Re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?

Subject: Re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axion -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 20 Aug 2005 19:37:41 -0700

John Posada expressed an interest in hearing my opinion on what people
have said on this topic. I'm not going to win any friends for this
opinion, but I suppose it's far too late for me to make a good
impression on most of the list members anyway, right?

My opinion is quite simple: Almost every answer comes down to the fact
that people aren't famililar with open source, and won't invest the same
effort in it than they do in proprietary software that they know is
over-priced, buggy and beyond their control.


- One poster complains that it is hard to download. I find it hard to
believe that downloading something from the Internet could be a problem
for anyone, but let's assume that it is. How is this harder than buying
a piece of software, installing it and typing in a 25 digit registration
number, then activating the software so that it will continue to work
after thirty days? Anyway, even if downloading was harder, what's a
little difficulty when you are getting for free functionality that would
cost you over $800 in a proprietary product? This poster is far from
stupid, so the only way I can make sense of this reason is to assume
that he's used to the difficulties of installing proprietary software,
so they don't bother him as much as any difficulties in installing open
source software.

- Another poster says that she tried but gave it up
because of bugs. I can't help wondering whether some of those bugs were
the admittedly strange default settings that I told her about when she
complained about them. I also observe that I didn't see her on the OOo
User's list trying to solve her problems. This behavior, I submit, is
not how anyone would approach getting to know a piece of proprietary
software. Once again, stupidity can be ruled out, so I strongly wonder
whether a feeling that free software couldn't be worth anyone's time is
behind the stated reason. Having written about and used
heavily for several years, I also know for a fact that there are no bugs
that make it unsuitable for technical writing.

- A third poster complains that lacked some features in
MS Word. Unless she is talking about a grammar checker or some of the
reference and collaborative features found in the Tools menu -- which
seems unlikely in context -- I can state categorically that she is
wrong. Presumably, she has not familiarized herself with the software to
find where the functions she wanted were located.

I believe that she is closer to the mark when she goes on to call to say
that it isn't intuitive. However, since we do not live in a world of
Platonic absolutes, no such thing as intuitive software exists. People
who use the term usually mean "familiar." Since she continues by
complaining that it doesn't do things the way that MS Word does, I
suspect that this is the sense in which this poster is using it.

- Another poster complains that the features in open source software are
added by the whims of developers, not users' needs. There's some truth
in this comment, but, since he then goes on to say that proprietary
software has the same problem -- which is equally true -- it is negated
as a reason for not using open source software. Yet he does not seem to
be abandoning proprietary software for the same reason.

Other posters repeat widely circulating myths. They say that free and
open source software lacks support or training, or that a transition to
it has hidden costs. No independent study agrees with these arguments
(particularly for the kind of software that technical writers are likely
to use). Nor is there any talk about the problems of using proprietary
software. So, once again, I suspect that people are sticking with the
familiar simply because it is familiar.

The one argument that I accept in the discussion is that free and open
source software replacements don't exist for some purposes. However, I
notice that this argument is made by a poster who, from both his post in
this thread and in past ones, obviously has
some knowledge of the topic.

I want to be polite about this, and start a discussion rather than a
flame war. Still, part of me wants to ask: Where is everybody's
intellectual curiosity? Their wish to learn more about their job, to
make themselves more employable, to help their employers find a better
way? Their efforts to avoid being left behind in the knowledge needed to
do their jobs? Their concern about the economic and political background
of their employment? Their concern about basic human rights? About
ending the divide between developed and non-developed nations?

For me, considering free and open source software is about all these

But, of course, I'm hopelessly biased. I've been involved in the free
and open source communities for six years now, and currently make almost
my entire income from them. No doubt what seems clear to me is probably
far less so to other people.

So, if I've offended anyone here, my apologies. If nothing else, the
responses show me that there's still a lot of work left for the
communities to do.

Bruce Byfield 604-421-7177

"Navigator, navigator, rise up and be strong,
The morning is here and there's work to be done,
With your pick and your shovel and your old dynamite,
To shift a few tons of this earthly delight."
- The Pogues


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RE: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?: From: Nuckols, Kenneth M
RE: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?: From: Bruce Byfield
Re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?: From: David Castro
Re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?: From: Gene Kim-Eng

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