Saturday, October 11, 2008

seeing the light of day

The cave of wonders is immense, you could get lost down there, but what happens when you realize few have seen it. When you hit the light of day folks all around you are misinformed or not knowing, you cock your head back, let out an aspirating cry,"Am I the only one?"

I was on a web site called It is a meeting place for Northeast Ohio folks to sling ideas around and report on how we can or are fixing things in our area. The site is a big supporter of FOSS that is Free and Open Source Software. Linux is included but FOSS will run on many operating systems. So while you Linux lovers may bang your heads against the MS ceiling, FOSS has burst through long ago. This is great because as I have said, once you have settled on an OS, it is the applications that really matter. And lots of users are unaware of the diverse riches of FOSS.

Let's paint some pictures........

There is this thing called user inertia that says users tend to get stuck on the things they are introduced to, things they are familiar with. This does not necessarily mean they have actual experience, a name brand is a powerful thing. The holders of the brand name do all they can to bolster up your loyalty and faith in the name regardless as to whither they deliver a quality product to you or not. Your loyalty is a pledge of revenue. After you have found this name brand stuff useful, you don't give it up without a fight.

FOSS enters the picture. Many software writers have written free programs since computers became personal. People learning to code, exploring and experimenting and not caring about a killer app that folks will pay hundreds for. There developed a second software model, collaborative development but not for profit, not propriety, not access controlled, not, not, not.
The reality is that there are FOSS that do the exact same things that for a price software does. Computer savvy folks all know these things but many typical off the shelf buyers don't. And making folks aware of FOSS is a challenge as folks are not aware, misinformed or loyal and committed to the other stuff.

FOSS covers a lot of issues that for profit companies are against. Free and open access to information is the leading reason, via file formats that are not to one vendors specs so that you can share info without a particular vendor's software. This also includes fonts so that documents look the same in any word processor, web page and email, and web sites that any web browser can access correctly. I think there should be a set of computer formats and fonts that no company can change and they must be included by law in every software. This way if people want to use propriety formats they can and if they want to use free access rated formats and fonts, they can. Free access rated, what's that? PDF files are a perfect example, but DOC files not. DOC files though a business standard are subject to change at the whim of Microsoft, which is why there are so many versions of DOC.

What does FOSS have to do with you? You may think a VW convertible Bug is a poorman's sportcar, but the top is down, the enjoyment high and the payments are right with no skimp on quality. I've said this before, you want to be a digital artist and Photoshop is $400+ dollars and you put off your dreams because of price or criminalize yourself. GIMP is free, has many of the same tools and features and allows you to exercise and sharpen your skills while you are saving up to get the pro-ware. I bought a HP desktop, came with MS Works, a usable but incompatible with MS Office, home office suite. I was always doing my homework and resumes in the wrong file format. Then not using or needing the whole MS Office package for my occasional use, I couldn't see buying MS Office, even the student edition was too much. Open for free will do all what MS Office will does. If you don't need all the advanced features that MS Office claims to have, you really aren't beholden to MS to use or buy their product.

FOSS and the digital divide are made for each other. Folks want to give older computers to needy folks and use no longer supported software that will be on them. Sure they get connected but why give your junker to someone you are trying to help. FOSS will run on older, even MS powered (Win95/98,XP) computers, be up to date and the cost is zero.

Training is a big thing as you need skills to work. I tell people over and over, computer skills are transferable. Schools are saying you need to learn this because this is what is used in business and they train you to use an industry standard product, like Microsoft stuff or Adobe. I learned to type in high school, no one ever said the typewriter we are learning on is the industry standard. I could and did transfer the skills to any keyboard. If your budget doesn't allow you to obtain the software they use in business or at school, FOSS gives you the ability to hone the skills you need without spending a single buck.

Funny how in Northeast Ohio, where I live, with all the computer groups, software users organizations, libraries and schools, FOSS is neither promoted or taught. If commercial software is the key to the digital divide, then why ain't the divide disappearing? People who use and love commercial software really don't have a mind or time for anything else. We really need to identify the FOSS community here, outline ways to learn FOSS, gather materials, videos, make courses and present them to the different layers of the teaching/learning community.

As I sit here at the Linuxville desk, rubbing my eyes and adjusting to the light of day, I realize FOSS is an overlooked and under realized solution to many problems a computer could fix. The freedom of access, the learning of skills and doing useful practical stuff at minimum cost and a tiny little learning curve make FOSS an endless wave you could surf for miles.


Robert West said...

This is a great blog Arno, it's me Robert from alternative energy dot com, I have started to think about things that I hadn't before. This is a place I will visit often:)
Robert West

Robert West said...

By the way Arno I am an artist as well as engineer, I use Photoshop, Gimp, Inkster, etc., so I really identify with your post. Keep on, keeping on:)
Robert West