This is going to sound like an exercise in contradictions, so strap yourselves in.
The other day I responded to a post on Facebook and said I predicted in the next five years all major platforms would be open. In that, I included Windows and OS X. I realize it sounds like I’ve spent way too much in some misguided fantasy land where everyone gets along, salary equality happens, and servers never go down, but hear me out.
Both Microsoft and Apple have already laid the framework of open source acceptance. Apple even has an open source page to display everything they’ve already made open and in 2015 Microsoft went on record to say an “Open source Windows is definitely possible”. When you consider the state of enterprise computing, it becomes very clear without open source things would get dicey.
The writing is all over the bathroom walls…open source has won and runs some of the most powerful networks and systems on the planet. If the major players want a piece of that glorious pie, they’re going to have to play the open game.
Besides, neither Microsoft nor Apple make serious money from operating systems any longer. Both companies have even given away upgrades to major releases. The death knell has tolled for platform as profit model.
But wait…isn’t this about Linux fans opening their arms to closed source?
Let me explain.
Mixing it up
Most of the software I use on a regular basis is open. LibreOffice, The GIMP, Audacity, OpenShot, Thunderbird, Clementine…those are the open source apps I use daily. However, there are a few pieces of the puzzle that are closed. Chrome, Spotify client, Google Apps, Insync…all closed. All of these titles, however, run on the very much open source, Elementary OS Freya. So my daily routine is a mixed bag of open and closed.
There are many people that would tell me I could switch out open software for those few closed titles. Chromium could handle Chrome’s duty, Grive2 could replace Insync, the Spotify web client works well, and…well…a combination of pieces could possible take the place of Google Apps.
Sure, that’s all very possible. However, what I need, more than anything, is to be able to work efficiently and reliably. I would happily give up those closed bits for open bits…if they were available. Yes, Chromium should stand as a drop-in replacement for Chrome, but I have found (on more than enough occasions) that Chromium and Google Apps don’t always get along well.
Truth be told, there are apps, which happen to be closed source, that I depend upon. Because those closed source apps function on Linux, my daily routine hums along quite well. If those apps didn’t function within the Linux ecosystem, they wouldn’t even be part of the picture. Thing is…they do. And because they do, I use them. And because I (and many others) use them…they exist (you see that circle of life in action there?).
Ideals are great
It would be utterly fantastic if every piece of software was open source. Imagine the possibilities. The sky would no longer be the limit. However, that’s not going to happen. Although we may very well live in a world where all major platforms are open, that’s not going to happen with the bits and pieces that lay on top of the operating systems. There are companies out there that must turn a profit to keep the doors open and they fully believe profit will not occur if the source to their baby is made available. Those companies are not Microsoft or Apple (who can depend upon profit from hardware or services), so those apps are their bread and butter.
Because of this, and because companies like Microsoft and Apple have opened their eyes to the truth (that the only way to retain any relevance to “platform” is to open it), it’s time the open source faithful open their arms and embrace closed apps. That doesn’t mean, in any way, you are giving up on the idea of freedom. What it means is that the best tool for the job is the one you should be using…be that open, closed, or somewhere in between. Should you close your mind to close sourced tools, you could miss out on some seriously amazing applications. On top of that (and this is something I’ve harped on for decades), the more you use closed source applications on open source environments, the more will be made available. It’s what I call the “reverse Field Of Dreams”.
If you buy them, they will come.
I’ve been seeing this more and more lately. A new software title will appear on my radar and, when I go to check it out, I find they’ve developed their tool for all platforms…Linux included. The importance of this should not be overlooked. Think about it, companies are releasing their software for Linux…without us having to petition, email, beg, and plead. That, my friends, is a sign o’ the times. Maybe they aren’t releasing the source, but the apps work on our platform of choice. One war cry can now be silenced.
Open source has been very good to me for over a decade and I intend on never using a closed source desktop or server platform. Why? Because I have found Linux to be the single best platform for me to get my work done efficiently and reliably. On top of those platforms, however, I will use whatever tool gets the job done. Closed, open, or somewhere in between. When a viable open sourced alternative to a closed source app arrives, I’ll happily replace that closed source software. Until then, well…you get the idea.