Don't be an OSShole

What’s an OSShole? OSShole is a person who uses every opportunity to promote open-source alternatives, no matter how irrelevant it is in the given situation.

Keep calm and switch to Linux Photo: Flickr

We all love open source software; we love how it’s transparent, we love how we can add our own features, we love how it runs our servers, we love it on our mobile devices, routers, on the internet. But some people love it even more. They love to talk about it every time, every place, every situation.

BSOD because RAM fried? Wouldn’t happen on Linux. Someone doesn’t know how to save a document as PDF; they can do it in LibreOffice. Looking for a way to edit SVG in CorelDRAW? Why not Inkscape? Your cat died? Here, have a penguin. Trying to access your deceased uncle’s phone? Can’t help you, but maybe if he used stock Android …

If you need me, I’ll try to stay as far as possible

There’s something those people seem to have in common: they either never contribute to open source software, or they refuse to touch anything that’s not OSS. And they never mention how much effort they’ve put into configuring their system, or how many times they had to wipe the disk and start from scratch.

That’s not relevant. That’s something everyone can do. And everyone has time to read what this flag does, so there’s no need to make a user-friendly configurator with a list of the most commonly used and tested configurations. Just read the technical documentation or look at source code, this is open-source software after all.

Use free software at any cost

That’s fine, though. I can spend two days writing a script to automate deployment process using free open source tools because it saves me 30 minutes each time I run it, plus about $1000 per year on licencing.

How much will I save for my home desktop? $15 on Windows, and $35 on Office licence, if I take a chance and get them from some shady retailer. That’s worth less than 2 hours of my time. Are you really, absolutely, positively sure OSS alternatives are so perfect I won’t spend at least 2 hours just getting used to them?

“It only takes one extra step …” Photo: Pxfuel

User experience matters

Perhaps the main reason most people still prefer commercial closed-source software over OSS is user experience. Telling someone to just install a codec when their .mp4 video doesn’t play solves the problem. However, it’s a problem they didn’t have with commercial software - any other (recent) device they own can play .mp4 videos out of the box since it’s the most popular video format of the past decade and manufacturers know an extra step here will drive customers away.

You get what you pay for

Remember, crime doesn’t pay! - How much does being a superhero pay?

Supporting OSS doesn’t pay itself. I’ve done it, thousands of researchers do it, people on GitHub do it, and sooner or later everyone comes to the same conclusion: it only works as long as you can use your OSS in some commercial product or someone pays you because they use it. What’s a main commercial product for OSS? Servers, cloud infrastructure, machine learning, embedded devices, high-performance computing, perhaps web and mobile apps. Home & office software certainly isn’t one of these.

Of course, if you want people to develop software for your server-oriented system, you need to give them a reasonably similar desktop environment to work on. And since they’re going to use it as their primary system, might as well add tools for everyday tasks, such as playing video or editing documents and images. But why would anyone buy commercial support for that? If I’m going to pay for commercial support, might as well get a product with reasonably high market share to avoid compatibility issues.

Don’t be an OSShole

Contribute to open source where it matters, use it as much as you want, and learn to consider what people around you need. If they need a full-on office system and are willing to pay, don’t give them something they don’t know just because it’s cheaper. If they need a solution, provide them with a solution, not a completely different approach. And if you don’t have an answer for their use case, say so.

Imagine you came to a doctor with a broken arm, and doctor suggesting you drink a glass of spoiled milk because they only know how to treat nausea. That’s how it feels when someone recommends an open-source alternative instead of helping with your problem.