Open Source

This page is not about saving civilisation from global warming or peak oil or even watching One Direction. 😉 It may even sound a little whiny, like a ‘First World Problem.’ It’s a problem I have with our computer industries. But on the scale of things I otherwise blog about, it’s a petty little issue really.

On this page:
1. Competition wastes time and money
2. Competition locks the best ideas behind patents
3. Arrogant upgrades waste time and money
4. The answer is FOSS (Free Open Source Software)
5. It’s slowly happening
6. Examples of FOSS (Free Open Source Software)

1. Competition wastes time and money

Imagine growing up and using your favourite computers and software and apps, and knowing it all like the back of your hand. You might use Macs or Windows or even Linux. Now imagine you change jobs, and your new workplace uses completely different computers! You don’t know where things are on the desktop. You type up a document and then it doesn’t print properly. You try to run a spreadsheet but the commands all over the shop, even though you are trying to do pretty much the same thing the same way! It feels like you have moved to another country where you do not speak the language. You cannot even find basic things like the toilet without embarrassing yourself!

That’s what I recently faced. I had been working at home using Apple Macintosh for the last decade, and then suddenly had to jump back into the workforce and use Windows and Microsoft Office. It was frustrating and caused some embarrassment. What a complicated world we’ve made for ourselves, and then we go and make it worse by having various computer corporations complicate things worse in the name of ‘marketplace competition’. But then it backfires. You change jobs and suddenly face a steep learning cliff, and waste time and energy and money re-learning the basics all over again.

This lost productivity is wasted human capital. We build roads and rail and bridges to last. Why not build a single software culture that slowly evolves and changes, with everyone being brought up to speed together? A culture is a body of learned knowledge. We throw that away every time we force people to switch from one code of computers to another: whether from Mac to Linux to PC.

Or think of cars. We demand they are built to certain safety and fuel standards, and we all expect them to drive according to the same road rules! Having different flavours of computer running the same functions in totally different ways is like forcing people to learn how to drive all over again just because they switched from a Toyota to a Hyundai. Green is stop, Red is go. Imagine it?

Not only that but there are no standards in electronic goods like smart phones or Personal Video Recorders and TV controls. Maybe it’s my army background where we did everything the same way and everything was ‘squared away’, but I like standards! If we had global software standards I would not have faced a learning cliff when I changed jobs a few years back. If we had standards then someone close to me would not have purchased a PVR that did not automatically name every TV show it recorded! They actually have to remember what was recorded at 10pm on Tuesday night to go in and manually add the name! I’m shocked that a PVR company is even allowed to sell something that faulty!

There are many other differences even within the ‘same’ software. For example, Microsoft Office for Windows and for Mac are still rather different.

Microsoft Office for Windows

Microsoft Office for Mac

2. Competition locks the best ideas behind patents

I love the Windows autosize function. Windows 7 introduced auto-sizing of windows the moment your cursor dragging the window leaves the left side of the screen. Automatically Windows 7 resizes that window to the left half of the screen! It assumes you want to compare it to another document. So, swipe one window left, one window right, and they’re both automatically lined up next to each other. It’s easier than the old dropping and dragging and resizing of each corner. And they did it without adding a new Function button on the keyboard or tinkering with the mouse. It’s a great idea. But it’s patented. Microsoft Windows owns this. Apple’s not allowed to do it. Competition has forever locked this idea behind patent laws.

3. Arrogant upgrades waste time and money

I love progress. Microsoft Office have done some good things with their recent updates: and researched the functions people use the most and placed them grouped together logically in nice big tabs that are easier to click on and select than it was to pan down through the old menus and sub-menus of their old office software. That’s all good. Except that they deleted these old menus! They refused to give the public a classic mode option. People are busy. Changing software for the sake of change, and without giving people a classic mode to work in, wastes time and money. People suddenly don’t know how to do basic stuff.

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.

