Making a case for excluding users from open source
January 16, 2012
Open source or free software is meant to remove the shackles of proprietary software binding users all over the world. This in itself is a very noble idea and goal. However, it’s also a very tough goal. Not because people are happy with their shackles but because most people don’t care about them. I see around myself people who want to do stuff and it doesn’t matter how they do it. Want to watch some TV show online? Pay Netflix, Hulu, whatever, to watch it. Even with all the hoopla about content piracy, people are signing up in droves for these services.
Computers are complex machines. Not everyone can or is willing to understand how they function. All many people want is to be able to fire up a browser and connect with friends/family using Facebook or to sign in to Hotmail every once in a while. They also want to be able to carry a phone that can play music, games, YouTube, etc.
The computer industry, in my very limited knowledge, is very cyclical. But with each cycle more and more people have become users of technology. But if we look at this technology adoption, it has been forced down the throats of people. TV was a simple device but now it’s a beast; there are so many TVs to choose from, let alone the myriad devices surrounding it. 10 years ago no consumer wanted this but the companies researching and producing these products have forced them onto all consumers. It’s very rare that you find a good old-fashioned TV anymore. Thus, newer technology is quickly replacing older one even if the consumers are satisfied with their perfectly-fine/working technology.
The proponents of open source and free software need to classify users all over the world first. We all need to know who is already using technology and what they are using it for. We also need to know who isn’t using technology and how they will use it if they can. I will take the liberty to classify users myself, with a purely subjective and non-scientific point of view.
There are two digital worlds: the haves and the have-nots. For the have-nots, open source and free software is a godsend. They are able to not only use technology but possibly learn how it functions. I believe they are prime candidates to be targeted for open source. On the other hand, the haves already have access to a plethora of technology and a lot of them have no inclination to ever learn more about it.
If you ever want to lose faith in technology-using humanity, head over to Tales from Tech Support or Not Always Right. No matter how hard we try, such users will never be able to appreciate the hard work and love put into open source. So isn’t it better for our sanity to let them be? Just like I have no idea how my car functions or plumbing works or electricity has been implemented in my home, they have no idea how computers function. But there’s a big difference between computers and cars/plumbing/electricity: their interface is simple enough to learn and repeat over different devices. Computers, on the other hand, have so many interfaces that we can’t expect everyone to learn them easily. Those willing to put an effort into learning them should be supported and welcomed; others left on their own.
Open source should not aim to take over the world. Open source should aim to make products that proponents of open source want to use. If regular users find benefit in these products, chalk that up as a win. But if the same regular users are not served by open source products, do not chalk it up as a loss. If commercial interests merge with open source interests, more users benefit, but even if they diverge the world doesn’t necessarily have to end. They keep doing their thing and we keep doing ours. We can continue to scratch our itch and let users decide whether they have the same itch to scratch. We won’t have many successful commercial ventures this way but at least we will not lose our passion for open source. The same passion we lose when our hard work is questioned for not being as good as shackling proprietary stuff. Open source was and must remain an alternative; if it dominates, well and good, if not, I really don’t see it as a bad thing.