Why I Love Free and Open Source Software

My love for, and interest in, Free and Open Source software comes from two fairly different perspectives. One perspective is that of me as a programmer, a geek and a freedom loving individual. Another, equally important, perspective is me as a businessman and entrepreneur.

The Geeky Me

I love Free and Open Source software, because it sets people free and enables them to tinker and learn. I hate black boxes with a passion, because they keep us from expanding our horizons, and they enable power monopolies to control the free flow of knowledge and information. The whole concept of keeping knowledge hidden is alien to me – it only benefits the few, where an open world benefit the many.

There’s also the complicated matter of who to trust? Can we really trust software that wont let us see what it is doing with our data? In this day and age, where everybody is connected to everybody, should we, as consumers of software, accept that we have no clue what our data is being used to? Of course not. Free and Open Source software enables us, the users, to confirm that no evil is being done with our data. I’d much rather trust an army of Open Source programmers over big business and government. Any day.

A free society requires Free and Open Source software. The only thing that has historically set people free, is knowledge. Today technology play a key role in making sure people all over the world can gain knowledge. Free and Open Source software is at the heart of this.

So the main attractions of Free and Open Source software to me as a geek, programmer and human being is that it’s a whole lot more trustworthy. It allows knowledge to be shared and it guarantees freedom for both developers and users alike. Free and Open Source software is at the very core of a free society and it is the spear with which ordinary people can destroy power monopolies. And there are still many power monopolies that needs to be completely eradicated from the face of our planet.

We will have our freedom.

The Entrepreneurial Me

From the perspective of a businessman (going on +20 years), the concept of Free and Open Source software is great primarily because of one thing: It enables me to take and maintain control of my business.

I have first hand experience with proprietary products and the companies that develop them. Since 1995 my business have suffered two serious setbacks solely because of proprietary software.

The first time was in 1999 where a vendor claimed I had to invest in a new software package, or my systems would fail due to Y2K issues. The new software would cost me $40K. I moaned and complained about this, as I had already bought and paid for the previous version of this software, only 2 years earlier. But the vendor was adamant: I had to buy the new package. And so I did. My entire business depended on this software, so I really had no choice. To this day I’m not at all convinced that the software even needed the upgrade, because the vendor not only installed the new package, they also completely removed the old hard drives from the server. I had no way of verifying that I actually needed the “upgrade”. The vendor took control of my company and my money. They literally had me by the balls.

The second time was in 2009 where I was suddenly told by a vendor, that they would no longer support and develop the software I had bought from them, despite the fact that I had paid almost $100K in license fees over the years. They just pulled the plug. No development has been done since, and in the summer of 2011 the vendor went bankrupt.

So now I’m stuck with a dead platform, that only works on Windows (ARGH!), and for which no further development and bug/security fixes are done.

Wonderful.

Had these critical pieces of software been Free and Open Source, I could’ve hired programmers of my own and kept the software viable. Had the software been Free and Open Source, chances are there would’ve been other vendors in the market. But alas it wasn’t (and isn’t) Free and Open Source, so now the software will go to it’s grave alongside the dead vendor.

I’ve learned an important lesson from these experiences: Never ever trust companies that aren’t willing to open source their product. If the product is closed source, run for the hills. If your business depends on software, as mine does, you better make sure it’s Free and Open Source.

Do. Not. Trust. Companies. That. Only. Deliver. Closed. Products.

Sooner or later they will f*ck you up.

Just as you would never build a house on a foundation you don’t know anything about, you should never build a business around software that is a black box, and over which you have zero control, because if you have zero control, then that means strangers potentially have 100% control – over YOUR business. That is not good. Trust me, I’ve lived through it.

So even if you don’t buy into the Free and Open Source software ideology in general, you should still only ever base a business on Free and Open Source software, simply because it is the only sane thing to do. Free and Open Source software enables you to run your business how you envision it, not how random vendor X decides. That alone is worth a lot. And “worth a lot” is sweet music to any businessman.

If you’d like to help make the world a better place, then consider joining one of the FSF’s: Free Software Foundation or Free Software Foundation Europe. I’m a member of the latter, as the URL of this blog might already have given away.