Friday, December 19, 2008

Over coming FOSS assumptions

I have touched on many topics users encounter in their approach to Linuxville. If you can get past the Mac and PC Burma-shave marketing noise, you enter into a place with new sights and sounds. The three most common remarks, "I didn't know Linux looked like that!" and "I didn't know you could do that in Linux!" or "Can I run my MS software in Linux?" Well, each operating system creates a world around itself, Linux is no different. The reason is to provide many solutions and meet the needs of the various kinds of users. Why one operating system should accommodate the applications born on another is a mystery only users dream of. Then there is Free and Open Source Software or FOSS. The idea is that software can be compiled or ported to run on different platforms. Some companies are reluctant to allow their applications to be ported to run on other OS's. Many of the applications born on the Linux platform however do not have this problem. Linux itself is free and for the most part open source. I say wow, an application like Open, will run on MS, Linux and Macs. Open source software gives you an added layer of freedom. You can move your files and your user work experience across platforms.

"I am uncertain of difference and change." I know the feeling. When ever I bought a new car, I struggled with the new car smell and feel, it's just not like my old car. Finally I come to grips, it has a steering wheel, brakes and gas pedal, the gear shifter (might be different), it sounds a bit different and the response. After a test drive I get the confidence, I can adjust to this, it's not that bad. The best car I ever had was a Pontiac 6000, roomy, zoomy and that startling orange dashboard back-lighting! Switching computer platforms can be like that.

What happens when a product doesn't live up to all the marketing hype? Seems the technical crowd go all out to warn users that a product experience might not be so great. And some users like political party faithfuls refuse to believe something is amiss. MS has had a few OS offerings that were not so hot. That Millennium thingy and now Vista are met with regrets. I like many others thought XP was way way better. I've seen some prelim reviews of the new MS Win7, looks promising. But being a Linux guy, I can afford to wait and see. Will MS restore the public confidence to buy their stuff without reservation, because it is on the shelf, the defacto standard? Stay tuned. Will Apple's Macs escape the Unix tractor beam or will Yul Brynner's face fall off revealing a cold kill you cyborg nature? The Borg are everywhere, you know. Then there are the Astronaut Farmer types who pieced Linux together in kits (distros) so you to can have your own low budget space program. Linuxville has more rocket silos per capa than any OS town.

Getting back to FOSS assumptions, the common thought is that if the software is on the shelf, it is approved for use. The shelf is where most go to find a user "product". It is only after folks have spent the bucks, invested in that platforms' economy to upgrade and replace, that they begin to wonder about alternatives. I have seen people buy Paintshop Pro because Photoshop was too expensive. They don't really have a need for the top shelf but feel any notch lower is better that MS Paint. Folks have their reasons to justify the purchase. A lot of the software dubbed free-ware has not been that great. The interfaces have been awkward or unattractive and the tools short of producing the results users want. FOSS has been escaping that low quality stigma. The various software projects are manned by armies of open source developers and users who endeavor to improve and debug FOSS to equal or surpass the stuff on the shelf. Can it be that I can get what I want for free? Not seen on TV or at your local PC merchant's store, but on the net? After all this time, many many people are clueless and could care less, some just don't know. I put to you to do the word of mouth thing.

Here are some results of my using FOSS applications (GIMP and Inkscape to be exact).

And I think I've showed this one before.

The FOSS graphics applications are different than the store bought ones but the tools are the same. I am not a professional working for a commercial concern so I am not needing commercial software. I am an artist, free to use what ever tools I find adequate to express my ideas. Usually the only thing that matters is the file format of the final artwork. Inkscape and GIMP will produce a number of file formats that are compatible with commercial software. I also use Abiword, Open and other FOSS with no ill side effects. The bottom line is that branding is not the only mark of quality or the stability/certainty of a piece of software. FOSS is called community developed and supported, but realize that they are not a free wheeling menagerie of aimless back-room nerds and code-heads. They are supported by many companies, groups and organizations who donate time, money and salaries to give you the stuff for free. And you can support the efforts, the same as they, with time and bucks, if you like.

In Linuxville you can go to the Linux Graphics Users forum, if you are graphically inclined. I hope I have sparked your interest in FOSS, in that case go here to enter into a whole new world. "Please come to Linuxville in the springtime, babe!"...........

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