back to article You thought you bought software – all you bought was a lie

At the heart of the computer industry are some very big lies, and some of them are especially iniquitous. One is about commercial software. Free and open source software (FOSS) is at the root of a very big lie. FOSS itself isn't a lie. FOSS is real and it matters. The problem is that the most significant attribute of FOSS is a …

  1. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "You own, at most, a serial number"

    So non-fungible tokens are not a novelty at all. We've been forking out for them for years, and now, with the prevalence of the subscription model, we mostly only rent them.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

      [Author here]

      Well, no.

      Because serial numbers are very easy to duplicate.

      They may not _work_ but you can trivially easily copy them.

      Here's a valid key for Office 97:

      11111-11111111111.

      Enjoy. :-)

      The idea of NFTs is that each one is unique and can't be duplicated. Remember short URLs, like bit.ly/trabhov? It's unique, and redirects a browser, pointing at just one web page. (Which has gone.)

      NFTs are very long URLs, that you can pay lots and lots of money for, and say "I own this JPG". :-)

      1. Alvar
        Trollface

        Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

        My impression of NFTs is they give you the right to say no more than "I own *this* copy of this JPG" as multiple functionally identical NFTs can be attached to different copies of the same file.

        1. UK DM

          Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

          You mean, I own this *instance* of an NFT.

          This NFT may or may not have a registry able to verify an attachment to your claim, that can prove provenance (of the NFT itself) which might be conceptually rated to an artifact that has more value (like digital artwork)

          So geez, you have the paid significant money for the provenance of being the first sucker^Wbuyer to pay for the thing.

          The rest of us can just right-click Save As ... your copy.

          Enjoy :)

        2. Inkey
          Megaphone

          Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

          Yes and no Alvar..... if one looks past the dumbfuckery of it's mainstream hype...NFTS are more than a unique hash and key pair of a JPEG...

          thats actually more how contempory art is "not" consumed as well funny enough... while bought for investments and by private colectors it hardly ever leaves a bonded store (that's fire safe, has humidity and temoreture controls etc)

          The flip side of what nft's are is more for creators, if you create comic art or digital art as a single one off, it can be programaticly encripted ... ie if the piece is sold a percentage goes to the creator...if a copy is made it get's watermarked (sure you could screen grab it but the aspect ratio changes ...so far im not sure if this can be watermarked but can be called out as a copy)

          It's a way of taking the DRM from the big licencers and Hopefully giving some control back to the creators..... yes im naïve i know ...

      2. Lis

        Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

        @Liam Proven

        Er, I (I own a very small business) still use Office 97 on a pc with win 98. It works perfectly for what I need as long as we can get ribbons for an equally ancient Epson dot matrix printer. Multipart forms and all that.

        P.S. You spelt "mould" wrong.

        But all in all, a really well balanced thought out article. Thank you.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

          If you can't get the ribbons any more, get the forms made up with an extra sheet of NCR on top - it can even be blank. May have to put some tape over the ribbon detector, if there is one. Hopefully no-one will get stroppy about not getting "the top copy".

          Hope the rest of the kit stays alive long enough to need such a hack, 'cos that is actually a very nice position to be in, not having to chase the software dragon just because third parties can't be taught how to "save as" an older (but perfectly satisfactory) format.

          It'd be good to have a pithy descriptive name for systems such as yours, which just keep going - in the olden days I'd be referring to it as a "calculator" rather than a "computer", as it is used for a single purpose and has no desire to change the software (whether that be in firmware or not). Not a literal "pocket calculator" of course: embedded systems like Pelican Crossing controllers were so described as well. But that usage doesn't seem to fly any more.

        2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

          Thank you very much for your kind words!

          Yes, I still have Word 97 on some machines myself. :-)

          And Reg house style now is American spelling, I'm afraid. I am a little erratic at it, though, but our hero subs usually sort that out.

          1. Atomic Duetto

            Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

            Ah.. tipping point identified

            Time to find somewhere else to waste some time, I wonder what Pud (P. Kaplan /fuckedcompany) is doing these days

            1. Martin-73 Silver badge

              Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

              Feeling similar here, this situation is ridiculous, america may be very great at many things, spelling isn't one of them

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

                Pft! English, who needs English. I'll never go to England anyway. -- Homer J. Simpson

            2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

              Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

              Would it be so difficult to present the correct spelling in each reader's browser ? Plenty of sites do it with whole languages.

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

                English English is the correct spelling. Clue's in the name.

          2. Martin-73 Silver badge

            Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

            You sir, need to fight that. Mold is an incorrect spelling

            1. Toni the terrible
              Headmaster

              Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

              Mold is a type of organisim, Mould is something you use to cast (etc) into

          3. Bryan B

            Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

            American speeling, eh? It amuses me then to see that the Reg cookie pop-up still says "Customise Settings".

            Consistency? We've heard of it.

          4. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

            don't forget then to ask your IT team to update the html lang value to en-US, so that my browser can automatically convert it from American to English...

      3. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

        How is a URL (even one that is "very long" and lots of money was paid for it) any more difficult to duplicate than a Windows key? Both rely on it being kept secret, and being long enough that you can't simply guess it.

        If you link to your NFT URL on your webpage to show your ape pic, I can cut and paste to embed that URL in my webpage and show the same ape pic. Unless you check my page source, you won't know that I am using "your" URL, instead of just copying the jpeg (which you don't own)

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

          The URL contained in an NFT isn't hard to copy. The thing that makes it unique is the private key attached to it which is the only thing that can transfer the "ownership" of that token to another person with their own private key. While that private key remains private, the contained element can be attached to a single identifiable owner who has the exclusive right and ability to sell their token. The included token happens to be worthless, but it is a uniquely theirs worthless thing. Now if only that could be extended to do something useful (spoiler, it can't, but there are people who will pretend otherwise if you let them).

      4. Tim99 Silver badge

        Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

        Thank you Liam - Great article. Something that you touched on: I think that data freely published open format/metadata is more important. When the ECMA MS MSOOXML IEEE controversy was fresh in our minds. I wrote a long reply to correspondence from PJ in 2010, covering my thoughts on "Standards" vs FOSS - Some of which may now be moot because of HTML and "the Cloud", but I believe that the underlying thoughts still are relevant:-

        - - - - - - - - - (Split into 2 posts because of 1000 word limit) - - - - - - - - - - - -

        The main difficulty that I have with the LPGL is not necessarily part of the question “Why would releasing under the LPGL lead to a direct proprietary closing of a product, in your opinion? JBoss used LGPL, I’m recalling. So I am unable to understand that part”.

        The LGPL generally deals with software library packages. The library is copyrighted and requires a distributer to give a user all of the normal GPL rights for that library. The normal GPL requires that any software that is distributed should follow the normal GPL freedoms. However the LGPL allows for proprietary code to be linked to the library. One of the justifications for this approach is that the widest possible use of a LGPL library could encourage a LGPL project to become a de-facto standard. Only changes made to the LGPL library must be made available to other users under the LGPL. If identifiable sections of the distributed work are not derived from the Library, and can reasonably considered independent separate works, then the licence does not apply to this sections - i.e. Changes made to proprietary code that uses the library do not have to be made available to end users. Aggregation of another work not based on the Library does not bring the other work under the scope of the LGPL. I can see scenarios where a commercial producer aggregates a number of different FOSS libraries with a reasonable amount of their proprietary code. This could give a terrific hand-up in being the first to market a new product - This product could then be extended until it has market dominance, during which time the FLOSS libraries are depreciated and replace with proprietary “work alike” modules (Remember that the PGL is a copyright licence and not a patent, so that the ideas and implementation are not protected). The LPGL prohibits the distribution of software that incorporates patents, but it does not prohibit you from gaining a dominant market share. In any case if you do not distribute the work, you do not have to distribute changes. A few years down the track you could have a dominant work that may (in the US) be patentable. If you want to find out more, look at “Why you should’t use the Lesser GPL for your next library” at www.gnu.org. A probable example of purchased BSD licenced libraries being used by a proprietary vendor to develop a struggling product was TCP/IP networking in Windows (Spider Systems and MS). This was quite legal, and within the intent of the licence.

        Before I can explain my attitude to FLOSS licences, you probably should know my background: I am not a lawyer, any opinion that I express should not be used as advice in any software project. I am a (retired) scientist and software developer. My company has produced commercial software and a couple of successful small products used mainly by the public and community sector. After selling our company, it continues to be successful - My opinions are my own and are not necessarily shared by the new owners.

        I first started using computers and programming (FORTRAN) when working as a scientific civil servant in the early 1970s. Later I became the computer advisor to the scientific branch of a (very) large public monopoly. Microsoft was then a small player in the computer business - Serious scientific computing was done on mini-computers like DEC VAX/PDPs or (proprietary) UNIX machines. When the original IBM PC was introduced, we quickly realized that much of the data manipulation and storage that was done with these $50,000+ machines could be done with a <$5,000 PC. The computing establishment dismissed these "toy" computers but, because they could bring the price of some scientific equipment down from $200,000 to $100,000, we quickly worked around their problems. The real revolution started when we could network these machines with LAN Manager or Novell Netware. This allowed inexpensive commercial software like WordPerfect or Lotus 123 to do a lot of heavy lifting. Necessary custom software was written with BASIC or C. Data was stored in SQL databases or inexpensive DOS databases like MicroRim's RBase (which you could purchase from Microsoft, who did not have their own product). Computing was heterogeneous - We used DEC minis and workstations; UNIX, Apple lls, SPARC, CPM computers etc., but mostly IBM PCs running DOS with Netware to connect everything together. The major problems that we had were finding printer, network and modem drivers for all of our mixed kit.

        Then Windows 3.0 came out. We quickly found that (even the Windows versions of) Lotus and WordPerfect did not work very well on Windows, but Microsoft's Windows Excel and Word products did (Odd, wasn’t it?). The organization quickly standardized on Windows, Word and Excel. All major printer and modem manufactures quickly produced Windows drivers for their products and many of our support and integration problems went away. Networking was still difficult as MS did not use TCP/IP, so we continued to use Netware and proprietary drivers. We mandated that our users should, if possible, use DOS/Windows terminals. UNIX/minis were still used as servers, and workgroup members shared Netware servers. All of the major Unix manufacturers competed with one another and did not allow easy integration of one company’s product with others. DEC seemed to make integration of PCs particularly difficult and we started to move away from them.

        I changed jobs. I was now running a small commercial science based business. The equipment was obsolete and the staff's level of computer knowledge was low. We expanded the business and replaced the obsolete equipment. Almost all of the new equipment was PC based. Data was stored in MS Excel spreadsheets or Access databases (MS had employed some of the RBASE team to help write Access). As we expanded the business our System Integrator (SI) asked why we were moving from Netware to Microsoft's NT. We told him that we only needed one skills set to run the client and server products, and that the main advantage that NT had for us was that it was an applications server as well as a file and print server. NT was just beginning to support SQL products including the new SQL Server (jointly developed by MS, Sybase and Ashton Tate). Our SI was dubious as Netware and the independent SQL products were technically superior to the MS products. It seemed that we were right because within a short time many small companies were using Windows networking, and if they needed a Server they used Windows NT.

        I then became the part-owner and MD of a small software start-up. We wrote specialized custom software. One of our jobs was to produce a community heritage based product for government to be deployed in remote areas without adequate communications. We had produced something similar for a couple of customers using MS technology, and when we looked around we saw that our only option was to use Windows and integrate our product with MS Office. There was no infrastructure in place to even consider anything else - We believed what we were told - Which was that the only support you could find in remote regions was MS based. What we did not know was that this support was patchy at best. Everyone said that they "knew Windows", but in practice the level of knowledge was often poor.

        - - - - Continued - - - - -

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: "You own, at most, a serial number"

          - - - - - - - - - (Part 2) - - - - - - - - - -

          Over the years, MS had monopolized the computer business. Their products were everywhere, if you wanted to use a "standard" spreadsheet you needed Excel on Windows. Servers ran MS Mail and SQL Server, Windows networking was everywhere and held it all together. In my opinion, the success of Microsoft is partly down to their well known "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" tactics. In many case the standards that were embraced, like SQL, LDAP and Kerberos were from official international standards, or based on the looser FLOSS licences. I found this to be particularly upsetting as my science background had taught me to make knowledge freely available to everyone so we could all move forward.

