Today I am posting something a little different – Is FOSS communism?
I recently engaged in a conversation with Throttlemeister on Twitter where we have had a debate in regards to the benefits of Proprietary v Foss and everything in-between.
I will give you a little background first. Throttlemeister can be found on Twitter here, he currently runs two websites (links at the end of this article) and our debate started surrounding the general title of “Is FOSS communism?” I say its not Throttlemeister has other views.
NOTE: Twitter was completely unsuitable for a debate and so it was decided Throttlemeister would email his views, this article be written and a better forum for discussion.
Throttlemeister has concerns about how this article will be presented. I hope that he agrees that there is nothing printed out of context and is happy with it’s presentation. As always I am open to debate and am happy to edit anything Throttlemeister thinks in badly represented.
Heres the email and Throttlemeisters opinions:
Let me give you a little bit of history here. I started with Linux late 1994. Since then I have used Yggdrasil, Slackware, RedHat, Suse, Mandrake Ubuntu and Gentoo. I have run Linux on x86 hardware, DEC Alpha and SUN Sparc. I work, live and breath computers. Yes, I am a geek and loving every bit of it.
I don t agree with your statement of your championing of Mac . While it is true that a Mac is my main computer these days, I am by no means a typical Mac user, or an Apple fan-boy. On my personal evil-o-meter, Apple business practices score higher than Microsoft does. My reasoning for buying a Mac could probably not further away from a normal Mac user. My decision to buy a Mac was rather simple: I got tired of dual-booting Windows and Linux, due to lacking software under Linux that I need to use. I wanted to run UNIX while at the same time be able to run the software that I need.
Your argument of being able to use FOSS for every piece of propriety software I use is valid, but it is also completely irrelevant. The relevant point would if there is a FOSS replacement for me* . As it is, there are some, but there are more that FOSS does not have a replacement for, for me. I use my computer for work too, and if I get send MS Word documents or Excel spreadsheet that OOo chokes on, then OOo is useless for me. No matter how good a program it is, it is still useless for me and I cannot use it to replace MS Office propriety software.
I do photography as a hobby. To save myself work in post-processing, I set certain parameters and color settings that get stored inside the RAW file. But the only program able to read these settings is the Canon software. So I have to make a choice. Spend hours PP ing in FOSS, or use the Canon propriety software and switch to Lightroom for some final touches and exporting to SmugMug. Using propriety software saves me countless hours of work.
When I go out riding my motorcycle, I will create routes on my PC to upload to my GPS. Or update its maps. There is no FOSS at all for my GPS, on any OS. And that s why I got a Mac, because all the propriety software that I need/want, runs both on Mac and Windows. But the Mac also gives me the UNIX base and I can go to the CLI, and do whatever I would use Linux for. To me, the Mac gives me the good stuff of Windows and Linux combined into one OS.
FOSS is great, if it fits your needs. If it doesn t, use something else. But don t go about saying that for every piece of propriety software, there is a FOSS alternative that is equal or better. It is just not true. It may be for some, but not for everybody.
As far as FOSS development, no I don t think it will last. It is communist principles applied in software development, and that s counter intuitive to human nature. What I mean by that is FOSS software development assumes everybody is equal and has equal rights and everybody does everything for the community under the assumption that the community gives back to everybody. Now that s communism. It is founded on idealism, as opposed to realism. In an ideal world, this would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Unfortunately, we need to quickly realize every one of us is at heart a chauvinist capitalist pig. We want more than our neighbor. It works fine as long as everybody enjoys doing it as a hobby and donate their efforts to the greater good. But as soon as someone feels they should be able to make money from the work they are doing, or feeling better but under recognized than someone else, things are starting to go wrong. Countless FOSS projects have died because of human nature.
There is also a sense of non-committal. Things don t get finished, or are finished when they are done . As a result, countless potentially great programs never get stable or actually useful for day to day usage, or updated too slow until alternatives catch up and pass. There are no deadlines that need to be made like there are with commercial software. Not saying that s perfect either, as companies release unfinished software that s not really ready because of a deadline (*cough*snow leopard*cough), but at least something gets done within a certain timeframe. I don t want to use a program that craps out all the time, because the developer(s) don t have time to look at it. At least with a company, you can usually be sure there will be fixes within a reasonable timeframe. <br> <br>That s not to say FOSS cannot deliver excellent quality work. Both FOSS and commercial software get new people and new ideas, but flat structure and lack of hierarchy creates an environment that invites people to open their mouth and put forth those ideas. This does create momentum for fixes and features. On the other hand, there is a lot of crap out there. Stuff that has so much abysmal code, it won t compile on a machine that is different from that of the developer. Having several Sun machines to play with will quickly teach you that. There are no such large repositories for Sun as there are for x86, nor are they as up to date. Compiling your own binaries is a necessity. But unless you are only using the big ones like Apache, php, mysql and the likes, be prepared to debug compile errors.
There are several examples of FOSS projects that are really successful. But I think it is worth noting most of these projects are run like commercial projects. And certain people make tons of money of it. Currently, this is mostly ignored by the community and covered under a blanket of idealism but the moment the community realizes and acknowledges there are people getting rich over their volunteer efforts, that project will die. It will likely fork, but that fork will either not gain enough momentum to sustain itself, or it will repeat the same cycle again.
