Open vs Close adoption dilemma
I think this is great platform to share how I think about this issue and get inputs to negotiate some of the tensions which I personally go through when it comes to choosing one software over the other. I would try to break down my own understanding and share the process which I go through while choosing one software over the other.
In first part, I will share my own framework for understanding different softwares I use(had used) for day-to-day work. I am also keen to keep the post as simple as possible and hopefully people can relate some of these with their own experience.
I think that there are different categories of software and the filter of open-source and closed-source needs more nuanced analysis. Which situation someone chooses one or the other? What factors lead to that decision? What are the implications?
Here is my framework:
For the end-user, what are the factors which one wants to optimize ( These are some of my filters which I use to negotiate/navigate my choices)
Ease of use - A great user experience and intuitiveness. The software should be easy to use
Functionality: It should be one that works! It shouldn’t crash and should work for diverse use cases!
Respect for one privacy - no one wants to be tracked!
Affordable: The cheaper the better isn’t it?
Open-standards - yes, I don’t want to use standards which are not open i.e. open standards are the way one makes one software does handshake with the other. Since we are up for an inclusive democratic society, we don’t want to enforce one to use a certain kind of software that locks one down and hinders cross-OS/cross-software collaborations. One example of this could be, a Windows user sending a .doc file on mail to a Linux user, which is kinda forcing the user to use Ms-Office to read the file. Instead, open -standards like .odt or .docx enable cross-platform compatibility.
Softwares as Operation System
This is pretty simple - We have Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, Chrome as predominant ones in market usage. Here we can have again classify these into the following:
( FLOSS and Open-source Distinction: FLOSS and FOSS - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation)
My experience: I have used Windows, fedora, ubuntu, and macOS. Currently, I am using both macOS and Ubuntu. User experience-wise, I find macOS and Ubuntu better than windows.
Reflection: Is there any danger of using macOS as an Operation system that is close(operating system-wise)? (Given that we know we can use the open-source application on macOS and one can also use the proprietary application on Linux based distros)
Softwares as tools for production
All those software that enables one to create/modify digital artifacts ( Here I am referring to digital artifacts as anything which one can create using new media technologies - a piece of text, image, videos, a program - lines of code to accomplish something, parametric CAD software, or any combination of the above) Few examples of this way of classification could be:
Office-suite - LibreOffice, Ms Office,
CAD: Solidwork, FreeCAD, openSCAD
Video editing: kdenlive, Adobe premier pro
Image manipulation: GIMP, Photoshop
document viewer: okular, adobe acrobat
Code editor: Visual code studio, Atom, Sublime
Vector graphics editor
so on…(And the list will keep on increasing both horizontally and vertically.)
The above is based on what the tool(software) is meant to do as its core functionality.
My experience: In this category, I have a bias towards choosing FLOSS/open-source over the proprietary ones. The reason I am able to make this shift in most of the cases because there is already a strong alternative (even better) existing in the market which helps you do your work and does not bind you to a close standard. However, I did face difficulty on one occasion which I want to share:
Video Editing domain
Closed source like premiere pro which is used by most of the people in the media industry is widely adopted. Here, if you are an artist, you are bound to use software that your peers /entire company is using. Going against the tide, in industry setting will be difficult ( not impossible though!) As a freelancer, you still might choose to go with FLOSS given that a strong alternative exists. Also, here functionality, ease, open-standards will triumph over privacy concern as a professional. I remember using kdenlive and the innumerable number of times it crashed! Camtasia on the other hand which is a licensed proprietary or premiere pro just simply works!
However, saying that do I want everyone to go for licensed software when it comes to video-editing use cases? Definitely not! in my POV, when one is learning video editing as a hobbyist or say teaching video editing to school students as part of the curriculum, I will advocate for FLOSS. However, as a professional, I think it should be okay to make the choice of going with industry standards (as mentioned earlier sometimes you don’t even have this choice!) for making a video if that’s very central to one’s career.
On the other hand, GIMP(FLOSS) is as good as photoshop(closed) and Inkscape(FLOSS) is probably more powerful(functionality-wise) than Illustrator(close). So, yes we are likely to find most of the open-source alternative for closed software but I feel that there are also areas where closed Softwares dominant industry standards and we don’t have a stronger FLOSS alternative.
What if the close software lets you work with open-standards? keeping the affordability factor aside, I am not sure if using such software is hindering one’s freedom. Would need community inputs on this. What are the privacy implications in such scenarios? What kind of data softwares like photoshop can possibly collect which would infringe the freedom of the user?
Softwares as service
The third category would be the software we use as “Service”.
- email client : gmail, yahoo etc
- version control : github, gitlab
- search engine : google, quant, DuckDuckGo
- media streaming: netflix, youtube
- payment gayeways: paytm, paypal
- e-commerce: amazon, flipkart
- instant messaging: telegram, watsapp
- web-browser: google chrome, safari, firefox
- maps: openstreet maps, google maps
- web apps for various services- cab booking(uber,ola), ticket booking, food ordering, etc.
Based on my above understanding, there are cases where I can clearly say that I would prefer one over the other. For instance, currently I am using qwant search engine (https://www.qwant.com/) which focus on protecting privacy of the user as central to its mission. Its nice but I do feel that sometimes it does not give as good results as google used to do. However, I am sticking to it because the privacy here is more important than convenience(functionality).
While using most of the web-services, is it even possible to classify and filter the above using open/close labels? Uber and ola I don’t think are even gonna make their source code public. What should one do in such cases? Do you stop using the service to protect privacy?
I am sure there are more layers( even better lens) to the way I have articulated the above categories. This might not be a technically correct way to do also. Looking forward to inputs and enriching conversation around this topic.