This comic has more meaning for me every day: http://xkcd.com/149/. I wish it actually worked like that (in real life that is).
Recently I installed Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin on my Macbook Pro 8,2. Needless to say, it’s having a hard time measuring up to Mac OS X. Nevertheless, I am determined to fix most of the blatant problems I have with it in light of my new major and because I like messing around with things.
I have now come to associate a new term with myself because I do mess around with things quite a lot (most of them computer related) and that term is “hacker.” I like it because of the negative connotation it usually has (especially to the non-computer public watching popular entertainment) which is technically and more accurately associated with the word “cracker.” I decided to cave to the definition provided by this website recommended by a former roommate (the same who convinced me to set up Linux on my computer in the first place). The document that helped me accept the decision of switching my life goals from involving arts and design to computers and technology can be found on the same site here.
My first experience with Linux can actually be traced to the time where I crashed an older computer that my parents inherited from my grandpa. My dad, being a bit of a techie himself, took it upon him to install a now deprecated version of Ubuntu on our tower in order to access our data and connect to the internet. We didn’t have any backups (and probably still don’t) or any other computers that my parents were willing to subject to the potential dangers of internet usage (of course, they were all running Windows) so Ubuntu seemed like a good solution for the time.
And I hated it.
Ubuntu to me was nothing like Windows. Those were the days before I spent most of my computer time in a browser and instead relied on the compatibility Windows provided for games and other software. The interface was not as shiny as it is now, and I live for shiny interfaces. Sure it worked, but I was honestly rather happy when my dad was able to boot Windows again (although that may have only been when we got a new computer several months later).
Since then, I used Windows Vista (the version of Windows on our then new computer) until I got the Macbook I’m typing on now. Mac OS has quickly become my favorite operating system. Everything works beautifully, rather quickly, and with clean, intuitive interfaces. I can barely stand living without multitouch gestures or multiple virtual desktops (causing my current qualms with Ubuntu). Even if I’m not using them all I still flip between desktops for fun.
However, Ubuntu is getting close to proving its worth. It is free to download (as are many other Linux distros), but it still costs my time to battle through its faulty GUI. In that regard, Mac OS puts up a magnificent fight because everything for the most part just works.
However, knowing this got me thinking – will open source software eventually rule the world? There must be a point where so many people become involved with open source projects that they eventually compete with and maybe even surpass their privately funded counterparts in quality and functionality. For example, Linux is well on its way to replacing Windows, GIMP could take on Photoshop, Inkscape is another Illustrator, Firefox already destroyed Internet Explorer, Blender is battling Maya, and a host of other software packages war across the expanse of the earth and the internets.
Generally I find that private software is still better, at least at face value (disregarding the cost factor). However, I think that the customizability available with open source software, the opportunity to suggest and contribute new features, and, for the experienced, the ability to fix problems by writing directly to the source code of the application may eventually overrule the ease of use, professional look, and guarantees included with private software. Price almost decides the battle upfront – if it weren’t for the piracy of private software, open source would likely be leading in installations, even if professionals continued to use higher end packages.
Unfortunately (for the consumers that is; the vendors are probably happy with things as they are) we have not yet reached that day. Windows is still selling operating systems for more than a hundred dollars each, Adobe is still selling design software for several hundreds of dollars each, and Autodesk is selling 3D creation software for multiple thousands of dollars each. However, it is possible that the day where most people look to buy professional software as the first option to solving their computational needs will soon draw to a close.