          When the world wide web became generally available, MS seemed to underestimate its impact. This, I thought, was surprising - One of MS insights seems to be that “good enough” is good enough. The best of breed does not always win - Ubiquity wins. We now have an opportunity to help people take control of computing for themselves.

          I have been a volunteer technical assessor to a national accreditation and standards body for 15 years. During this time I have come to believe that open data and document formats are essential to all public organizations. Infrared and mass-spectral data are generated in standard formats. Raw instrument and sample data is transferred as CSV files of known formats. Whilst it is important to use FLOSS wherever you can to avoid proprietary lock-in - It is more important to mandate that a copy all important data is held in a standard format. All of this data should be accompanied by its relevant metadata. Metadata is “data about data” and describes how data is assembled. Examples include size, colour depth, resolution, creator and date of an image; “Markup and Content” for XML; the structure of raw data from databases, and the relevant schema (ASCII delimited/CSV data and Data Definition Language statements for SQL?); HTML structured documents and OS PDF. Currently we keep most of our data in proprietary formats and structures. We could all use FLOSS solutions for this, but this does not address the problem of when we don’t have access to the original developer or when a programme goes out of fashion. Perhaps the data is contained within an application that uses Java, C/C++, PHP, CSS/HTML and SQL - They are all standards - Can we find someone who can duplicate this if we have to move platforms?

          Museums are dealing with this now - an XML file* containing:

          <painting>

          <img src=“image1.jpg” alt=‘Self portrait, by Artist’/>

          <caption>The artist painted in <date>1997</date> </caption>

          </painting>

          gave us the data described by the relevant metadata .

          Many existing digital items will not survive for future generations, but an eighteenth century hand-written letter might.

          *(This has now been replaced by DublinCore).

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

    If you can't read your data without the original software, you don't own it; you are a hostage to the original software maker's good nature. And it seems most proprietary makers don't have one of those...

    It strikes me - and I'm sure I'm not the only one - that it matters less whether you paid for the software or not than whether you can (a) obtain and (b) understand (either personally or by proxy) the format in which the data is stored. Because with that, you can pay a programming team to extract your data if or when the original software becomes unavailable, or upgraded to the point where it will no longer read it.

    If the software is open source, then you can simply build and run to get access. With closed source, well, see the first paragraph.

    Support open source software; stop looking at it as free. Send the authors a few quid from time to time. They'll appreciate it.

    1. robinsonb5

      Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

      I'd add just one caveat to that: I'm increasingly finding myself applying a "will this still work in five years?" test when looking at the build process and dependencies for a piece of software, and I'm a bit concerned by how often the answer isn't a confident "yes".

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

        Yes. One needs to archive all the libraries needed to build the project... it's not a trivial task if the project requires (say) GTK+ 2 and only 3 or 4 is now available.

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

        That's a thing with FOSS encryption software. While open source and with standard encryption methods they all have a proprietary interface/engine so that a document encrypted with [programme ] can't be decrypted with an alternative programme if the original one isn't available. - because maybe it became obsolete in the interim, or you want to give the data to someone who doesn't have that programme.

        So we're pretty much stuck locked in to certain programmes that seem to be safe. Vera Crypt etc.

    2. gerryg

      Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

      I use one proprietary application under WINE (which somewhat amusingly uses FOSS libraries at its core). Fortunately it wasn't expensive. It doesn't work perfectly and it isn't a life saver, but I can work out how it use it. So I suck it up.

      There are probably at least three FOSS applications that bury this proprietary application. But as someone that learned how to use GIMP I still can't fathom them out.

      What I would like to fund and participate in developing are the idiots' guides* to Shotcut, kdenlive or the other one whose name I can't remember.

      *not an infinite list of its functions and capability

      1. Lis

        Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

        @gerryg

        I am in awe of you for being able to understand and use Gimp. I once stupidly tried to get one of my employees off Photoshop and onto Gimp.It took just over a week before he demanded, yes DEMANDED that I subscribe again to Photoshop or else he is quitting. He then handed me his written notice.

        He got Photoshop back.

        The only bad thing he said about Gimp was that the interface is written by programmers for programmers. And fuck the "normal" user.

        Please, before anyone starts to whine about subscribing for software, please believe me, the cost of software is fuck all compared with the other costs of running a business.

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

          The only bad thing he said about Gimp was that the interface is written by programmers for programmers. And fuck the "normal" user.

          I think it's generally accepted that all but the most constant users have to Google how to do anything with Gimp, and even the experienced users have to Google how to do most things. It is the most counter-intuitive piece of software I have ever used.

          1. captain veg Silver badge

            Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

            What happened to Gimpshop?

            -A.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Ian Johnston - Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

            To me, who I've never seen the Photoshop interface, GIMP is quite ok. As for you the poor chap who begged the return of PS, I would gladly let him go or fire him because he shows no interest in learning new things. I find appalling the crowd of those who are constantly badmouthing GIMP because it's not Photoshop. For Pete's sake, if you want free as in beer Photoshop then just talk to Adobe.

            1. therobyouknow

              Re: @Ian Johnston - Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

              Or use pinta-project.org (download) on Linux or mac, or the excellent paint.net (download from Windows store or from getpaint.net) on Windows. Both are related projects. Easy to use.

              Why should people have to learn an unnecessarily difficult UI. Excuses because it's open source are wearing thin.

            2. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: @Ian Johnston - Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

              If you can achieve similar results for similar effort using Gimp, that's great. If the worker doesn't think they can manage that, it makes sense that they don't want to try doing so for reasons they think are invalid. You can always fire them, but you'll probably have more problems finding people who have experience or the desire to use the tool you want if it's so niche.

              Take programming. My employer could ask me to write in a number of languages and I'll accept. If I don't know the language, I can always learn it. If they tell me that our project's to be written in Apple II integer basic, though, I'm not likely to put up with that craziness just because someone issued an edict. After attempting to convince them otherwise, I'll decide whether it's worth leaving not to have to do that. They're likely to find that most developers don't want to use a tool that, while technically capable of the job, is painful and unproductive for the task at hand.

            3. Cav Bronze badge

              Re: @Ian Johnston - Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

              GIMP is garbage.

          3. therobyouknow

            Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

            +1 agree.

            Sh*t name! GIMP! I mean FFS! G-this, K-that. Nerdy geeky name.

            Difficult overrated program. I'm not one of its many fans it might be obvious to say. Leave them to it. Good for them.

            Fortunately there are decent alternatives:

            https://www.pinta-project.com/ - ALL desktop platforms - Linux Windows and Mac. This tool is in rude health, enjoying new developer contributions. And open source.

            and https://getpaint.net/ - for Windows. Windows Store app of the year 2022. So easy to use.

            Both free. But you can donate including through the Windows Store.

            Both apps are similar and I think Pinta project draws on influence from getpaint.net

            Also there's Serif Affinity Photo. No subscription. Windows and Mac. Much cheaper. Can work with PSD files.

            1. PRR Bronze badge
              Unhappy

              Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

              > pinta-project.com - ALL desktop platforms - Linux Windows and Mac

              On general recommendation, I installed Pinta 2.0.2 on my utterly stable Win7 mule.

              Played around. Noted how little has changed since my Paint Shop Pro 7.04, July 13, 2001 (21 years!!). Same tools with mostly the same options (minus a few-- current Pinta may be more like PSP 6 or even 5).

              Then I went to File, Open... I got a pop-up telling me there was no disk in blah\blah\1. Not a MS/Windows syntax. I dismissed and it complained no disk in blah\blah\3, blah\blah\5, blah\blah\2.... yes a repeating sequence of out-of-order numbers I had no idea I was supposed to have. I could not make this pop-up go away even with Task Mangler.

              And it covered-up part of my Register-reading window!! Intolerable!

              I reluctantly saved/trashed all I had open and re-booted (what is this, Win95a?). The reboot hung awhile with that pop-up centered on my screen, finally shut down. But then on re-start it had clobbered my screen preference and everything was tiny! I set back to 125% as I like it and stupid Windows 7-nee-95 demanded a re-start (???).

              In all that I realized that the number of missing drives matched an unused card-reader in this PC. Windows calls them D: to I: drives and has little problem when they are empty. And an image-program is likely to be used on a PC with multiple card readers (for our different cameras), most of them idle/empty. It is not the app's job to throw a fit if I have empty drives, Cancel should mean "get over it and move on!"

              OK, a bug. Report it. Maybe I am dumb, but the bug-list on Pinta's site is intimidating.

              Writing software is hard. Writing it on zero income means there will always be potholes. JASC/PSP had a few years of financial comfort and got most holes filled.

        2. robinsonb5

          Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

          I use GIMP on a daily basis, but I still use a version from the 2.4 series because I find the UI "improvements" made since then don't make it easier to use, just more annoying.

          (File->Save... enter a filename ending in .tif - receive a lecture about how you should have used File->Export instead. Really? What is this - Simon Says?)

          But then I'm a programmer.

        3. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          GIMP menus

          Sometimes, people who hate open source program X's menus are rote learners who know only Commercial Software program Y's menus, and can't/don't want to apply a modicum of effort to figure things out.

          GIMP appears to have retained a Professional GUI Artiste for later GIMP versions, and the result shows (the new GUI sucks).

          Dark Mode sucks too.

    3. bigtreeman

      Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

      Outlook is one such data lock

      until LookOut by Mozilla

      which became abandonware

      then was reborn and works with new versions of Thunderbird

      that's where the open source is so useful

      and it's still being maintained

      and this is the type of tool needed to set people free from lock-in

    4. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

      That's the trap that's being set by 'the usual suspect(s)' for FOSS applications. They can't really compete with their closed source, or at least appreciate the danger to their business model by FOSS, so they take over FOSS by dangling attractive looking languages, build systems and archives. Before you know it you're in the same kind of proprietary tangle that you had with their products. (Only works on this version of a platform, requires those libraries in specific directories, the tools are likely to be turned into 'free' and 'subscription' versions.....you name it, we've already seen it, but generations of new programmers all hooked on 'the latest' will fall into the same traps.)

    5. therobyouknow

      Re: Implicit in the article, but not explicitly stated:

      Agree. Rule: if you can't easily get it out, don't put it in.

  3. Cederic Silver badge

    switch to an OS OS

    Sage advice from a self confessed Mac owner.

    There aren't open source alternatives for everything. I don't use MS Office at home. I don't use Outlook. I also don't use an open source OS because none of them will run all the software that I do use.

    Running the software that adds value to me? That's convenience.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: switch to an OS OS

      Sure, absolutely. If you have something that you absolutely cannot do except using one specific app, and that app can't run on anything except one specific OS, run that OS.

      Use the right tool for the job.

      But the majority of people don't need that one specific tool. They have basic needs which are handled well by any old app that does that task.

      It is 2022. Most people can do their basic tasks in "apps" that run in a web browser. Basic office suite? Google Docs, or Collabora, or OnlyOffice. Email? Loads of 'em. Basic sound or image editing? No problem. Chat? Loads of choices. Voice chat? No worries. Video chat? Also fine.

      This is a very low bar for functionality.

      Which is why hundreds of millions of people use ChromeBooks now, a platform which can *only* run a browser without some skills and specialist knowledge.

      The point here is not about special and unique little flowers. :-)

      It's that free stuff now does all most people need and a tonne more.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: switch to an OS OS

        120 million special and unique little flowers just on Steam.

        26 million special and unique little flowers using Adobe creative products.

        The counter example is hundreds of millions of people using a proprietary OS from Google..?

        Free stuff: Doesn't come pre-installed. Doesn't do a thing for people that don't know how to install it, run it, configure it. Suffers compatibility issues because no matter how great your open source tool of choice is, you'll be accessing resources and receiving things from people that don't use it.

        I'm not bought in, and I've been using open source software since 1991 and 'free' software for years before that.

        I agree to use the right tool for the job. I'm not going to waste my time telling my parents their iPad isn't that tool.

        1. Swarthy Silver badge

          Re: switch to an OS OS

          Steam?! Are you saying Steam won't run in Linux?

          Are you unaware of Proton, which allows (formerly) Windows game to run in Linux?

          I have been having a great deal of fun playing Fallout2 on my Linux box, courtesy of Steam (and their Proton).

