Open Source vs. Mac vs. Windows

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FJ de Kermadec

FJ de Kermadec
Feb. 09, 2004 02:47 AM

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An increasing number of Windows users are running away from Microsoft, feeling threatened, abused or [fill in the blank] by a giant company... This movement is relayed by the general media that publishes increasingly detailed articles about how wonderful all open-source solutions are, as opposed to proprietary operating systems.

I am afraid that, in the excitement, many users are mixing up the company that they try to escape ( Microsoft ) and companies in general, leading to a very confusing and potentially dangerous situation -- and I am not talking about economics here...

Before closing your browser tab and deleting all my articles from your hard drive, allow me to explain myself !

I have nothing against Linux, BSD, Open Source or the people who make these great projects possible ! On the contrary : I think that most of the amazingly great technologies that have emerged lately have roots in the open source movement -- just look at OpenOffice, Mozilla, OpenSSH, the BSD family and many, many more... ! I use open source applications with great pleasure in my daily workflow and would probably never go back to their commercial counterparts.

Unlike some users, though, and unlike what most articles suggest, I am not trying to escape companies by doing that : I use open source software when it is superior to its commercial counterparts.

My computer of choice is a Macintosh with Mac OS X v. 10.3, Panther, loaded with Apple applications. At first sight, some users may think that it is as proprietary as you can get. But if you look closer you will see that I also use OpenOffice, Mozilla Thunderbird, Mozilla Firebird, Camino, KOffice, Chatzilla... and that all of this sits on a standards-based, open source operating system !

Why ? Because I think that open source truly shines when it can be combined with proprietary solutions, in an elegant way.

Indeed, only a company can create a large, unified group of developers, interface designers, marketers, support advisors, resellers... And only a company can work closely with multiple vendors to create perfectly integrated, compatible applications like FinalCut, QuickTime or XGrid.

Even open source projects that try to provide support now have to ask for money -- and isn't this the beginning of what some are trying to escape ? If you need help with a Mozilla product, you will need to pay $39.95, for example. If you become a Mandrake Club platinum member, you are paying for almost a full-price copy of Panther every month -- the "recommended level" would bring you down to a copy of Panther per year.

No open source project -- or company, for that matter -- has released an operating system that matches the elegance and efficiency of Mac OS X -- in terms of appearance, ease of use, and technology.

But, in the same way, only open source movements can guarantee freedom -- since there isn't one company that can decide what it does with the code --, form a group of culturally diverse, talented developers -- since there is no formal office needed --, create great specialized software -- since profit is not a concern --, mix and match various technologies...

By combining the strengths of these two philosophies, we could get the best of both worlds and provide users with solutions that are at the same time polished and free -- as in "not proprietary".

Apple is the first company that works so closely with the open source community, while releasing commercial products on such a scale. The open source community helps Apple and Apple helps it by giving back some code they have developed internally.

Let's take a few examples ! Darwin, a fully open source operating system, is the foundation of Mac OS X, the world's most advanced operating system. Mac OS X server leverages many open source technologies and allows many users who would not know what to do with the raw project files to use them. Best of all, Safari is the result of a true collaboration between Apple and the KHTML team.

I simply wish that more companies could follow this trend that is beneficial for them and for the open source community. Some of them do, of course, but not all, far from it.

I certainly appreciate why someone would want to work with all open-source solutions and in no way am I trying to imply that open source projects should be "integrated" into companies -- since this would negate the "open source" part. But how many users actually take the time to read the source of what they install ? Yes, they could but most of them don't : how could you read millions of lines of code alone ? How cheap is an operating system or server solution that you cannot install or maintain yourself ?

Many of the PC users I know installed a Linux or BSD distribution on their machines, tried to use them and to set them up, only to go back to Windows a few weeks later. Why ? Because they ran into compatibility issues, because they didn't want to read books and post in mailing lists to learn how to use their new OS. That's really a shame since these people are clearly missing something, tons of great open source stuff that they could be using today on their Macs, along with iLife and QuickTime.

In a word, I do not believe in "all proprietary" ( this would be 1984 ;-) but, at the same time, I don't believe in "all open source" either. Both worlds have their strengths and weaknesses and the Mac seems to be at the center of their reunion ! You wouldn't want to miss that, would you ?

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different !

FJ de Kermadec is an author, stylist and entrepreneur in Paris, France.