Communicating freely

Archive for the ‘open formats’ Category

Useful freedom

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

"You’re not the REAL Farmer McShane!"

My friend (let’s call him Dave) was right.  I’m not.  I don’t even know who the real Farmer McShane is.  I mean, one minute we’re talking about computers and the next he comes out with this.  I suspect it’s a distraction technique.

Our conversations usually drift around Windows (which I use for web design), GNU/Linux (which is now my main desktop) and MacOS X (Dave’s baby).  More often than not I say something slightly negative about Macs, Dave denies it, and we end up bickering like two children.

I like the Mac.  I don’t agree with all of Apple’s aims but I do think the Mac looks and feels great to work with.  It’s certainly a sweeter deal than the clunky Windows machines.

However, lately I’ve been banging a Ubuntu drum.  I installed Dapper Drake and finally GNU/Linux was working like a proper grown-up operating system.  No more messing around with configuration files.  No more heartache.  Just click, click, click.  It’s beautiful.

Several Mac geeks have defected to the Ubuntu cause.  This annoys Dave.  He’s not happy.  Arguments centred around open formats, anti-DRM and the cult of the penguin tend to get him vibrating and cause steam to drift out of his ears.

I don’t blame Dave.  He’s got this beautiful computer with this lovely interface, and then some jerks come along and say its evil.  Worse than that, the jerks are waving a similar product that won’t play his music and are cheeky enough to say their way is the true path to enlightenment.

But…it’s true.

My iPod is dead.  Apple won’t fix it.  My music is in AAC format in the iTunes library.  I can’t listen to it on my Nokia phone (with MP3), and it won’t play in my Ubuntu install.  Bang.  All the shine, gloss and wonder is gone, and I’ll left with 600 songs I can’t listen to while I work or take my evening walk.

I used to have the same problems with my mailbox in Outlook Express.  I could not shift my mail to another program easily.  I used to have the same problem with Office documents.  Ditto for instant messenger profiles spread across different clients.  Closed, locked formats holding me into applications and working methods I either didn’t want or needed to escape.

Now my life is easier.  ODF means my documents just move, and when I need to give them to someone in Windows land I can send a PDF or (if they really want it) a DOC.  My mail and instant messenger profiles are in MBOX and XML formats.  I know that my data is safe.

Right now I am in control, not the guys who made my software.  I can change application or computer at will.  Isn’t that how it should be?

Whether or not I’m the real Farmer McShane (and I’m not), I do think openness and freedom is become very relevant.  It’s about allowing us to make our own choices about the tools we use and the data we own.  It’s sure as heck a lot better than losing 600 songs because the Apple iPod breaks one month out of warranty.