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OSNews: Is Free Software Always a Good Thing?

May 23, 2003, 08:30 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Adam Scheinberg)

"Now, this is not a review of Windows Server 2003 or even an attempt to discuss it. However, installing and using has clarified some feelings, in my mind, about the success and shortcomings of open source software. As a grateful user of download editions of Linux, desktop environments like KDE and Gnome, and applications like gaim, OpenOffice.org, and Mozilla Firebird, I rely heavily upon free software for my day to day work. I use Apache http Server and script with PHP and write some Perl. I am no stranger to the quality of individual open source products, and I owe a debt of gratitude to developers around the world.

"That said, booting up into Windows for the first time in a long time was surprisingly joyful. The graphics and feel of the system were tight and coordinated, the look and feel was sleek. Despite the fact that it's supposed to be a server OS (which is a whole separate issue), it felt like a single, integrated system. Installing Office 2003 for the very first time was simple enough--as expected, clicking the setup.exe file installed the necessary components and I knew exactly where to find them, having installed a previous version before. Despite the fact that this was supposed to be a 'trial run,' I had my server configured as a web server, a file server, a print server, and my primary desktop machine within an hour or so.

"This is what got me thinking--'Choice is good.' Some debate the marketability of choice--it confuses new users, it makes learning much more complex, it makes each computer different enough so that you must, to some extent, relearn what you can and can't do on each box. But one downfall of the amount choice is that it makes Linux, in this particular case, feel disjointed. Some programs feel meshed and others feel semi-developed. Some programs are themeable, while others maintain a single look. A public with extreme expectations refuses to accept distributions that strip out too much choice, and therefore, we end up with some sort of OS pudding, with each bite tasting just a little different than the rest. To top it off, when a commercial company, like Red Hat, takes a shot at solving this problem, the community backlash can best be described as merciless..."

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