          1. J. Cook Silver badge

            Re: switch to an OS OS

            I need to review what all Proton let's run on a linux machine, but I imagine some of the games I have (Skyrim, Borderlands, Saint's Row 3, etc.) might present a challenge. Maybe. I've not had the time to really poke that specific bear yet.

            1. Chubango

              Re: switch to an OS OS

              Putting aside the fact that there's thousands of native games on Steam for Linux at this moment (as well as non-native ports for eg Saints Row 3&4), Proton works well enough that Valve launched a fairly successful piece of kit this year that promises to run thousands more games using, you guessed it, FLOSS. Feel free to browse the whitelist or take a look at many of the thousands of other games not on it that nonetheless just work.

            2. Not Yb

              Re: switch to an OS OS

              Skyrim, Borderlands, and especially Saints' Row 3 all run fine on Linux Steam Proton. I don't have a modern graphics card, so can't really be sure if there's much of a performance hit from doing so, but they're doing fine so far.

              Had some issues getting some of Skyrim's more esoteric mods to work, but that's more "mod authors don't have linux" than anything else.

        2. J. Cook Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: switch to an OS OS

          One of the apps I use (Scrivener) runs (reluctantly) under WINE, but only the current version, and only after some very specific steps are done to get the stars to align; Previous versions apparently require me to sacrifice a virgin, a chicken, and a virgin chicken (I forget which, or possibly all three) when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with uranus or some shit, because I never got it working right.

          And even then, I still need to find a specific cloud storage client that'll run under linux before I really start fettling around with it on my main system.

          1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

            Re: switch to an OS OS

            The company looked at doing a native Linux version some years ago, but after a few betas, it was cancelled.

            https://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/08/29/scrivener-on-linux-try-it-youll-like-it

        3. Tim99 Silver badge
          Gimp

          Re: switch to an OS OS

          I'm retired, but have been around this stuff for >50 years. I volunteered as being the main "computer" teacher/support person for a retirees centre with 2000 members. At the time we had about 8 people who could help out, or teach. We learnt to ask a series of questions when we had a new punter:-

          1. Do you know how to use Windows? No? Look at an iPad.

          2. If you use Windows, do you have a relative who will *completely support it, including fixing it repeatedly*; or are you happy to pay someone $100 *every time* something doesn't work? No? Look at an iPad.

          3. If you don't use/want Windows, do you have an Android phone? No? Look at an iPad.

          4. If you have an Android phone, do you like it/understand it? No? Look at an iPad.

          We found that to teach a novice how to use an iPad for basic tasks took about 3 afternoons. If they had used Windows, a bit longer because they were trying to complicate what they were doing. A Samsung Tablet, took people about twice as long to learn.

          Is an iPad perfect? Obviously not. The subsequent questions we asked were things like: Do yo have lots of CDs that you want to rip? Have you a camera with interchangeable lenses? Do you need to write lots of long documents, or use large/complex spreadsheets? Generally the answers are. "No", so we showed them an iPad. Some of us in the teaching group used Linux, and a couple of photographers used MacOS.

          Now I'm in my dotage, I probably use an iPad more than a computer. My only computer now is an iMac - I'm comfortable with it, most of the BSD stuff that I learnt in the 1970s/80s still works. I could certainly manage with my large screen iPad - If I didn't volunteer for somebody else where I need to read/create complex documents and spreadsheets. The iMac is also used to record live TV and automatically skip adverts (Thank you HDHomeRun, comskip, and ChannelsDVR).

          Make your, older relatives life easy (and yours), show them an iPad. Passing on your old Windows laptop or Android phone is not likely to be helpful.

          1. therobyouknow

            Re: switch to an OS OS

            +1 Agree about the difficulties.

            I help an older relative with their phone and have given Windows laptop tuition.

            Teaching them is a gift. It shows me, as an IT professional, how rubbish the UX is on these *commercial* devices, let alone Linux. Things like: UX affordance is inconsistent, notifications screen crowded, navigation and sense of place within the phone not obvious and so on...

            Computers have a long way to go for usability.

            1. gratou

              Re: switch to an OS OS

              Computers actually go backwards. At least Windows does. Disappearing scroll bars, hidden menus. XP or W7 were the best and they still had many defects. Win10 and 11 are rubbish.

          2. Stork Silver badge

            Re: switch to an OS OS

            Very much this.

            My dad got himself a Mac years back, but when he died, my mum never got comfortable with it. I got her an iPad which she loves and uses a lot - email, photos, the bank.

  4. Joe W Silver badge

    Perfect fidelity

    Does not exist. Even with the paid for software.

    I have a member in my team who explicitly told me that I am under no circumstances to open and save a Word document that is close to finished. Even when I do not actively edit the document, my Word installation messes up the formatting (like removing numbers from chapters, changing the langues settings, moving stuff around because apparently I have a different standard printer defined and the margin sare different or whatever - except the settings do look the same in her and my Word installation). So, no, you cannot expect perfect fidelity.

    And you cannot measure it (like "clarity" or "instrument separation" and whatever audiophiles rave on about...)

    Why I use Linux (at home): because it is boring. Stuff just works (mostly), interfaces don't change all of a sudden (ok, depends on the Desktop you use), keyboard shortcuts continue to work, and can be defined easily, it is... boring, nowadays. I can no longer be arsed to mess with config files just to get my system running (remember the pain that the X11 config files were in the early naught-ies? Glad that this is over!), I cannot be arsed to "buy" or license a new software version whenever a millionaire needs a new boat or somesuch - complete with a new makeover of the UI, where half of the features you relied on are removed or hidden, and it turned into a ressource hog, basically a very polished turd.

    At work I have a pretty locked down Windows system. It mostly (except for Word... and f'ing Sharepoint, which is a bloody mess) just works, if it doesn't it is somebody elses problem (and those guys and gals are doing a great job, mostly), I cannot be arsed (and I am not allowed) to f' around with the system - so I don't.

    I do enjoy doing the hard work on some of our servers. Yes, that includes config files, and writing scripts and things like that. But this is stuff beyond the basic installation work (like getting the network card to register and bind to the correct address / network, because more than one network card is sooo unusual).

    1. PghMike

      Re: Perfect fidelity

      Right you are. If I save and reopen an MS doc, and then try to add a new line to an existing drawing, it will *never* possible to draw a perfectly vertical or horizontal line again.

      Try to change the formatting of a numbered list? It'll be close to a miracle if you pull it off at all. If it also looks the same next time you open the document, it's time to get the Vatican's Miracle Certifying Team to fly over.

      1. Richard Gadsden

        Re: Perfect fidelity

        You can change the format of a numbered list quite easily. Just don't use the UI because it doesn't change the format. It generates a new numbered list format and then applies it to the bit of the list you had selected.

        If you change the format using the API, it works fine.

        This is not a defence of MS Word, it's a description of how it actually works.

        It works in an amazingly stupid way; the result of this is that anywhere that needs numbered lists (ie lawyers) has written their own numbered list UI and hidden the existing one, with the custom numbered list UI plugging directly into the API and working properly - within a limited set of possible numbered list formats, ie the corporate style sheet.

        Yes, I did work on one of those custom numbered list systems in the 2000s, why do you ask?

    2. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      Re: Perfect fidelity

      "Remember the pain that the X11 config files were in the early naught-ies?" Luxury!

      In the early '90s I had to calculate mode lines from the horizontal and vertical frequencies. With the knowledge that I could destroy the screen if I went very wrong.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Perfect fidelity

        That was still present in the late 90s, I think I can recall that...

        I started with SuSE Linux 6.(2? not sure - I got rid of the whole box ten years ago or so), dunno when this was late 90s, I guess. Switched to Mandrake at one point, the installer was brilliant for its time, then to Debian (uhm, 2002?).

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Perfect fidelity

      The question surely is what is "good enough" fidelity?

      Going way back to the late 1980's with all the work on MAP/TOP and GOSIP. Whilst the IT crowd got obsessed about the networking stack, it was obvious the real challenge was the application standards, which were rapidly evolving at the time.

      The keys to fidelity were Standards and (interop) testing and governments using their buying power to put teeth into the Standards. Unfortunately both the UK and US governments back tracked on GOSIP with the end result of getting themselves largely locked into Microsoft Office for 30+ years...

    4. Tim99 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Perfect fidelity

      I volunteer for a national authority that assesses organizations' compliance with some primary ISO standards. My assessments are always written in plain text - No carriage returns, except for each list item, 2 for paragraphs breaks, and 3 for section breaks. Anything that I want to stand out **is delineated by asterisks**. I also strip the formatting from the punters' submitted texts if I have to include it in my replies. I convert it to PDF on the very rare occasions where formatting is required (tables, multiple-line equations, etc.,).

      This is for self preservation. Typically, a Word file (most people use them) is created by a user, often opened by them on several PCs; passed around a committee, when each member adds their own tracked changes/comments; back to the boss, then to the original author; then changed again (repeat). During its travels it will have been through MS Exchange several times; in multiple Outlook PST files, and at least one will have put it in a DAT attachment.

      One organization had a document in DOCX format - It was originally created with Word 97, and seemed to have all the (hidden) annotations from all of its biennial amendments - It wouldn't even print correctly, merging a couple of tables and throwing page breaks halfway down paragraphs. Sometimes I'm lucky and get the information that I asses as PDFs, but even then somebody may have left their subsequent annotations on it...

      1. James O'Shea Silver badge

        Re: Perfect fidelity

        This is why you do a Save As every now and again. In particular, do a Save As RTF. That preserves most formatting and kills most gunk. Then, the next time you open it, Save As DOCX. You have a nice shiny _new_ DOCX file, with none of the gunk, it's all gone. You also have at least three versions of the document, the original DOC(X) file in all it's gunked glory, the RTF, and the new DOCX file. Stick the first two in a ZIP, keep 'em around in case you need to try to recover something that was screwed up in the various exporting steps. Send the file on, not as a DOCX, but as a PDF (that's now _four_ versions of the same file) as it's much harder to gunk up a PDF. Only send a DOCX to someone who actually needs to edit something that Word does well and various PDF editors (especially including Acrobat) do poorly, such as tables.

        Please note that, for reasons of Microsoft, Word talks to your printer. Word pays very close attention to your printer. You might think that page sizes are standard. You would be wrong. Different printers handling 'standard' pages differently. This means that a file which has every line in the last paragraph on Page 1 when using Printer A (such as, oh, a desk or small office HP laser printer, common at home and in small workgroups at work) will have all of the lines except the last one on Page 1 when using Printer B (such as a massive floor-standing super printer/copier/all-singing/all-dancing Ricoh). Oh. Wait. Word has something called 'widows and orphans'. If one line is on Page 2, then a second line is forced down. And every single page after that will have cascading changes. This will especially screw with tables and graphics and headings, especially if the heading was rigged to be on the same page as the following paragraph. (Who, me, talk about something which actually happened? Why would you think that I might do such an absurd thing?)

        Please also note that, for reasons of Microsoft, interoperability between different versions of Office can be... iffy. Go ahead. Open that nice complex 100 page report, complete with tables of contents and authority, indices, other tables, and graphics, which was created in Word 2007 for Windows, only you're using Word 2010 for Windows. Or, worse, Word 2008 for Mac. Fix all the crap, then send it back... Ooh. Bad idea. MS fixed most of that crap with Office 2011 for Mac, which as a Good Thing as there was no Mac equivalent of Office 2013 for Windows, the next Mac version was Office 2016, which is mostly interoperable with Office 2016 for Windows. (There are still some problems, even with Office 2019 and 2021. Try redoing a report built with APA format into IEEE format. Play with the bibliography. I dare you.)

        The problem, of course, is that it's _worse_ if you try to use, say, LibreOffice instead.

    5. Screwed

      Re: Perfect fidelity

      I've found setting the default printer to a PDF virtual printer can help to avoid, rather to side-step, the issue with Word.

      Inconvenient if you do actually print to a real printer. But if that is fairly rare, this approach can work acceptably for many.

      And heaven help if you use label printers and other such devices. Bound to forget to switch back at least occasionally. Especially with the "make last printer used the default" option selected.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Perfect fidelity

        Just make sure that you also default both the Windows PDF printer paper size and the Word defaullt template - Normal.dotm, to A4 portrait...

        Obviously, need to do similar with the rest of Office.

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Perfect fidelity

        Especially with the "make last printer used the default" option selected.

        One of the first things I turn off. And I have two actual printers as well as the pdf virtual one.