It wastes ‘human capital’, that resource of workers that suddenly requires a few weeks (or months!) to re-learn old, basic habits about where to click to get stuff done. Slower, gentler, user-sensitive upgrades make more sense across the business world when thinking about the sheer human capital lost in a sudden and arbitrary change!

4. The answer is FOSS (Free Open Source Software)

This is why I love the Open Source community. Basically, I wish a mix of corporations and governments could fund the best universally free software the world has ever seen. They would run according to ISO principles (International Standards Organisation), and would open up the code for Apple and Microsoft and see what’s under the hood. They would get the best creative minds, educational experts, learning psychologists, software engineers and put them all in the same organisation to develop software for the public good! We’ve moved beyond the Cold War between old DOS systems verses Graphic User Interfaces. We all want software that’s easy and logical and beautiful.

But we all use computers now. Software should be viewed as a public asset, like roads and bridges and clean water and fresh air! When someone comes up with a great new idea for navigating around computers, it should be free to the whole human race. All should benefit! And while Windows and Mac loyalists alike will cringe at the idea, it makes sense to move forward together. At some stage you learned the weirdness that is Mac or Windows. Take it from me, one seems weird to the other! My son, a PC gamer, recently complained how weird Mac seemed to him. He cannot help me in Mac, and I can only partially help him in Windows. (Windows still seems a little different to me). If we had International Standards, we’d all be able to help each other. Computer software would be a world standard, a public utility, a common conversation, a global art form and development project!

With the best people and ideas from both Google and Mac and Windows rolled into the one ISO, the software would be beautiful, easy, and consistent. It would be Free Open Source Software, and encourage compatibility across the globe.

Being free, it would encourage people to download the latest standards. I’m sick of hearing about certain files not being compatible with another business because they have not spent the money to upgrading their software.

Development would be more democratic, where enthusiasts could log in to the Open Source discussion boards and suggest new ideas. Major overhauls like the Ribbon, for example, could be voted on by community members with enough ‘standing’ (however that system works).

Money could still be made by IT professionals working within this ISO, however it is actually funded. I’m imagining a partially government funded ISO with online advertising backing. Like the United Nations meets Google.

Software would be so ubiquitous, such a publicly owned asset, that changes in common Operating Systems or Office software would be a matter of the nightly news the way the weather is today. A 60 second news item would announce any tinkering with the software, with encouragements to head off to the web-tutorials.

5. It’s slowly happening

The public sector in some countries is starting to move. This effect could gradually convince more governments around the world that Open Source standards are a good thing! Russia have mandated that all public computers run exclusively Open Source software by 2015. Why can’t we? I guess because we have an ideology of the ‘free market’ and a resulting paranoia that one set of software would create a monopoly. But that’s assuming we buy the software itself! If all software were free and open then there’s nothing to worry about. Big Business users with huge networks would still pay IT companies for support. IBM offers support for Open Office.

It can’t be long before the downfall of monopolies like Microsoft and Mac. They have already had their Cold War. Their software ‘arms race’ created fantastic innovations that created the desktop, laptop, netbook, smart phone and iPad. But it is time to standardise while keeping the creativity. It is time to end the division. It is time to grab the best of everything and the best ideas from everywhere and make it a free, open, public asset for the world to use. It is time to get this right, and invite everyone to join a new global discussion and culture.

6. Examples of FOSS (Free Open Source Software)

Much Open Source software runs on both Mac and Windows.

Replace Microsoft Office with Open Office or Libre Office

Replace Quark and Indesign with Scribus

Replace Photoshop with Gimp or Gimpshop

Replace Illustrator with Inkscape

Replace iWeb or Frontpage with WordPress

And eventually we’ll all replace Windows 8 and Apple OS with whatever future Linux desktops the ISO go with. For now there is:

Wiki’s to read:

Open Source
Business Models for Open Source software

Open Source Economics
Desktop Linux

And of course read wikipedia on any of the software above.


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