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An Enemy of FOSS

In my previous post I referenced a discussion  I had on starryhope.com. In that same discussion a commenter accused me of being an “enemy of FOSS”  because I promoted and actually purchased an Apple product. It was that commenter’s opinion that all computer related products should be purchased on their “philosophy of design and ethos”. An informed consumer would not purchase a non-FOSS product when a FOSS alternative was available. In the same breath he noted that I was “confused and stupid” for thinking otherwise. In this post I will examine some real reasons why consumers buy specific products.

Most of my readers probably know what FOSS stands for, but for those who don’t It’s an acronym for Free Open Source Software. FOSS software is released along with its source code. It is provided without charge. The end user is allowed to modify that software as he or she desires or to do anything they want with it  including selling it!  Of course, selling the software would be a scam but it is not illegal and it is, sadly, often done. The OpenOffice suite is a good example. OpenOffice is nearly 100% compatible with Microsoft Office. It can use the Microsoft file formats and duplicates most features. It is free. I personally use and reccomend OpenOffice.

Linus Torvalds released an operating system “kernel” as FOSS software. Today it is known as Linux and is the backbone upon which many wonderful Linux distros  are built including the two most popular.. Ubuntu and Linux Mint. IMHO these are very good products and I recommend them to my friends as well as write about them in my posts. Do I recommend them because they are FOSS products? NO!. I recommend them because they work well and accomplish the job that the user expects of them! It is function that sells products not philosophy, even when the price is free.

In a recent article on CNET, the reviewer made a good analogy as follows. A persons goes into a hardware store and purchases a 1/4″ drill bit. Does that person really want a 1/4″ drill bit? No, what that person really wants is a 1/4″ hole! The typical consumer has absolutely no idea what FOSS is. He wants a device that will do email, surf the web, access facebook and etc. He must choose between Apple products, Microsoft products, other vendors and other OS’s (including Android). Some of these might be FOSS products but that will not be an element of his decision.

Apple is currently enjoying very healthy sales figures. They are outselling their competitors by significant margins. Apple products are simplistic in design with just a few buttons and ports. They are designed with an “ease of use” philosophy. Simple enough that they are sold without detailed instruction manuals. The purchaser can usually just look at the device and get started. Sure, you can find details online and you might even buy a manual but most things are obvious. The gadgets just work!

In November 2011 I purchased a Nook tablet. I wanted an Android device so that I could test and compare the Android OS and available software. The Nook could be “rooted” so that it could run most Android software and not be limited to that provided by Barnes and Noble. Rooting the gadget and installing quite a bit of software provided days of fun and truly did accomplish my goals for it, but would I recommend this device to friends? I might if all the friend wanted was an enhanced reading device because that’s all it really is. Yes, it will do email, surf the web and access facebook but those functions are much better accomplished on the desktop or on the iPad. The Nook does’t get much use except for reading an occasional book.




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