Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Software Freedom of Choice

NOTE: I first wrote these thoughts in response to "Lxer: The Century of the Linux Desktop", an RSS link to an article on LXer. I wrote my initial comments at Desktop Linux Reviews Forum.

When it comes to software, I believe in freedom and I believe in choice; the choice to run all free sofware, the choice to run a pragmatic mix of free and non-free software, and the choice to run commercial and proprietary software as well.

For my personal use at home, I overwhelmingly run free software with preference toward completely free, when possible, but pragmatic, when it comes to doing the things that I want to do, run the applications that I want to run, and save time and money in the process. I do actually have a version of Windows 7 that my part time employer acquired for me, but now we have a new Webserver that is based on Word Press, and the Email function sends mail directly to me, rather than requiring me to login to Front Page to extract the messages, save them and edit them using proprietary programs. Now I can do the complete job from most any system. Not sure that I'd try it on my netbook, but that might actually be an interesting experiment for when I am "on the go" or out of town.

Favorites? In the foreseeable future, it is quite likely that my favorite will be Linux-based unless something even better comes along. Right now, I like Debian-based derivatives the most, but when Debian lags, I try others as well. Sabayon, PCLinuxOS, openSUSE with Tumbleweed rolling release repositories, and Mageia test (Cooker) versions have provided me with early prototypes of new applications to test out. Debian Sid has been somewhat more stable than them, and Debian Testing has been completely stable. Debian Stable has been rock stable, and it works if all I want is to get on a system, read Email and browse the Web. SimplyMEPIS is the finest ready-to-go Debian-based system if that kind of stability is what you look for, so I always keep it around. The MEPIS derivative antiX is a great alternative to run with either Stable, Testing, or Sid (Unstable), and it provides plenty of tools to use to tinker with it. I keep both Live CDs and multiple installed versions of antiX and one of its recent "children", Swift Linux, installed, they work great.

Before closing this dialog, though, I want to not only defend the right to free software, I want to defend the right to proprietary commercial software as well. There is definitely a place for Windows, and there is definitely a place for Mac OS X too. Windows is great for those who don't want to tinker, will pay for a system, but want it simple. You can get something similar in SimplyMEPIS, PCLinuxOS, or Mint, but some people can't be bothered even to learn their subtle distinctions and quirks, and for them, Windows is the right choice. For others, the Mac definitely has an elegance and a richness to it. To me, it is expensive, and it limits choice, but the choice or alternative that it offers, and to quite a few, who are willing to pay the premium price, it is a very good alternative. It's not for me, but I won't argue or contest with those who like it. Based on what I've seen, though it's not my choice, just like the iPad, iPhone, iMac, anything with the "i" prepending the name, the brand suggests something, and it delivers what it suggests, and that's value - at least to those looking for it.

For me, starting with any of several Debian-derived systems as my starting point, I can make something that can deliver 100% of what I need for every day home use, and I can do it for the cost of the system itself, the media, and the network connection, and my time, that's it. That is a pretty good "value proposition" for me, especially since I can get several of them up and running in under fifteen minutes, perhaps a half hour investment, considering download and media creation times, and I can multi-task during those times, so it's well worth my while, and even at $50 an hour, (if I use a round figure to value my time), I can spend an hour or two before I face the expenses that I would face with any commercial sofware system, so it's well worth it to me, and I also happen to enjoy it.

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