Open Thinkering


5 reasons I’m using less and less Open Source stuff.

I’m not attempting to get into a flame war with this post. It’s a personal reflection and more of a statement than an argument. Please comment appropriately! 🙂

In a perfect world, everything I use would be an Open Source product and have been produced using Open principles and philosophies. I’ve been part of a Becta-funded project into the use of Open Source Software (OSS) in schools, spent time with Linux as my sole operating system, and have given away (to anyone who’d have them) CDs and DVDs containing OSS.

But, without consciously aiming to do so, I’ve found myself using less and less Open Source stuff over the last year or so.  Why? There’s several reasons.

1. Standards are to innovate upon

The reason that we have ‘standards’ in any area of life is to ensure compliance. But that isn’t meant to limit creativity and innovation, but to serve as a basis upon which it can flourish. Whilst there’s a lot of wonderful work going on in the OSS arena, there’s also a lot of people and projects engaging in catch-up.

2. Willingness to pay for software

When I was younger I had no or very little money. I’m far from rich now, but can nevertheless afford to pay for software that improves my productivity and/or outputs. This means that I’m using iWork instead of, for example.

3. Ecosystems and things ‘just working’

I was sorely tempted to purchase an Android-powered mobile phone recently. The main reason I didn’t? It had nothing to do with the specifications of the phone I had in mind. It was to do with access to the iTunes store. I listen to a lot of podcasts but, since moving completely to Spotify for my music, no longer sync my iPhone at all. Whilst I would be able to use software such as DoubleTwist to get content onto an Android-powered phone, it would mean syncing again and no access on-the-move. That, as they say, was a dealbreaker for me.

The other thing about tightly-controlled ecosystems is that, for all the whinging about control, DRM and monopolies they provide a seamless, enjoyable and fairly risk-free experience to the end user. I know, for example, that I’m going to get well-made app in the iPhone app store, and that books are going to be formatted correctly when using the Amazon Kindle store.

Finally, ecosystems mean that things ‘just work’. I continue to use Google’s online offerings because they all work together so well. I can get data in and data out easily, and transfer information between applications quickly. Taking any longer than necessary to do tasks isn’t high on my list of desirable features for any technology with a thesis to write…

4. Too much choice

The mantra of the ‘noughties’, if it had one, would have been ‘choice, choice, choice’. We were given a plethora of television channels, luxury goods and even hospitals to choose from. More choice, it was argued, led to higher standards.

However, the problem with too much choice is that you become paralysed in the process of decision-making. You need some kind of kind or heuristic to apply to the situation. Think about purchasing a laptop. There are so many makes, types, shapes and colours that it would take a great deal of time even to whittle it down to three choices.

The same goes with software. Once I’ve found a reputable and high-quality source of hardware or software, I’m likely to stick with that source unless something disastrous happens. So who do I look for when I’m making hardware purchases? Apple and Sony. Where do I look first for my online apps and software? Google.

5. Free is not OSS

I still use a lot of free software. But much of it is not OSS. There are new models evolving where the end product is made available either temporarily or permanently to users for free. (think of ‘freemium’ models, sponsored apps and the like!)

The fact that it is (usually) free is, like it or not, the biggest selling point of OSS. Whilst I and others completely buy into the philosoph(ies) behind it, with the increasing availability of free (as in beer) software undermines the appeal of OSS.


I am not advocating that people ignore OSS in favour of proprietary products. Far from it. What I am pointing out here is that the landscape is changing and OSS advocates need to change their approach. My recommendations:

  • Much more emphasis placed on the ‘four freedoms’
  • The building of an OSS ecosystem
  • An app store for OSS (seriously)

What do YOU think? Have you been using less or more OSS recently? Why? :-p

12 thoughts on “5 reasons I’m using less and less Open Source stuff.

  1. I’ve got to admit that the last time I used OSS on a daily basis was over 3 years ago before I bought my Mac. I was a firm advocate at the time as I dabbled in Linux by compiling Gentoo from it’s source code. Why I did that is beyond reasoning but it made me realise the work that goes into developing an OS. I then moved to various other distros and never really found myself settling for one. That’s where I started to get slightly infuriated as one distro would overtake another in terms of new bells and whistles. The choice was huge and I was finding myself getting lost in what distro could do what in the easiest way instead of being productive.
    I moved to a Mac and that was the end of dabbling with Linux. However, I have had the fortune of persuading my school to have Oo4kids installed on all netbooks as a free alternative to purchasing Office licences. I also demonstrate, to those children that are interested, Ubuntu on one of the older PC’s. The children think it’s brilliant and some want to have a CD to take home.
    So, apart from school I use OSS less and less.

  2. But surely without a lot of those involved in the OSS movement there wouldn’t be so many drivers of new apps and new technology. Further, there is a risk of the already dominant players (e.g. Google) becoming further dominant and stifled competition has shown historically in the IT sector (e.g. Microsoft) to enable a shed load of wedge to be continually made out of defective products. To my mind, lack of OSS involvement by a lot of people is part of a wave, arguably even cyclical in that the current innovations from the likes of Google and Apple are very strong, stable and fit with trends in the mobile/wireless/media market hence their popularity. Yet, this may not be the case in 6 months, a year, etc etc. It is then that the OSS bods will still be there and may be needed once again to fill voids in the market place. I agree, I have a tendency not to go OSS for time-saving efficiency but those who push the boundaries in OSS are imo, vital components in technology growth

  3. I think I’m experiencing the same crisis you describe as “where’s the OSS store” when I keep choosing to go to the Microsoft software stack rather than start googling for free/oss/cross-platform alternatives.
    Maybe there is a market nieche for a trusted third party who can test, review and verify OSS and distribute it. OSS can then go from alpha to beta to Release to Listed? I’ll use beta in my lab, Release in proof of concept/client labs and I’ll use Listed OSS in production environments?

  4. Most of the websites you will use on a daily basis will be built on OSS and quite a lot will contribute their additions back to the projects. You think you are using less OSS software, you are probably using less software in general and more web services.

    1. Good point John especially as this message comes from a WordPress blog running using PHP on a apache web server on a CentOS box.

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