Regardless what you believe and what will survive, we live in exciting times. We have different systems doing different things, giving us users CHOICE. Choice is good. But choice should be used good. You should chose what is best for you, what suits your needs. You should not put up with inferior software because it is FOSS and you oppose commercial propriety software or vice versa. That s stupid and limiting your own potential. Both have the right to exist and we should reward the ones doing a good job and punish those that don t, regardless of their development philosophy. That way, the good stuff survives and that benefits us all.
I m sure there is more that I should add, but haven t thought of this time.
So thats his opinion and now I can follow on with mine.
Lets get one thing straight when I say theres a FOSS solution for proprietary I am talking about mainstream tasks and not some exotic custom app, although that in itself as a reason to use a Proprietary platform may well be irrelevant since Wine/Crossover offers some pretty astounding results and failing that there is always an option to run a VM. I have often said that there will be a need for proprietary to deal with custom apps but you can also say that there is not a proprietary solution for many FOSS titles too. Let me give some examples: Zsnes, Mame and Dolphin for starters. Theres no proprietary alternatives available for those.
In regards to my comment to him “championing the Mac” I use the word champion to describe something any user has settled on as a result of their own research and needs. I champion Linux since I have chosen it above alternatives as its best for me. Throttlemeister has done so with Mac on the same basis.
Throttlemeister makes reference to the needs of work and MS Office. I think this highlights perfectly that far from Microsoft being “standards compat” and as some would like you to believe  entering into a brave new world of cooperation and interoperability with FOSS. The fact remain that intentional or not, there are barriers for people wanting freedom of choice in their software solutions and its not a fault of FOSS.
To quote Throttlemeister “But don t go about saying that for every piece of propriety software, there is a FOSS alternative that is equal or better.” that in my opinion is an incorrect assessment of my view and something which I try to make clear using “for me” or “in my opinion” . If we talk about mainstream tasks such as Word-processing et al, then as I say unless you have some “exotic” requirements that are only catered for by a Microsoft product (and I’d love to know what those are) then most users will get EXACTLY the same functionality out of FOSS as they would out of proprietary, difference being the saving in cost. As I said before many “exotic” apps that people require are not even made by Apple or Microsoft and when talking about Linux have full functionality in Linux through Wine/Crossover.
In Throttlemeisters response “using the big ones like Apache, php, mysql and the likes, be prepared to debug compile errors.” for me highlights this and whilst yes I do agree, this is hardly a requirement or issue to the “masses” we can find examples all day in regards to issues we encounter, however I think the vast majority of them would not be applicable to the “average user”
To quote Throttlemaster “lack of hierarchy creates an environment that invites people to open their mouth and put forth those ideas.” is in my opinion completely wrong. If anyone has ever been involved with an open source project will see that far from being a loose collection of people throwing ideas left right and center. It is structured, it is organised and the direction is very clear. Sure, the code released under the GPL may be taken away by another party and re-released as a different app and whilst there may be thousands of incomplete FOSS packages, as they say the cream always rises to the surface and imo most users won’t come into contact with them with the mainstream apps continuing to thrive. The same is for any software too, there are freeware/shareware titles that have suffered the same neglect as that which Throttlemeister suggests is the remit of FOSS. Funnily enough even proprietary has the same issues, look no further than Microsoft Flight Sim. Unless I’m mistaken that title has now been dropped with no warning to its users (I remember a very upset user on Microsoft Watch stating he would boycott Microsoft products on the basis of that decision)
I have always said that the proprietary model is failing. I believe that to be true. In respect of most mainstream apps I think its true. Its not reasonable to expect that people will wait around on sourceforge for the software they may require to perform more exotic tasks, but then thats where I think proprietary will remain, in the realm of custom apps for enterprise. Another good example of where I believe proprietary has a place is within the gaming industry. When you look at the titles that sell and look at the amounts of money spent in development of them, there is (IMO) no way a return can be made with a FOSS model. FOSS gaming whilst very impressive does not come close to the production values of say a Star Trek game or GTA et al. Gamers in the main, whilst will like Alien Arena (for example) won’t be boycotting COD or similar in favor of it.
Throttlemeister says “But I think it is worth noting most of these projects are run like commercial projects. And certain people make tons of money of it.”
And my answer to that would be…so what? We are talking in respect of the end user and if for example, they have saved themselves a fortune by using Open Office instead of MS Office why would they care the background or how the free software came about? Throttlemeister said “Currently, this is mostly ignored by the community ” and its not, since there is no lock-in the code is released under the GPL (if wanted) and people can go away and make their own version of it. Mark Shuttleworth has commented on the financial side of Linux before, Redhat published a very good set of figures this year and OpenSUSE/SUSE well, they rattle in the void between friends of Microsoft and the FOSS community (IMO) I would say the FOSS community is well aware of the financial aspects of the various projects.
I’ll end on an agreement with Throttlemeister “You should not put up with inferior software because it is FOSS and you oppose commercial propriety software or vice versa.” and anyone reading this blog who knows my stance would say that this has been my opinion from day one.
I think many people think of FOSS as a type of software in itself. Its not simply a different way of working/producing software than proprietary (IMO). Just look at the examples around us today and ask “Why should I pay for Microsoft Office when Open Office is around” (maybe some can answer that) or look at the popularity of Chromium and Firefox and ask “Why should I simply go with IE because its bundled with Windows?”
Its been an interesting discussion. Whats your view? FOSS or proprietary? or are you like many of us, somewhere in between?
Goblin – firstname.lastname@example.org