        (Not being greedy. A trusty old brother HL-1110 laser mono job for routine stuff and a nice shiny Canon multifunction inkjet for fancy stuff)

    6. MrBanana Silver badge

      MS Office is just not compatible with itself

      For all those saying, stick with a known format like MS Office, I get as many, if not more people, with a problem where different versions of MS Office have corrupted a file. If you're in a corporate environment, with constant upgrades to the latest version, it mostly works. But if you're stuck with an ancient version because of personal reasons of cost, or hardware issues, or maybe in academia with a wide diversity of versions when sharing files - MS Office is just not compatible with itself. I've been asked to fix a number of broken Word documents, that have been passed around between people, which have gone bad. Unreadably bad. Tracked changes seems to be one major trigger. The fix? Import them into LibreOffice, it is sufficiently resilient to recover many MS fuckups.

  5. DJV Silver badge

    Great article...

    ...and one I will keep bookmarked (no, NOT "Favourited"*), to send to people when they ask me why I don't suck up to the commercial vendors.

    * And definitely NOT "Favorited".

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Great article...

      Great -- thank you!

      There will be a follow-up soon. I am planning at least 2 or 3 on some of the consequences of the points in this piece.

      1. Wil Palen

        Re: Great article...

        Great article, very much on point

        Maybe do one for money as well, I can see similarities..

        Bitcoin:

        1) freedom

        2) but scary

        Fiat:

        1) you can't own it. It's a claim on the bank. You may think you can 'own' paper bills, but they're still just claims to a counterparty.

        2) it's about control

  6. RichardBarrell

    > especially as most modern commercial OSes don't come with software development tools any more

    I think this is more of a mixed bag. The nadir of availability of cheap software development tools was the 90s and the situation has improved since. While the dev tools may not be bundled, there are more available to go download free of charge than there ever have been.

    On Windows for example, I can get VS Studio or VS Code free of charge. On Mac OS, developer licenses are somewhat expensive, which is unfortunate. (I think you can get XCode without one, but you can't distribute anything?) Of course, on Linux and the BSDs, it's almost difficult to *not* have a compiler toolchain available. :)

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      I'm old enough to remember being shocked that when I changed from 8080 CP/M to MSDOS, there was no text editor nor a compiler!

      Now, if it's not there already, sudo apt-get install build-essentials...

      1. BJC
        Happy

        DOS Editor

        If my memory serves me well (debatable), then you might be shocked to now find that edlin was there all along, in DOS. Now, I'm not going to suggest is was a good editor. ;-)

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: DOS Editor

          I've tried to forget Edlin for forty years, give or take...

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: DOS Editor

            edlin fred.txt

            or

            copy con: fred.txt

            Which one was worse?

            1. captain veg Silver badge

              Re: DOS Editor

              echo. fred > fred.txt

              -A.

            2. Binraider Silver badge

              Re: DOS Editor

              Copy con was a hell of a lot easier than edlin. Though I came to DOS a whole lot later. By 6.22 edit.com was a thing, a text editor I still quite like to this day. Fixed character sizes, row, col. nos. etc are useful things for certain tasks.

              The AmigaDOS command line was a pretty potent tool; though you would tend to fall back to GUI apps rather than text-mode apps to do stuff outside of the file system there.

              Did you ever suffer using debug. Now that's a real example of a minimalist user interface if there ever was one.

              1. Diogenes

                Re: DOS Editor

                I miss the SPF editor, but not the mainframes it ran on. Does a quick google - ooooh still exists for the PC.

          2. swm Silver badge

            Re: DOS Editor

            cat > x.txt

      2. captain veg Silver badge

        there was

        As already mentioned, edlin was always there. Much later versions of DOS also had a full-screen editor named, counter-intuitively, "edit". Part of the BASIC runtime, in fact.

        But you didn't have to use BASIC, oh no. All versions of DOS, and 16- and 32-bit editions of windows to this day (I believe) shipped with a program named DEBUG, which could (and can) compile 8086 assembler. And disassemble it back again. You'd have to be somewhat "special" to use it to create a(n) .exe file, but .com production is close to trivial, provided you're somewhat familiar with 8086 op-codes, and DOS system calls.

        -A.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      XCode is free

      I use it in conjunction with Lazarus to build the apps that I can't get for MacOS(you need XCode to build for macOS). By that, I mean an NC lather controller that used to need Win98... it is that old.

      I also use the same apps on macOS and Linux (and before I gave it the finger, Windows) Firefox, Libre Office and Thunderbird are my goto choice of apps.

      1. anonanonanonanonanon

        Re: XCode is free

        I think programming on mac for mac/ios apps is possibly one of the easiest platforms to start if you're not a cpp die hard and are willing to give swift a go.

        There's tons of built frameworks that are already very good, plus third party code too, it's fairly easy to quickly build a basic app.

      2. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: XCode is free

        Yes, it is.

        However, you can't copy anything you wrote onto another Mac or iOS device, which very much defeats the entire point of having a toolchain.

        Gatekeeper will stomp on it unless you pay an annual fee and send a copy to Apple first. And Apple can arbitrarily decide to revoke your ability to distribute compiled software at any time.

        Which is kind of the point of the article, I guess.

        (Yes, it is currently possible to disable Gatekeeper. How much would you bet on that remaining the case?)

        1. Lis

          Re: XCode is free

          @Richard 12

          Have you actually ever used a Mac? It is easy to circumvent Gatekeeper if you are stupid enough to do so. AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO DISABLE IT TO DO SAME.

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge
            WTF?

            Re: XCode is free

            Have you ever actually read the post you're replying to?

            Or for that matter, the one you're writing?

        2. James O'Shea Silver badge

          Re: XCode is free

          Given the way Gatekeeper works, I'd say that it's likely that current ways to turn it off will work for quite some time... unless Apple messes with the hardware again. God knows what will happen when the M3 (or whatever they call it then) appears. I suspect that there will be lots of changes, though.

      3. Richtea
        Thumb Up

        Re: XCode is free

        > lather controller

        Want one now. Soft water is such a nightmare, eh.

    3. Jearil

      Yeah, this is the one point I felt was a bit of a lie, or at least misleading. Sure, they might not come pre installed, but as you said you can get Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code, IntelliJ, or a variety of other toolchains for free fairly easily on windows. On a Mac, XCode is freely available and no license unless it's selling iOS stuff on the app store or Mac stuff on the built in Mac store. Plus it's a Unix so you can use a Unix toolchain if you want.

      If the argument is that they don't come installed from the start, well neither do most distributions of Linux. Most don't bother installing a gcc toolchain and you have to do it yourself. Sure it's not hard, but neither is getting XCode or VS.

    4. J. Cook Silver badge
      Go

      IIRC, for FreeBSD and linux, you have to actively work at it to exclude developer tools out of a distro, and even then the first time you need to install something that's not a flat-pack or something that requires a dependency tends to trigger the "Install the Dev Tools" circus. :D

    5. James O'Shea Silver badge

      XCode is free. You can get a free license to sign software; it won't let you onto the Apple Store, so you can't sell for iOS, but you can sell for macOS and you can create iOS software for sideloading, if your company has had a word with Apple about that. You can, for $100/year, get a license which will let you into the Apple Store. I think that there are limits as to how many items you can get into the Store for that license. You can also get academic licenses, free, which let you into the Store. Businesses can get licenses for setting up sideloading, and, for a little more, doing anything they want on the Store.

      The main problem with XCode is that it requires a Mac (playing with it with macOS in a VM leads to a very negative experience, or at least it did the one time I tried) and that XCode gets updated every time Apple releases new toys. That's all very well until your Mac can't take the new OS upgrade, but you need a new copy of XCode. Oops. Guess it's time to get a new Mac.

  7. Roger Greenwood

    Thank you Liam

    I enjoyed reading that article almost as much as I did the famous letter from Edga Villanueva, was it really 20 years ago?

    Copy here:- http://people.skolelinux.org/pere/blog/The_reply_from_Edgar_Villanueva_to_Microsoft_in_Peru.html

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Thank you Liam

      That article should become standard reading in all technical courses.

      1. BenDwire Silver badge
        Go

        Re: Thank you Liam

        Absolutely. Liam's articles are one of the few remaining gems of the nu-look Register.

        1. AlbertH

          Re: Thank you Liam

          Absolutely. Liam's articles are one of the few remaining gems of the nu-look Register.... - even with the Americanised spellings!

      2. wub

        Re: Thank you Liam

        Agreed. I have been saying some similar, but less well thought out, things to friends for a while. But as I'm self-taught, and at the fringes of the action, I am very glad to have validation that my view was reasonably correct.

        Now, I have a more complete, coherent story to pass to folks who desperately need to hear at least some of this.

        Thanks for the excellent article!

  8. Throgmorton Horatio III
    Meh

    The price of free?

    " If I have to sacrifice perfect compatibility, what do I get in return?

    And the answer to that is good news: you get convenience. Put up with the slight hiccup of some wonky conversions, and you get unlimited free tools, forever, and they work on everything, and they will never lock you out or compel you to pay for an upgrade."

    If you're working, sometimes the price of 'free' is more than you can afford.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: The price of free?

      Hm. That assumes the commercial product does not experience these hiccups as well.

      Not really my experience. Exchange? New Windows versions forced upon you? Sharepoint?

      So... yeah... nah. I like Debian "stable" a lot. It is stable. "Old" versions? Yeah. But it is stable. That's it.

      (of course your experience can be different, and I am not here to contradict you or downplay your needs)

      1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

        Re: The price of free?

        100% agreed. Debian truly just gets on with what it's supposed to do, be an OS. Yet to have a problem I didn't cause myself.

    2. Jearil

      Re: The price of free?

      I absolutely love open source software and have been using Linux since '97, but this rose tinted view that everything works perfectly out of the box all the time is fiction. There are unfortunately still a lot of times that the free versions of some software are only free if you don't value your time.

  9. PghMike

    No perfect compatibility within Office either

    For whatever reason -- operator error or terrible software -- I've never been able to insert a drawing in a MS document (word or powerpoint), save it, reopen it later, and then change it again perfectly. If I try to draw a new line, the grid has been recalibrated so that I can't draw lines parallel to those already in the drawing. Sometimes, even the old lines in the drawing move around a bit.

    It's also disappointing how hard it is to draw even the simplest diagrams. You'd think after this many decades, it would require fewer clicks / keystrokes to insert a few text boxes and connect them.

    1. Commswonk

      Re: No perfect compatibility within Office either

      It's also disappointing how hard it is to draw even the simplest diagrams.

      I wholeheartedly agree. Prior to retirement I did a lot of diagrams / drawings using the drawing capability in 3.11. We then migrated to (IIRC) NT and while most would open without problems some finished up with a lot of misalignment that required sorting out. New drawings were as easy as they had been with 3.11.

      In retirement I was able to do such drawing as I still wanted to do using XP on a desktop; no changes from earlier versions that I could identify. The laptop I then acquired offered me all the benefits of W7, one of which wasn't the ability to do drawings easily / at all.

      I reluctantly had to retire the PC using XP and migrated to W10 (no great surprise there!) and found the same problems with the drawing tools as I had encountered in W7.

      A serious retrograde step IMHO.

      Change is inevitable; progress is not.

  10. 43300 Bronze badge

    "Macs come with lots of great software thrown in for free"

    But they don't really, do they? It's included in the price you pay for the device, because the OS and the Apple programs which come with it can only be run (legally) on Apple hardware. It's simply another way of getting users locked into Apple systems. Which is then used as a springboard to get people to buy other Apple devices and online services, as they are all designed to work well with other Apple systems, and less well or not at all with competitors' systems.

    Windows is now a similar model - other than people who build their own system hardly anyone pays up-front for a Home or Pro license - pretty much all ready-built computers come with one included in the price, and upgrades are free for as long as the device supports the new versions (this has only really become an issue with W11 - Apple have been doing it for far longer). Microsoft then uses Windows as a springboard for other paid services - notably Office subscriptions, but also subscriptions for WIndows Enterprise for companies who want features not in the pro version, and the many other Office and Azure-related online services.

    On the subject of Microsoft Office, the main gap in competitors' products is a decent email client. Libre Office is absolutely fine - for home use at least - as a Word / Excel / Powerpoint equivalent. But there's no decent Outlook equivalent that I've managed to find. I don't like Thunderbird (the single-line mail folder display looks very antiquated). EMClient is the best I've found, but that was quite buggy last time used it for a while.

