Menachem's Writings

On Locked Doors, Windows and Gates
and Open Source Software

I have a cousin called Paul. We're very close but our relationship is erratic. This is partly because he lives nine time zones away, and while he's there, he likes to walk around his house carrying his laptop without a microphone; so he doesn't bother turning on Skype. Paul and his wife have three sons. The younger one, Harry, lives in Seattle and works for Microsoft, trying to make Windows intuitive to its users.

Anyway, I thought I'd touch base with Paul and let him know he should be reading my blog (if your family isn't enjoying it, what can you expect from strangers?). He replied, re the blog, "good luck with the blog . . . fun and stimulating to write (I've been doing one since 2006. What do you know -- two years he's been blogging, and I thought I was the only one in our family who knows how to create websites. Paul's background is in Engineering and he's sharp and keeps up with the technology.

So I took a look at Paul's website. Looks pretty and, knowing Paul, I'm sure the information is very good. But as always when surfing the web, I looked at his site in Forefox (well nearly always -- I really like the Opera browser). The site is based on a three column format, and in Firefox the left two columns are overlapped, so you miss the right hand side of the text in each column. Being the nice guy that I am, I wrote back, "Hey, looks pretty, but it is not optimised for FireFox [a bit of an understatement]. The columns overlap!" He wrote back, "Hmmm . . . I need to look at that . . . I don't use Firefox . . . I am a loyal Microsoftie . . . 100% . . . "

I tried the site on Opera as well, and found the same problem. My website stats show that barely 65% of my visitors do so from a Microsoft browser, and this number has been dropping over the last months. I informed Paul of this statistic and also that I am a dedicated, anti-Microsoft, Linux user :-) His anticipated answer was "I also support my son's enterprise . . . ."

As I expected that answer, I told him so, and then I recevied his bottom line answer, "I am a 100% Microsoft shop because I use professional/industrial strength software only . . . ."

My comments here are to those millions who are happy to pay good money for average software, on the assumption that Windows and Gates afford the only road to computer nirvana.

I couldn't find the latest figures, but I remember seeing that a majority of Internet server installations (not most computers running server software, but installations, because some have tens or even hundreds of computers) were running Linux servers. Many of these have not been switched off for years. They are workhorses. We're talking about millions of machines.

To my mind, an Operating System that needs to be patched weekly, or even more often, feels neither professional nor industrial strength. Same applies to an Operating System that needs to be supported by third party party anti-virus software and weekly Malicious Software Removal Tools. For what these guys are charging for software, if they can't keep other peoples' unwanted software (read viruses and other obnoxious unwanted "things" invading my computer) outside their system innards, they should be paying for the protection, not me! Why do I have to pay protection money to Norton, Symantec, ESET or Mcafee (nothing personal -- all nice guys I'm sure) to keep out the computer bogeyman?

I hear Dell is now distributing a copy of Windows XP to those who are "unhappy" with the newer Vista Windows operating system with which their computers now arrive. And if you would like an Asus EEE (Easy, easy, easy) tiny machine (there's one on my Channuka gift list, if I can wait that long) and you insist on using Windows (why? the Asus was designed to be used in Linux and with open source software) they finally managed to produce a cut down version of XP, not of Vista! and then you have to buy software to run on it.

And I continue to find bugs in Microsoft software (which I very rarely use). I don't know how Paul creates his web pages, but html (the code behind websites) was developed so that, by definition, all white space (also called "negative space" -- spaces, Enters and other non printable characters) would compress to one space when displayed in the browser. In addition to allowing me a bit of sloppiness in my site development, it also allows me to put line breaks wherever I like in order to make my code more readable (to me or to anyone else that wants to borrow/steal my clever code). Whatever I do I'll always get one space. Microsoft's programs which allow the production of html, assume that when you have two or more [white] space characters, you really intended to have two -- I may be a perfectionist when it comes to text output, (I worked as a typesetter for a number of years), but double spaces bug me when I am reading!

The open source community defines itself as follows (my bolds):

Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. [Other software is completely closed and hidden, and the peers all work for Microsoft or Adobe or wherever.] The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in [this is the real problem -- you just keep paying . . . forever].

Open source is a software development methodology, which offers practical accessibility to a product's source (insides), allowing modifications which are then put back into the public domain.

Some consider open source as one of various possible design approaches, while others consider it a critical strategic element of their operations. Before open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; the term open source gained popularity with the rise of the Internet, which provided access to diverse production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. [The Internet allowed joint development to be carried out over a wide geographic area.]

The open source model of operation and decision making allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, and differs from the more closed, centralized models of development. The principles and practices are commonly applied to the development of source code for software that is made available for public collaboration.

In other words, if you are not driven by greed, and are willing to pool knowledge, you should be able to produce something both useful and reliable, and probably also better.

You don't lose the ability to make money if your production is based on open source. There are other ways to make money than by charging for closed software. These need to upfront and include consulting, customer service, customising and more.

The world is benefiting from open source with easy, usable computer programs with a low barrier to entrance.

Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


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