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+1 to Opensource

This post is about a philosophy, nothing more. I had tweeted the title months ago. I thought that I'd better write a post too.

Apart from Windows, my antivirus and Microsoft Flight Simulator X; you'd be hard-pressed to find any proprietary software on my computer. I like to use FOSS everywhere.

Call me a geek, my reasons for using FOSS are simple. I just cannot pay for all the proprietary software I'd require. Consider that Adobe Photoshop costs close to $ 1000, Lightroom costs $ 100, Photomatix costs the same, MS office costs around $ 500. I cannot pay so much.

But this does not mean that I compromise on quality. As I've recognized in my various experiments with FOSS, free does not mean poor quality. Why is FOSS so successful? Simply because it is open, in that everyone who uses it can modify it to suit their needs.

Let's consider an example. Say you are interested in a word-processing software (assuming you are one of the many idiots who do not use LaTeX. You download a free word processing software like LibreOffice Writer, but are unhappy with the way it handles ligatures. If you are a programmer, you are able to easily modify the software so that it handles ligatures better. As this is a modification that improves the software for many, it is incorporated into the next release of the software, which happens in a few weeks time. That way, FOSS software continuously improves, and the improvements are linked closely with user demands, because more often than not, the users are also the developers of the software.

With the large pool of software out there, FOSS seems a good way out. Suppose one software handles a particular task very well, and another some other task, and a software is needed which will handle both; since the source codes are available, software development becomes easy.

Why, then, is open source software considered inferior to its proprietary counterparts? Well, one reason is the popular (though erroneous) perception that anything free will be of inferior quality. The other reason is the fact that since open-source software is made by users who are developers (in other words, geeks), it often sucks when it comes to UI design. Consider that the developers and many of the users are people who prefer to use the terminal for every task.

As an example, consider the software qtpfsgui, or Luminance HDR. Just try to remember the name. It is a software for creating high dynamic range (HDR) images. Now, the developers very kindly decided to leave all the decision making process onto the users, i.e. they have offered a wide range of algorithms at the user's disposal. Which is a good thing, cause it offers much more control over the image rendition. However, bombarding a user with the names of the algorithms as <author, year> is not going to go down well with photographers, many of them not comfortable with even the basic laws of reflection. Moreover, it asks for exact parameters required by the algorithms, of which a user will have no idea unless (s)he has read the corresponding scientific paper, an onerous task.

The fact that FOSS is superior to proprietary software was driven home when I tried to create a panorama. My camera manufacturer had provided me with a proprietary software, which cost around $ 80, which of course was added to the cost of the camera. Yet, when I tried to create a panorama of the Niagara falls, as seen from Skylon Tower, because the panorama was taken from a higher vantage, looking down, perspective distortion kicked in, and the panorama turned out curved, so that I could never create a 360° panorama. I then used Hugin, and the results astonished me. I had never thought that a free software would provide such quality. The resulting panorama is here.

This was when I tweeted "+1 to opensource"

Why do I use open source? Simply because it's affordable, reliable, and gives me a chance to give back to the community, something which I plan to do very soon. For those of you who know to code, I would strongly recommend using and improving open-source software (after all, that is the freedom we've been struggling for) so that every one will like using FOSS.

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