    And in business settings there are of course other lock-ins - in particular, use with Microsoft online services (only the Microsoft office programs do that well), and add-ins for things such as finance and CRM systems which only work with Microsoft products. This makes anything else apart from Microsoft office impracticalin many cases.

    And of course Microsoft are making the standalone versions of office more and more awkward to obtain and use, because the subscription model is more profitable!

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Apps and add ons.

      Thunderbird works fine for me, but, to get calendar integration with my mobile phone I have to use a third party add-on. Because the ability to sync to a calendar used with an Android programme such as MS' Outlook.com isn't built into it. And when TB does an update the add-on may well break. (It did months ago and is only just getting through beta testing- I use the Beta, gratefully). Once an essential add-on is broken we rely on the (volunteer) dev having the time and inclination to fix it.

      All FOSS software relies on the goodwill of the devs. Sometimes they can't or won't fix a problem. Sometimes they create a problem - because they want their software to function in a certain way that isn't actually great for plain users*. And if users point out that this bit of functionality isn't very good we'll be told to just fork it, it's open source. But as the article notes, reading and modifying someone else's code isn't trivial for a coder. And an irrelevance for a non-programming user.

      *An example being the devs for Pale Moon point blank refusal to display add-ons by date so users would be able to see if anything new has appeared. So we can only find an add-on if we know we have a pressing need for something and explicitly go to look to see if there is something to meet that need. If something that would be useful if we knew about it gets added we'll likely never find out about it.

  11. sreynolds Silver badge

    With intel you don't even own the CPU

    Not unless you pay some money to unlock and use the thing. Is this where we are going?

  12. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Free - as in "doesn't exist"

    My major reason for using free / libre / gratis software is quite simple.

    Most software is crap. I can pay for software - and it's crap. Or I can get the same level of crappiness for no money.

    The areas in which software is crap can vary.

    It can have a crappy design: non-intuitive workflows. Tabs that say Edit but that don't let you edit anything, Software that says it's OK when it has just coughed a fatal error. Software that doesn't save your work unless you explicitly tell it to.

    It can have bugs. Functions that do not work. Ones that produce the wrong result. Crashes, lock-ups, windows that freeze.

    It can have a crap-load of dependencies. Yes you've bought (or downloaded) product X - but didn't you know? you also need Y and Z - oh: and it only (or doesn't) work on Debian, sorreeee we thought you'd know that!

    It can have crappy documentation. Stuff that was written for the beta version, when the author was young and idealistic. But was never updated. Software that was written as if it was the answers to a Bachelor's degree final exam, rather than for someone who has no clue what they're doing.

    It can be slow. So slow you think it's crashed, when all it's doing is initialising. Software that tries to access a far-distant website and then retries and retries again and is still retrying when the heat-death of the universe is looming.

    It can be stuffed full of advertising. Whether "free" or paid for, Popups are the very last thing I ever want to see. Although the ones that "pop up" behind some other window, or minimised, are even worse.

    But even free (zero money) software has a cost. It takes time to install. It takes more time to customise. It takes time to learn to use. It takes time to search the internet for answers to problems ... and even more time to search for answers that work.

    And for commercial software there is the added disincentive that apart from all the time you have to invest, you have to pay extra to even access the software to find out how crap it is.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Free - as in "doesn't exist"

      When I write software I don't intend for it to be crap.

      Most often it turns out to be crappy in some way. Usually because the requirements changed, and almost always because there wasn't enough time to make the required non-crappy changes before they were supposed to be delivered.

      Sometimes I just wrote crap the first time out and never had the the chance or motivation to fix it. Sorry about that.

      -A.

  13. MarkMLl

    What do you really own?

    Well done Liam, very good indeed.

    The one thing I'd add is that generally speaking ownership of a particular piece of free software /has/ been retained by the developers, or delegated to somebody who is expected to act in the project's interest. That is why non-compliance with the selected license can be policed.

    However, the end user can fairly claim to own the binaries that he is running, have a non-revokable right to continue running them, potentially move them between computers, and to turn to whoever he chooses for support and maintenance.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And yet, all is not well.

    [Donning flame proof gear]

    I'm afraid I have to inject some reality into this love fest.

    Let's start with one important fact: I'm on the side of FOSS. But I have also worked with software I found it worth paying for because it filled a need, I am not wealthy enough to fund a bunch of people to code an alternative and it's between hard and impossible to start a FOSS project for a niche need or one that actually pays attention to usability.

    In addition, people need to eat and companies need to pay their (now elevated) bills, and there are plenty companies that DO make good software that's worth the money.

    That said, there are indeed companies that take the mic, and have an absolute and vile focus on establishing and maintaining a locked in customer base, and woe betides whoever threatens their monopoly. I don't need to tell you their names, you all know them and one of them has been conning partners, manipulating the market and blackmailing OEMs for preferred installer for more than 4 decades now and is IMHO still at it (or did you really think their "support" for Linux had a benign goal? Silly you). Some of these players have veered from charging a reasonable fee to overcharging to almost Shkreli levels of lock in abuse and if you thought that that satisfied their greed you were mistaken - on top of that they are now busy laying their hands on customer metrics they should never have access to because that they can sell too.

    The specialist work we do is very confidential. That means we need to be able to trust the platforms we use, and after a lot of work and evaluation we ended up with a mix of Linux and MacOS. No Adobe, no Microsoft, no Oracle (that more because we think that one island should be enough for anyone) and as much Open Source as possible but with a very, very important diktat: where possible we choose for interoperability. That means we adhere by default to a Very Important Fact that the article omits: we prefer Open Standards. Standards that have been honestly agreed* between competent people and update as and when technical needs demand it - not because someone makes more money from it.

    The result is an IT infrastructure that is tight, efficient, trustworthy, rock stable and yet easy to have independently evaluated. I dare anyone with a different infrastrukture to tell me they are certain they have no residual issues.

    Oh, and yes, we contribute back. We presently have a team that is working out what the best way is as we like to pay the people that actually do the work, and we have a budget to work with - because that too is fair.

    I would thus disagree with a position that FOSS is the answer to everything. It is IMHO an absolutely essential part of the toolset for an IT infrastructure, but realistically you should be able to mix and match so you can use the best tool for the job at hand. That means interoperability, because a bit of honesty is required: the Linux's Year of the Desktop shares characteristics with nuclear fusion: still many years away.

    * i.e. not rammed down the voting structure by abusing process deficiencies and bribing people

    1. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: And yet, all is not well.

      Not sure why the fireproof gear. I'd love to be in the position you describe.

      I have inherited a hundred disparate systems that have evolved over the last 60 years, mostly badly customised with weak interoperability between them.

      Cleaning up the technical legacy is obviously possible, however, that requires investment to do so; and short of things "failing" running things on the cheap will continue to be the mantra of the cost-focussed manglement.

      That getting things up to a decent standard and then keeping them there would be cheaper in the long run seems to elude them.

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: And yet, all is not well.

      Upvote for the Shkreli reference.

      Well, the rest of the stuff was good, too...

    3. CRConrad

      Upvoted, but one minor nit to pick:

      That means we adhere by default to a Very Important Fact that the article omits: we prefer Open Standards.
      As I recall, that was mentioned in the article. (At the very least, in the context / meaning of file formats.)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Public Domain

    Back in my days of RISC OS use, we had Public Domain software.

    Was that the same as FOSS?

    1. BenDwire Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Public Domain

      I don't recall ever having access to the source code for Public Domain programs, so in that respect they are not 'Open'. At best they are 'Free' in the sense that no cash transaction was made.

      I used many shareware programs back in the day (1980's) and happily paid the authors if I wanted to carry on using them, but again there were no promises given on future upgrades or support.

      I started using MS office when it came 'Free' with a bunch of computers I bought for my design department. No-one missed "As-Easy-As" or "Ability" and were happy to embrace the new shiny. Of course by then the drug dealer outside the school gates had started charging for subsequent users ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Public Domain

        Good point - although on RISC OS some of those programs were written in BASIC for all to see :)

      2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        I don’t recall ever having access to the source code for Public Domain programs, …

        … so in that respect they are not ‘Open’.

        There is no requirement for programs in the public domain to have their source code distributed, although source code was often made available, e.g. with text-mode games like Hunt the Wumpus, Colossal Cave Adventure, and Empire back in the days of yore, and with more functional programs like SQLite now.

    2. MarkMLl

      Re: Public Domain

      No. "public domain" in general implies res nullius, i.e. nobody owns it and there are no strings attached. FOSS is owned, and that ownership is enforced to a sufficient extent to allow one of the FOSS licenses to govern its distribution.

      1. UK DM

        Re: Public Domain

        Public domain can not really exist, except in terms of facts about the universe.

        Some entity created the works, some entity has to claim the legal title for the works, to then from that legal position of authority, grant other entities rights to the works, that might be described as putting the works in the public domain. This process is due to the automatic legal status of copyright.

        Otherwise another entity could claim they are the legal copyright holder of the works and they did not consent to another party publishing th works.

        1. Jearil

          Re: Public Domain

          It doesn't work that way though. You can totally release something into the public domain. Another can't claim copyright on it because there is an original work that predates their copy of it (your version in the public domain). You can't just make a copy of Moby Dick and say "I wrote this and own the copyright for it." It's in the public domain.

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Public Domain

            One point: Public Domain is a legal construct that only exists in some countries: the US has it, but Germany does not, for example.

            So anyone arguing about PD must state where they are talking about or the discussion will be null.

            1. Binraider Silver badge

              Re: Public Domain

              I recall an awful lot of public domain software on Amiga originating in Germany.

              Not least of which were Tobias Richters Star Trek disks, and the excellent Steinschlag; which subsequently had a takedown order from the publishers of Tetris.

              I still have the disk images for some of this stuff. I’ll have to have a look if they were early GNU or what.

          2. UK DM

            Re: Public Domain

            There needs to be 2 sides in court to challenge rightful ownership, if one side does not show up or is not known, and the side that does show up (the prosecution) they provide enough evidence (that is true or fictional including witnesses confirming timelines) who is going to win legal custody?

            Your strawman Moby Dock claim would be a scenario where prior art exists in a timeline that predates copyright law in that jurisdiction or exceeds copyright law protection timelines which maybe kind of based around author life expectancy.

            Who looking to defend a works that may over 25y, 40y, 50y or 70y old (different jurisdictions have different timelines) ? When the value of the works today is probably not worth the legal costs to defend it ? Let alone the extraction of montery value once possession is taken.

            What is more important is works have value to someone today and protection from plagiarism from claimants with spurious and fictional claims against a new publication that appeared in recent times but have no authorship name attached but are marked as public domain.

            Just like this comment, don't believe everything you read on the Internet (get qualified legal council), just because a works is marked public domain does not mean it is.

            A chain of custody with legal accountability is still needed in most jurisdictions, to grant a works public domain status.

    3. Jearil

      Re: Public Domain

      Pubic Domain software is probably the most free (as in freedom) you can get. More so than most open source programs.

      Most FOSS still has some limitations or restrictions on their use such as needing to include a license file if your redistribute or if you make changes that you offer publicly, having to give those source code changes. They also often prevent you from selling the software or claiming it as your own. None of that is bad, but they do technically restrict freedom.

      Public Domain is just totally open. You can change it without telling anyone. Include it in commerical software without a license file. It's rare to see because the authors basically willingly give up all rights, but it does exist in a few places. I don't think it's necessarily better, I think there are advantages to how FOSS adds their restrictions. But there you go.

      1. lotus49

        Re: Public Domain

        Just because a program is public domain does not mean that the source code is available. Public domain software can be totally open but it certainly doesn’t have to be.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Public Domain

          The author doesn't have to release the source, but you are, of course, free to decomplie/disassemble/reverse engineer it and then do what you will with it.

    4. CRConrad

      Re: Public Domain

      Not quite the same thing, but kind of a close relative.

  16. skeogh
    Pint

    Thanks for that, Liam, well explained - something I have been trying to do with friends and colleagues for decades now.

