How the ‘marketplace’ of software squanders human capital!

Even though I’m not in I.T. and am not a computer developer or programmer, I just have to have a good old-fashioned rant about this one! Microsoft recently commissioned a study into just how much money adopting Open Source can really cost an organisation. It seems that when a company adopts new software, it takes a bunch of time and money to build all the systems from scratch, get them all working together smoothly, and then retrain all the workers. Surprise surprise!

But this superficial study ignores the fact that every time Microsoft callously upgrades their Operating System without due diligence into compatibility problems with a trillion other bits of software and hardware out there, there are a gazillion compatibility issues to sort out. All the IT professionals run off to classes and seminars and have to retrain anyway, and then begin the mammoth task of ironing out all their unique business software routines, banging it all into shape and forcing it to work. It takes time. Microsoft upgrades are a major pain in the butt to the IT staff on any decent sized firm! Of course, they want this. It guarantees job security. But must the job itself be so painful?

To top it all off, Microsoft are being hypocritical here. They are warning against the change to Open Source software because of the  costs in changing, yet ignore just how enormously they had just changed Microsoft Office 2007 when they introduced the Ribbon bar across all the old drop down menu’s we used to know! Their rather experimental Ribbon was not just a view option leaving all the old commands and drop down menu’s intact, but instead killed many of the old commands and routines users knew. It was an autocratic rewrite of the entire Office suite forcing everyone to go back to basics and learn how to suck eggs. The sheer human capital lost in this arrogant decision was astonishing! Workers with years of Office experience, who could format Word with ease and design beautiful Excel spreadsheets in their sleep, all suddenly found themselves powerless. As the old joke goes,

12. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

I admit to being an idealist and dreamer, and maybe even a tiny bit lazy. Or is that sane? At a deep, gut level, I just feel that once I learn a piece of basic software like Word I should not have to re-learn the basics all over again. Call me lazy, but I don’t want progress and new functions to force me to have to relearn the basics. The modern world is complex enough, thank you very much!

So even though we are graphic designers and forced to use Mac, the one thing that keeps me wishing a Mac-ish Open Source revolution would sweep away all competitors is the fact that the Open Source model is more grassroots driven, and less likely to waste so much human capital on pointless ‘renovations’ to the software.

Not only that, but it is Open source! The code is open, and available to all. Programmers can design stuff compatible with their Open standards. Microsoft isn’t Open. They keep the latest editions of Word locked so that I can’t open a .docx file in Open Office. We’re talking about a monopoly here! So why on earth did the Australian government mandate support for a monopoly!?

I want the world’s governments to accelerate their support of Open Source, not retard it. I like the fact that the Chinese and Russian governments are transitioning into Open Source.

It could eventually save 10’s of billions of dollars! I remember a few years back glancing at a study that said tens of billions could be saved across America if the government just paid enough software engineers to develop the best Open Source software possible. The savings to government directly would be one thing, but the saving across the broader economy would be exponentially larger.

If I ran the world I would put all the programmers, Mac designers, psychologists, business leaders, learning and educational experts all in the one room and have them nut out THE best User Interface. They would then standardise it across all platforms and functions, and users would know where basic formatting and print and regular functions were across all the software in all industries. It would be beautiful, easy, and consistent. It would be open, and encourage compatibility. It would be free. And it could possibly even be democratic, with grassroots communities voting on changes to the software proposed by the experts. Major overhauls like the Ribbon, for example, could be voted on.

In my dream world the Operating System and basic Office software would be so ubiquitous, so much a publicly owned asset, that changes in the software would be a matter of the nightly news the way changes to local parks would register on city news! Although, these changes would of course have global significance. A 60 second news item would announce any tinkering with the software, with encouragements to head off to the web-video’s demonstrating the sexy new functions.

Once the public sector is heavily invested in Open Source standards, it can’t be long before the downfall of monopolies like Microsoft and Mac. They have already had their war, and their software ‘arms race’ has invented massive innovations and led to the smart phone and iPad. But it is time to standardise while keeping the creativity. It is time to end the confusion. It is time to grab the best of everything and make it open, and give free software to the world. It is time to get this right, and train us computer users all up in the new thang, and make it work. Russia have mandated that all public computers run exclusively Open Source software by 2015. Why can’t we?

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