobe software. Who says you can’t mix milk with orange juice?

Most people don’t care what tool they’re using, so long as the tool best suits their needs. This is where a lot of conflicting ideas between free software advocates and the non-free-software types occur. If someone were to say “you can have as many spoons as you like, so long as you give up your knives”, most people would laugh it off and walk away. But, in my opinion, It really comes down to that.

There are many types of zealots in the computer ‘verse, as i’ll get to in my next article, but the hardcore FOSS advocates seem to be the most aggressive of them all. These are the type that take the “all-or-nothing” approach, which by today’s standards just isn’t feasible. Imagine if Adobe adopted the FOSS business model; gave away their software but charged for support. Raise your hands if you regularly use Photoshop and have ever contacted Adobe for support. How about if they gave away a feature limited version, but allowed you to pay for advanced features. Well, isn’t that what we’re currently doing?

I know quite a few people here at waiKato who would like to think the world can and should adopt to certain ways of thinking. But one solution will never be able to gracefully meet all needs, a solution that tries to is obviously not a good solution.

On a more upbeat note, I’ll leave you with a quote to mull on, by one of my former lectures:

I've been insulted by Richard Stallman three times and I've only just met him.