    Cheers, and have this one on me. --->

  17. PowerBenny

    An excellent article

    You have succinctly summed up all my misgivings with proprietary software, and more besides. In real-world use we all make compromises, I too like a Mac laptop, but you won't find expensive commercial software licenses on it, only web apps, Darktable, GIMP and the like. I still rue the day I finally saved up enough to pay Apple for an Aperture license only to have them discontinue the product 6 months later, replacing it with Photos, which is like making the leap form Lego Technic to Duplo.

    I'm happing with my Eclipse IDE at home, if work wants to pay $500 per year for an IntelliJ license then who am I to stop them, but when I'm spending my own money then FOSS is the right product at the right price and it is the supportability and convenience that wins it, not financial concerns.

    Now if only I can persuade my parents to read this and understand it and then I'll maybe, one day, cease getting those calls for MS Office support, despite not using the suite myself for twenty years.

  18. Jeff3171351982

    {This is my new favorite article.} There almost seems to be another category between open source and closed source (perhaps decent closed-source?). Probably not a long list, but an interesting example of closed source software that is convenient (cross-platform, no vendor lock-in) is Obsidian. Free or $50 per year for commercial use.

  19. Long John Silver
    Pirate

    What exactly do software vendors sell?

    In this enjoyable to read article the author approaches "software", each of proprietary and of (more or less) unrestricted use (and modification) types, from an angle giving fresh insight.

    Assertion that proprietary software code, even when an application has become redundant, is kept a trade secret mainly to protect exposure of carelessness and incompetence instead of sequestrating algorithms with provenance of "genius", has ring of truth. Developers of applications regardless of intent only for their personal use, for sharing (with code), or for commercial exploitation, start with a purpose in mind which sets a series of challenges to be met before it can be realised. Thus, independent solutions to knotty problems along the way must abound.

    Sometimes people collect code fragments for commonly encountered tasks (e.g. numerical analysis) into tomes distributed either freely or commercially via publishers. When commercial, the author/publisher lays claim of copyright to the textual organisation of the content and accompanying commentary; yet, the ideas embodied in code, regardless of whether originated by the author or others, de facto fall into the toolkit of the commons.

    From the 90s and for a couple of decades after, litigation among software manufacturers, notably in the USA, sought to test patent and copyright law as applied to seemingly the most trivial of innovations. My perception is of disputes arising over visible attributes of software i.e. presentation on screens. Fonts were an obvious plaything for lawyers, and concern spread to details of program interface to users. Claims on particular algorithms were more difficult to establish and relied upon the time-consuming legal process of "discovery".

    Rise of "open software" may be changing the game for vendors of proprietary software. In essence, competition shifts from marketing exclusive functionality and quality to considerations of "added value" through purchase. Subscription bundles may be part of this process.

    Linux vendors straddle commercial and communal software. Their products are open source and through assistance from users subject to quality control and update. "Enterprise" editions earn money via addition of support services which, in principle, may involve bespoke modifications and special features.

    Nevertheless, grip of software majors such as Microsoft is likely to remain strong. As mentioned in the article they cunningly lock users into continuing dependence. Marketing follows the method deployed by "The Old Dope Peddler in the Tom Lehrer song: catch them as children/students with enticements offered via educational institutions.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One of those "Yes!" articles

    Superbly well put Liam. A great article (apart from the USA spelling which I'm finding increasingly irritating - "mold" FFS!)

    Looking forward to the follow up articles.

    1. MarkMLl

      Re: One of those "Yes!" articles

      USA spelling... I believe Liam still writes with a British-made Parker pen. What El Reg's editorial desk does with it is outside his control.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One of those "Yes!" articles

        Oh I'm well aware of the fact that it's not Liam having been sent to a re-education camp to force him into using US spelling.

        The new policy of changing all use of the English language to conform with Webster's myopic vision is offensive. Both to the writer and to the reader.

        Seriously El Reg: leave the writer's spelling alone. If the writer is American, leave "color" as it is, Likewise, if the writer is not American and uses "colour", leave it as it is!

  21. LDS Silver badge

    It looks FOSS still needs very long rants to explain why users should switch...

    .... and that's the reason they don't switch - there's no real reason to switch but something that borders on religious faith "control", "freedom", maybe "a new heaven", etc. etc.

    Also, hiding ugly truths - for example if you don't make money from selling software you need other sources of revenues - like hoarding and selling user data, in the worst case. In the best one, software becomes a side product of other interests - your users matter less than those other interests. Also, there's often very little reason to have different competing products. Everybody flock to the same product following the fashion, often du jour, and the landscape becomes quickly much poorer.

    Or the ugly truth that in many sectors FOSS software is still behind commercial products - and it really doesn't matter if the "formats" are open and you take more time to do less because the tool is worse.

    I do not understand, we advocate for "diversity" - but then there are people trying to make the software world as little diverse as they can. We should all use the same OS, the same applications, the same development philosophy - that's not freedom, is slavery, especially when you're not paid for your work.

    1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: It looks FOSS still needs very long rants to explain why users should switch...

      "If you don't make money from selling software you need other sources of revenues - like hoarding and selling user data"

      Because nobody knows of a company doing both, do we?

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: It looks FOSS still needs very long rants to explain why users should switch...

        If people get used to it, why don't increment your revenues? Anyway now Microsoft is basically giving Windows away for free in exchange of user data. Even Office is much cheaper today than it used to be - as long as you get the subscription version, which again ensure it can get data.

        And they invest far less in writing software today - Windows and Office are far clumsier now that they used to be. When competition is worse than you, and now reduced to just a very few products, why invest more?

        But without FOSS there would be no Google and no Facebook - they wouldn't have been able to scale that much while paying for software - maybe only if they had invested very huge amounts of money to write all the software they use. Instead they are able to pay just a tiny fraction of it exploiting the work of many people who get even a smaller fraction of those profits, in the best case. Many simply work for nothing.

        I do not like a world where my work is expected to be given away for free, nor I wish to find cunning ways to make money behind people's back exploiting their weaknesses. Any other product is paid for - why software should be different? Just because it can be easily copied? It's not a valid justification.

        Give it away for free if you like it - but don't tell me that must be the only way to deliver software, and commercial software is bad just because.

        One day people will understand the damage done to the IT industry giving no real value to many people work, killing competition, and shifting all the revenues to business models built on exploiting people as much as possible. When it's free, the probably the product is you.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It looks FOSS still needs very long rants to explain why users should switch...

      Not sure what you were reading, but I don't recall much of that being said in the article.

  22. MJI Silver badge

    Sometimes you have to pay

    Software to run your factory.

    Go to an industry specialist, buy it, get it installed, get charged a % each year for support.

    It is an important business expence, it runs your £1m machines, it looks after your data.

    And that % support pays to keep the staff employed to support you.

    Cheapskating on software can end up costing more.

    1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes you have to pay

      Sometimes, but then most people aren't running a factory.

      And then the rest of your staff might benefit from heeding this advice.

    2. MarkMLl

      Re: Sometimes you have to pay

      "software to run your factory"... customised for you by a specialist, built on an Oracle database after they bypassed the technical departments and made a pitch to the directors. The price goes up exponentially every year, and eventually you're told that you have to move to "the cloud" because they're no longer going to support on-site servers. And since you've not been investing in your own people to handle the maintenance, you don't have the slightest idea how to disentangle things and move to an alternative.

      Once you're ensconced in the cloud, somebody cuts a cable at the other end of the country and a chunk of the national telecoms infrastructure goes down. So your factory stops.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Sometimes you have to pay

        Oracle, ughh.

        Not for the product but the company behind the product

        1. CRConrad

          Not for the product?

          It's both, the company and the product.

  23. strum

    Yep

    "You paid $25 per letter for a really bad Scrabble hand"

    Truth

  24. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Documentation and code quality

    When I was programming (70's,80's and early 90's), documenting the code (including useful accurate comments in the code) was the norm most programming - for good examples of the level of documenting and internal commenting look at the IBM documentation for OS/360 and the comments in the source code of DEC's RSX-11M-PLUS (available on the web). However the senior management in companies producing software realized that producing good documentation cost money - which they would prefer to be in their own pockets so they stopped producing it - as a result we now have crap code and worse documentation.

    (An aside - there are more Linux users than Windows users in the world - they just do not realize that their Android device has a Linux kernel at its heart.)

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Documentation and code quality

      and the Linux in their TV, DVR, probably the washing machine by now (and no, it doesn't *have* to be "connected" to be making use of Linux).

      But not the toaster, never make the toaster smart.

      1. BenDwire Silver badge

        Re: Documentation and code quality

        I see you're a waffle man ...

      2. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Documentation and code quality

        I had a look through at home

        Linux TV, PVR, 2 phones, router, a PC boot.

        Window, 2 PC boots, XP and 7 (old PC still works fine)

        BSD a number of games consoles including PS4

      3. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Documentation and code quality

        "But not the toaster, never make the toaster smart."

        Yes, we have all seen in Battle Star Galactica how that will end.

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Documentation and code quality

        "But not the toaster, never make the toaster smart."

        I once bought my sister a Takie Toaster to annoy her. She loved it!!!

        Luckily, it was just a selection of voice recordings played semi-randomly from a selection depending on the function. No "AI" or "helpful" suggestions :-)

  25. cornetman Silver badge

    One example that grinds my gears is the habit these days of manufacturers of devices (such as printers and scanners) to not make the source available for their drivers. I mean, it's not like the source is useful for any other hardware out there, and after the inevitable grind of Windows upgrades make the binary drivers non-functional, the devices become door stops.

    I do remember back in the day when printers came with programming manuals because you were expected to make them work with your favourite word processor.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Modern printers....

      This is less an issue with the printer, and more to do with the print imaging model of operating systems now.

      It used to be that your word processor, spreadsheet or whatever actually produced a bytestream including the formatting codes specific to that type of printer. The stream actually contained the text, with the printer working out how to interpret and image each line of text according to the embedded formatting codes).

      Nowadays, that is just not done. The software produces a bitmap image, often in a device independent format such as WDDM or PostScript, which then gets translated into the specific bitmap image format for the printer, normally by software installed into the OS.

      And things are only going to get worse. If you are following what is happening in the print space, you might have noticed this thing called IPP or IPPS. This is effectively putting PDF interpreters into the printers themselves (a way of working that was thought to be useful back in the days of hardware PostScript printers, which were expensive), but which now, because of the commoditization of compute hardware, can be put into even the cheapest of printer.

      What this means is that your software needs to know almost nothing about the printer. You may want to specify the paper size and the colour model, but that is about all you will be able to do.

      Progress, yes, but a death knell for all the still serviceable older inkjet and laser printers once this becomes the only way to print.

      (I did an exercise last year to try to set up a CUPS print queue on a Linux system for a legacy Epson HI-80 plotter [don't ask why, it was a pet project], and failed miserably because CUPS does not really allow a RAW print stream with the application formatting the print any more).

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Modern printers....

        "and failed miserably because CUPS does not really allow a RAW print stream with the application formatting the print any more)."

        Yeah, it does.

        CUPS recognizes many types of images files as well as PDF, PostScript, and text files, so you can print those files directly rather than through an application.

        If you have an application that generates output specifically for your printer then you need to use the "-o raw" or "-l" options:

        lp -o raw filename

        lpr -l filename

        This will prevent the filters from misinterpreting your print file.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Modern printers....

          I did all of that. I've done quite a lot of trying to get old printers to work with modern versions of CUPS.

          At face value, it should work, but it does not appear to work when you have a really primitive printer with no definition in the database of printers, even when you tell it it's a RAW printer. It always seems to want to put some form of initialization string out first, even if it is just a form-feed, which generally interferes with the plotter setup. It's was a while ago, and the naming of the USB-to-parallel device may have had a role to play in the problem.

          It's been acknowledged as an issue with the direction of CUPS by the developers, but they don't think that anybody should be using such devices, and don't intend to do anything to re-enable it (they are quite adamant and IMHO rather arrogant about it, but that appears to be par for the course for modern day developers). It also affects people trying to use Point of Sales printers on Linux systems.

          Their solution is to drive the device directly without using a spooler.

          I also had problems with trying to print from one Linux system to a printer attached to another. The automated setup that Ubuntu does using avahi, formats the print on the local system, then passes it to the remote system which also tries to format it, resulting in no print.

          You have to either manually set the printer up on the local system as a remote IPP printer (rather than the printer model itself), and then set the printer up on the remote system as a normal printer, which results in monochrome prints, as the local system does not know the colour model to be used (you have to tell it which to use using the CUPS network UI), or you do it the other way around setting up the local printer as the correct type, and set up a remote RAW queue on the remote system, which can also be difficult because of the device naming conventions.

