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Friday, March 18, 2005

Open Source Friday: The Question Now is Why?

Posted by: Hammer / 3:21 PM

Why do I care about open source software? For two reasons: 1) it's better; 2) it's freer. Two actually comes in two parts -- the free speech part and the free beer part.

Is open source software better? For lots of purposes, yes. Example:

The PGA Tour, a membership group of professional golfers that is not affiliated with the Professional Golfer's Association, is making extensive use of Linux in its interactive Web site and its real-time game tracking program, TOURcast. Because Linux has worked so well for them, they have had no qualms about migrating to Red Hat for their internal mail systems and intranet.
And everyone's favorite browser keeps getting better:
ZDNet Australia is reporting that Yahoo! plans to make all its features accessible to Mozilla Firefox users. In the future, all new services will be tested for compatibility with both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Firefox before they are launched. The portal giant also plans to make sure all its existing products work with Firefox, though they won't give an exact time scale for this.

"The momentum right now is behind Firefox," says Frost & Sullivan Australia senior analyst Foad Fadaghi, who is quoted in the article. "The Internet players are making sure they don't miss out if there is a mass migration — they have realised that it is not just a Microsoft game anymore."

Dare we call it Fo-mentum? Probably not.

Open source software is often free as in "free beer". You don't have to pay to use it. Even when it's not free, it's still a much better cost proposition than monopolies like Microsoft:

The director of MIT's Media Lab has recommended that Brazil install open-source software on thousands of computers that will be sold to the poor, saying proprietary software programs like ones offered by Microsoft Corp. may be less attractive.

We advocate using high-quality free software as opposed to scaled-down versions of more costly proprietary software," Walter Bender, director of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (news - web sites), said in a letter to the Brazilian government obtained by Reuters on Thursday.

"Free software is far better on the dimensions of cost, power and quality."

For the iPodders among us who aren't Brazilian, there's the new release of iPodder:
iPodder is the premier Podcasting application, allowing users to capture and listen to Internet audio programs anytime, anywhere. It allows users to select and download shows and music and to play whenever they want on their iPods, portable digital media players, or computers automatically, after specifying which music or shows they want to listen to.
Hammer doesn't have an iPod -- plus he already has enough music -- therefore, there will be no official review or endorsement of iPodder. Try it for yourself. It's free.

Open source software is also free as in speech. If I buy a hammer, I can pound any nail in my house. And, if a friend needs help, I can stop over and pound some nails at his house, too. If I want to use the hammer as a paperweight or a door stop, I can do that, as well. Software, on the other hand, doesn't work that way. If I buy a copy of MS Word, I can't bring it to my friend's house. I can only use it according to whatever the EULA says. End User License Agreements strip away every conceivable freedom, particularly the freedoms to share or to change usage or functionality.

There are other advantages to open source software, like standards compliance and a responsive community of users and developers. But I'll save those topics for another day.

Finally, we note that the Mozilla Suite -- the browser plus web page composer plus email client plus news reader -- will continue to be developed:

While the Mozilla Foundation has announced they'll be ending development of their Mozilla Suite to focus on Firefox and Thunderbird, Eweek suggests the community will keep it afloat. The article points out how the developers will "provide infrastructure support … for community members who wish to continue to develop Seamonkey." As of Friday, 70 people had signed up to lend their help on the project, which will ditch the Mozilla moniker.


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