          This is with various Ubuntu 16.04, 18.04 and 20.04 and a RHEL 8.7 system as well.

          And don't get me started on the newer naming convention of USB printer devices that looks like it completely avoids any meaningful names anywhere under /dev, but uses a UNC style naming convention and a direct communication interface that does not appear fixed between boots.

          UNIX printing with the System V LPD used to be complicated (but understandable), but now with the 'simplified' methods, anything other than printing to an IPP printer seems near impossible!

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Modern printers....

        "Progress, yes, but a death knell for all the still serviceable older inkjet and laser printers once this becomes the only way to print."

        It should be exactly the opposite of that. As long as the format to be printed is known, then you can just write a shim that translates that format into either a bitmap or bitstream read by those printers. That's no harder to do than the current driver, in that if they update the driver, it will do it for you, and if they don't, you have the same emulation options you would have had with the out-of--date driver. Most things can benefit from not having hardware-specific drivers if feasible, because a standards-compliant device can be made to work with almost anything.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Modern printers....

          But what if the printer (or in my case an Epson HI-80 plotter from the 1980s) does not have a bit map mode! All current Windows and Linux print imaging models expect to rasterize the print before sending it to the printer.

          You're thinking too modern. I'm really talking about things like daisy wheel printers or pen plotters using something like HPGL (or in this case, the Epson equivalent). You're also not following the CUPS development forums (and why should you).

          But if you looks at modern CUPS instances, they're removing the ghostview or ghostprint printer databases from basic CUPS installs, and the rasterization processes will go as well. Sure you can still install them, but it is their stated intention to deprecate the local rasterization in favour of IPP only printers. They say that they're not going to completely remove them in the foreseeable future, but they will go. This is what 'modern' printing should look like (although I think putting imaging back into the printer looks more like Postscript rasterization engines in laser printers in the 1980's were trying to do).

          I was supporting printers and plotters on UNIX, DEC RSX-11m, CPM/80 and various pre-IBM PCs and on DOS in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and I was setting up inkjet printers using SYSV LPD and Ghost View on Linux before CUPS existed. I know how these printers work, and I know how modern printers work, and generally, they're not compatible (although you'd be surprised how much legacy support still exists in even quite modern HP and Epson printers)

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: Modern printers....

            Ahh. Done it again. Gutenprint, not ghostprint.

  26. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I think it

    misses the point

    Software is not sold to us techie types (otherwise m$ would be history)

    Software is sold to the upper managers and PHBs of the company world with phrases such as Total cost of ownership, legacy documentation(you want to read the stuff in your archive?), cost of user training (everyone uses windows.... moving to linux would mean retraining the entire staff) and finally you're a previous customer.. lets do a deal on 5000 seats of win11+ office 365&3/4.

    We're just the people to sort out the mess inflicted on us by the powers above after they've had a paid for liquid lunch in a decent country pub and signed on the dotted line...

    1. CRConrad

      3/4?

      365 & ¼, surely?

  27. lotus49

    Nothing wrong with services

    I pay for numerous services. I caught the train home from King’s Cross today. I didn’t get to keep a piece of the train or the track but I got to where I wanted. That seems like an entirely sensible arrangement to me.

    Software can be a service and as long as the price is reasonable, I have no issue with that. There is no reason to be obsessed with ownership.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Nothing wrong with services

      And just like the trains, your SaaS can be shut off without warning, leaving you stranded.

      Although, in practice, we usually are forewarned about rail strikes, closures are accompanied by the dreaded rail replacement bus (because, unlike software suppliers, they have a duty to get you from A to B) and there will be stern words spoken on Panorama.

      So the comparing trains and SaaS, trains come out on top. And isn't that a scary thought.

      But the point of the article wasn't ownership of software but of being (more) in control of your situation. What level of service are you being promised and how is that backed up?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        not (just) control

        "the comparing trains and SaaS, trains come out on top. And isn't that a scary thought.

        But the point of the article wasn't ownership of software but of being (more) in control of your situation."

        In the case of railways/trains, it's not the for-profit ownership that makes things work (UK rail privatization vs rest of world shows that for-profit railways are a nightmare, just as was predicted).

        What had made and still makes railways/trains work is free and open *standards*, and the confident cost-effective interoperability that comes with those proper standards - things like standard gauge track (four feet eight and a half in most of the "civilised" world). You know it makes sense (with a few exceptions).

        Same as domestic electricity supplies in most of the world are single phase 50 or 60 Hz AC at 110V or 220V or thereabouts. Sensible, widely accepted, demonstrably sensible, vendor independent standards, You know it makes sense.

        Unlike electricity SmartMeters that are neither meters (they're remote controlled off switches) nor Smart (meters are a whole lot simpler and more cost-effective when they don't include an off switch).

        SaaS? Meaningless term, probably based on Snakeoil and awful Salespeople.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: not (just) control

          Agreed, Standards and interoperability are the key.

          (Deleted long rambling piece about the history of how to run trains, except to say that I miss the days as a BR *passenger* being allowed to break up a long journey by getting off, wandering around somewhere I'd never visited before then getting on to a later train; compared to being fined for detraining a couple of stops early as the wife happened to be there with the car).

  28. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    If paying for software is a Bad and Unnecessary Thing To Do, who's going to write all the programs. Sure, enthusiastic amateurs (it shows) write a bunch of reasonable stuff, and also GNOME, but I really can't see what's so terrible about paying a company to pay a programmer to write specialist software I need.

    Parallel: I have shelves full of music, for which I have paid. I am quite restricted in what I can do with it: I can't perform it for a paying audience (as if), I can't broadcast it and I can't make additional copies. But unless there is a theory that those who write and arrange music should all be dilettante amateurs, these seem reasonable restrictions which enable them to make at least part of a living from it.

    The only piece of paid-for software on my home PC (Xubuntu) is MATLAB, paid for by work. Octave is nowhere near a valid alternative.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Hmm, some people argue that FOSS is in a bad way way because it is written by amateurs, some say because it is being written by professionals (paid for by all the Usual Suspects).

      This is all very confusing.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        I think the confusion arises when doctrine overwhelms common sense. Some software is good and worth using for free. Some software is good and worth paying for. And that's about it. No need for polemnical rants from someone who has only just discovered the concept of "licencing",

    2. that one in the corner Silver badge

      > I really can't see what's so terrible about paying a company to pay a programmer to write specialist software I need

      But have you ever actually done that? You name-check MATLAB and I'm willing to bet you never paid anyone for thst *before* it was written. You just saw that there was this program out there and bought a copy in whatever state it happened to be at the time. Nice serendipity if it happened to fulfill all your needs.

      You day that Octave isn't a valid alternative, but why? Is it simply incapable of running the calculations you need or is it just less convenient (or just less familiar). Or is it that you ate now simply tied into MATLAB? It needn't be a long explanation, but given the breadth of the points in the article it would make it possible to understand your claim.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        OK, I'll rephrase that ... "to pay a company for having paid a programmer to write specialist software I need, and to continue paying programmers to maintain and improve it". Happy now? My employers also pay an annual fee to the OUP for access to the full OED online and that's pretty handy too.

        I suggest that you investigate what Octave can do and what MATLAB can do. For me, MATLAB is worth paying for. For other people it isn't.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          > I suggest that you investigate what Octave can do and what MATLAB can do

          That is an even *worse* response! Octave does *absolutely* everything *I've* wanted it to do, as has MATLAB!

          Why? How? Because neither of those has ever been important in anything I've worked on. Just never been appropriate (guys in the office have used both, at various times, and I've used their results - but have aso used their results from Excel, Casio calculators and the back of a timesheet; all the same to me).

          I could compare the feature lists until the cows come home, but I'd still have a better idea of how useful the abilities of the cows are in practical situations than I would those bits of software.

          1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

            I could compare the feature lists until the cows come home, but I'd still have a better idea of how useful the abilities of the cows are in practical situations than I would those bits of software.

            So maybe don't attempt to pass judgement on my professional requirements, mm?

            1. CRConrad

              That's probably why they...

              ... weren't "passing judgement on" but ASKING about your OWN judgement of your professional software requirements.

              HTH!

      2. Binraider Silver badge

        Octave is a useful, and powerful language.

        Refactoring Matlab code I already have working; and especially, replacing the libraries available for Matlab would be an expensive proposition in terms of development time to get a suitable replacement up in Octave.

        I could move it, but haven't realistically the resource to do so. Matlab gains an income from being a stable development target with the libraries already there to go. Investing in Octave to do the same would be possible; but "more volatile" in terms of support - lacking the big organisation behind it.

        And this is from me, a massive FOSS fan, user and advocate.

        I am sure from time to time libraries will be deprecated and evolve of course; that would be the biggest cue for me to reexamine if moving elsewhere makes sense.

        Is this any different to the Fortran 77 code I still actively use in production? Refactoring it means new QA, testing, etc. As opposed to just using it.

  29. captain veg Silver badge

    "It is not possible for you to own paid-for, commercial software. You can't buy it. You probably think that you have bought lots, but you haven't. All you really bought is a lie."

    This is good sense.

    Lie-sense.

    -A.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      It's a strawman, though. Does anybody really, truly believe that they have bought any more than a licence to use a piece of software?

      1. cornetman Silver badge

        > Does anybody really, truly believe that they have bought any more than a licence to use a piece of software?

        The vast majority of people that are not in the profession probably do.

        We have a particular perspective in the industry that is not shared by Joe and Jemima Public.

      2. captain veg Silver badge

        Well, yes. What do you suppose that they believe they paid for? The electrons downloaded?

        -A.

  30. TekGuruNull

    What?!?

    My experience with FOSS OSs doesn't track with this rosy picture at all. Every year, around the Christmas/New Years holidays, I used to evaluate 2 or 3 popular Linux distros. In every single case, I have run into things that don't work OOTB, the ONLY documentation available about the problems are forum posts, and the fixes are mind-numbing pages of instructions on editing text config files. Um, no. [expletive], no.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What?!?

      Don't know why you wouldn't be able to pick one, and go with it. This is somewhat like "picking 2 or 3 Windows versions" and being annoyed that they don't work exactly the same way as your Solaris server.

      Try doing something Microsoft didn't put in the latest version, and see how quickly you get to "mind-numbing pages on editing registry hives and searching for posts on MSDN".

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: What?!?

      Indeed. If there is a manual it's almost certainly two releases out of date.

      But this is a fundamental reflection of economics. To commercial software companies, support is a cost and so it is in their interests to supply just-works software with good documentation. In the FOSS world support is a revenue stream, so it pays better to produce buggy software with lousy documentation. Perverse Incentives 101.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: What?!?

        "lousy documentation."

        FreeBSD comes with a manual that is optionally installed during the base install and easily accessible online if you need to read it before starting the install. It's structured with chapters and an index and well named section headings that takes you through the basics to some fairly advanced techniques. Windows has a hard to search seemingly randomly structured "help" system that teaches you almost nothing about the system or how to use it unless you already know the terms and words required. :-)

        1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

          Re: What?!?

          Perhaps that's because there is only one FreeBSD and a squillion Linuces all fighting each other and produced by people too keen to see their obsessions in the repos than to make things usable?

      2. captain veg Silver badge

        Re: What?!?

        FOSS software that I've used always come with a manual. It might be terse, but it's always up to date.

        Windows software (and Android), not so much. You search online and get graphic- (or worse, video-) heavy Youtube garbage which instructs you to do stuff which isn't actually in the UI of the system you're trying to fix.

        > To commercial software companies, support is a cost and so it is in their interests to supply just-works software

        That might be true, in principle. In reality they supply crap that worked perfectly well on their own PCs and can't understand why it wouldn't on someone else's. And that's your problem.

        > with good documentation

        Ha ha ha ha. HA HA HA HA ha ha ha. HA ha. HA ha ha ha ha ha HA HA!!!!!Oneoneoneleven.

        Sorry, my nipples just exploded.

        -A.

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: What?!?

          Hmm how do I do thing?

          Search for how to do the thing... whoops wrong decade

          Narrow search... wrong version of windows

          Narrow search... wrong build of (otherwise correct) version of windows

          Narrow search... whatever changed, changed so subtly that nobody's worked out how to do the thing yet, or even if you can

          AARGH.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What?!?

      Imagine you've NEVER used Windows before and have spent all your computer using life with Linux or something, anything, other than Windows. Then one Christmas you sit down with a brand new laptop and try to install Windows on it. Everything is different to what you expect and odds are you'll need some driver or drivers that are not on the installation disc. And what's this shit bout having to be online to set up a "microsoft account"? WTF? I need to be online to get a proper install before the firewall is even set up and configured? Seriously? And what's this stupid Cortana things it want's me to enable? What does that do? Why am I being warned in strong terms every time I say "no" to something about adverts or tracking that my "experience" will be poor?

      It's all down to past experience. Back when I switched from Windows to FreeBSD, it was fairly painless because Win98 was the just released version and most of what we used a computer for wasn't online, so there was far less issues with being dependant on always on connections, email, cloud storage etc.

      Note: I'm not a daily Windows user but use it frequently. It changes more often than FreeBSD or Linux does from a GUI perspective and how to find the tools to do the job.

  31. Joe Smetona

    It's a long article, but I've been using Linux since 2000 as a total replacement for Windows.

    Just use the latest version of Linux Mint Cinnamon, Install with the non-free drivers (checkbox), and use the included Libre Office suite. It's light years ahead of Windows and you DO NOT NEED TO USE ANY ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE AT ALL, EVER.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: It's a long article, but I've been using Linux since 2000 as a total replacement for Windows.

      EVER is a long time. I would not like to put into writing that Mint (or Linux in general for that matter) will remain off the radar of the malware writers forever, and there may come a time when some form of malware scanner will become necessary, although hopefully not the type of thing foisted onto Windows users.

      Linux is not vulnerability free (just look at the CVE database!) It's just got a different security model that tends to keep some types of use safer by design, and desktop users are not really in the sights of the miscreants. That may not remain the case forever.

      Don't encourage complacence.

      1. JohnTill123

        Re: It's a long article, but I've been using Linux since 2000 as a total replacement for Windows.

        Linux has Clam antivirus available. So adding antivirus to a Linux system is easily done.

        1. captain veg Silver badge

          Re: It's a long article, but I've been using Linux since 2000 as a total replacement for Windows.

          I was pretty astonished recently to discover that there exists a version of Symantec Endpoint Perversion for Linux. My employers expected me to install it before connecting to the corporate VPN.

          It wouldn't install. It required a kernel version four revisions out of date.

          This is supposed to be security?

          -A.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: This is supposed to be security?

            No, it's security theatre. Anyone with a clue knows it's a pointless waste of time and money. But anyone with a clue isn't allowed to say so in public, emperor's new clothes and all that (like devops but worse).

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: It's a long article, but I've been using Linux since 2000 as a total replacement for Windows.

          The problem with most of these 'Linux' AV solutions is that they scan for known windows vulnerabilities, not ones specific for Linux.

          OK. so some of the Java, Javascript, Perl, Python issues may be cross platform, but mostly these packages are there for scanning files destined for elsewhere as they traverse a Linux system.

          Part of this is because there are so few (but not none!) Linux viruses out there, but I believe that mostly these packages exist to allow a tick-box exercise when some well-meaning but poorly thought out mandatory security policy insists that all systems in an environment have AV software installed on them.

          I've run foul of this type of policy several times (in the past, not so much recently) when integrating an AIX on Power solution. The IT Sec. people just don't understand that AIX is a largely ignored OS when it comes to viruses and trojans, and Power is not susceptible to code written for Intel systems.

          Don't get me wrong, I'm not burying my head in the sand, but experience has told me that this type of policy is not really applicable for systems that do not fit the mould of most targeted systems.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. therobyouknow

      Re: It's a long article, but I've been using Linux since 2000 as a total replacement for Windows.

      +1 upvote on finding an OS that works for you.

      Or Zorin OS Pro Linux.

      Zorin OS Pro Linux, is the most polished Linux I've ever used in terms of UX.

      The macOs desktop style works best on my Panasonic FZ-G1 MkIII toughpad tablet x86-64 PC. Touch screen gestures work perfectly, pinch, flick to scroll. And provided you enable "Use system title bar and borders" in Chrome settings.https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/mutter/-/issues/1603#note_1530687 chrome windows can be dragged around normally.

      I've taken this tablet PC strapped to my arm, several stories up on scaffolding on a building site to discuss snagging issues: there's a real life actual purposeful end-user use case for you. Zorin OS Pro (and Windows 10) both deliver in that scenario. I could not tolerate struggling with Linux quirks way up high on the outside of building.

      And geeks discussing in their gaming chairs about which window manager or distro is better than the other is irrelevant to most people who are end users. The virtue of making people feel lazy that they don't "get into Linux" and tinker so it's their own fault doesn't cut it anymore. People have lives, kids, responsibilities so are time poor. A competent end-user ready OS out of the box is rightfully demanded.

      So, thank you Zorin OS Pro. In light of Windows 10 EOL 2025, I'm warmly encouraged end user-friendly Linux distros like Zorin (and Ubuntu which works well also Mint if that floats your boat) will extend the life of hardware beyond that date and avoid a premature grave in landfill.

      On Office suites. Agree, no need for Microsoft Office a lot of the time. I don't have it. LibreOffice works so well and backed by reputable Document Foundation, as Open Office backed by Apache also reputable. Not so sure about OnlyOffice, given it's apparent geographic origins (correct me if wrong) and particularly in current times. Also Google Docs works brilliantly for office docs and is the best in collaboration. Office 365 equivalent is clunky by comparison.

  32. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    ♫ You thought it was a toothbrush ♫

    ♫ but it was a flashlight ♫

    ♫ broke out all your teeth ♫

    ♫ in the middle of the night ♫

  33. arachnoid2

    Private keys

    Whilst its a nice ideal to say they are unique like anything else there will be at some point, ways of copying or duplicating them. So all that mulla you paid out isnt even the value of a "secret" key.

  34. sabroni Silver badge

    "Anyone can do it. These days, it's all about branding."

    Tell me you know nothing about software development without telling me........

  35. mdmaus

    Some more lies…

    1. That anything can be 'forever' in tech. Everything changes - new tech is born, matures and ultimately dies. Nothing - including FOSS - will make any difference to that. The FOSS source of today is destined for the bin just like all the commercial code. The word "forever" isn't really applicable to anything, and especially tech

    2. Programming would be easy if we just had the right tools etc. If that's really possible, why has no one ever made anything even remotely close to that? Fact is, programming is a weird way of thinking that most people can't really master.

    3. Software that solves hard problems is a rip-off - somebody just cooked it up overnight and then charge you a fortune to use it. Show us how it's done first and then maybe you'll have some credibility. Fact is, competent programming is time-consuming, difficult and requires lots of experience. Programmers deserve to be paid for that.

    4. Code written in the real world can be clean, simple and beautiful. Again, show us some examples of your own. Don't have any? Colour me surprised…

  36. ruthkonyn

    i just want to add my voice to those saying what a great article this is. I've been using unix/linux and foss apps since the '70s (i even have a booklet 'unix operating system source code level six' university of new south wales 1977 - which is a printout of most of the source code of that kernel!!) - and have been an advocat of foss - but this article articulates so well the arguments and explanations that i should be making. thanks.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Ah. The Lyons book.

      I never owned a copy (although it has been reprinted, and I did consider buying a copy revently) but I have a photocopy of the code section.

      Somewhat unnecessary now that TUHS has the complete source to many old UNIX versions.

      Back in the '70s and '80s there were educational institutions that swapped locally written software with each other, which was probably a precursor to the current Open Source model. There used to be 400' 1/2 inch tapes mailed all over the place. And then there was the DECUS software library for DEC software, and I'm sure other manufacturers had their own user groups as well.

  37. Dave Null

    This is a dumb article trying to be clever. FOSS is great, but to argue there is NO commercial software that's worth paying anything for is plain stupid.

    To think that you, with your little cute DC of a handful of servers, can compete for availability with a commercial cloud platform is also stupid.

    There is nothing wrong with a professional artist paying for Photoshop, for example, and no, GIMP is not a useful alternative.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      The author writes - and not for the first time - like a student who has just discovered FOSS and wants to explain to everyone else why it's the only stuff worth using.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      I got the impression he was arguing "horses for courses" and making the point that just because you might pay a lot of money for permission to use some commercial software that it may not actually be the best horse for the course. Oh, and clarifying "ownership" of software, both commercial and FOSS.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        I got the impression he was arguing "horses for courses" and making the point that just because you might pay a lot of money for permission to use some commercial software that it may not actually be the best horse for the course.

        Which would be true, of course, but he seems to be too busy saying that anything which needs proprietary software to do isn't worth doing. Why do so many FOSS fanboiz assume that they know users' needs better than users? Like the poster upthread who admits to knowing nothing whatsoever about MATLAB or Octave but still tells me that I ought to be using the latter because reasons.

        Oh, and clarifying "ownership" of software, both commercial and FOSS.

        Perhaps one of his future sixth form essays will look at the tendancy of FOSS authors to abandon projects, leaving work already done unusable. Like the many projects which never moved to Python3, for example, and can't be run on a modern Linux.

        Oh yeah. Fork it and edit the source. Very practical.

        We don't own FOSS either, and we don;t even have a contractual hold on the authors.

        1. captain veg Silver badge

          It is trivially easy to continue using Python 2. No source code editing required.

          -A.

        2. CRConrad

          Stop lying.

          Like the poster upthread who admits to knowing nothing whatsoever about MATLAB or Octave but still tells me that I ought to be using the latter because reasons.
          No they didn't. Re-read the comment without your fanboi glasses on.

          We don't own FOSS either, and we don;t even have a contractual hold on the authors.
          And you think you have a "hold" on the authors (or rather, vendors) of commercially-licensed software? Through the EULA, or what?!? Muahahahaa!

          1. Cav Bronze badge

            Re: Stop lying.

            "And you think you have a "hold" on the authors (or rather, vendors) of commercially-licensed software?"

            Of course you do. If you buy software from a commercial supplier and it totally screws up your company as a result of negligence then you can sue. You also have a reputational hold over the supplier. If you use "as is", unsupported software that you download for nothing then the , frequently volunteer supplier, can just walk away and owes you nothing.

  38. PhilCoder

    Free software works?

    When I worked in financial services I built front office systems using the Microsoft product suite. Excel/VBA/dotnet did what I needed and they are comprehensive and reliable. Linux and freeware were used for much of the backend infrastructure, but no trader is going to switch to freeware to control $500m stock market trades.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: Free software works?

      Your point being...?

      -A.

  39. Downeaster

    I Agree for the Most Part

    I agree with Liam about trying to use "Open Source" software when I can. I use LibreOffice quite a bit and support the Document Foundation with a monthly donation. I also use SoftMaker Office quite a bit also. SoftMaker seems to have better translate MS Office files better. LibreOffice has improved significantly over the past few years though. I also prefer the drop down menus for software vs tabs like in MS Office. That is another reason I don't like MS Office. Open Source programs vary in quality. Some are quite good and are continually being developed while others are abandoned after a while. This is the hard part of open source. You sometimes find a program you like then it is abandoned. Abiword is a good example. In so far as operating systems, I use Windows and Mac OS daily. I work hard to tweak the systems to my liking. Start 10 and Start 11 and Openshell make the computers I use and those I set up for work so I feel comfortable using them. I still like the Windows 95 to Windows 7 desktop look vs. the changes made in Windows 10 and Window 11. I've played around with Linux and like Zorin and Mint. I worry about security though and would like to have a good Linux anti malware and anti virus that can be used. Some I found that I like but aren't supported anymore. I am not a fan of having everything in the cloud. I prefer having my files on my PC but I will work in the cloud. Cloud storage and apps like Google or Microsoft 365 I don't like but will use for work. I don't like getting stuck with a subscription model. The company may own the code for the software but I still like owning my own files. Smaller programs like the Atlantis Word Processor are also good. We still have to function in a world where MS Office files are dominant. Open Source and free software have opened up the world. I remember paying for Appleworks for the Apple II in the 1980s. It was $150 or so. Being able to download software for free that 100 times better is amazing looking at it 40 years later. People need to use what works for them and make computers, software, and the OS fit their needs. We don't always have to get pulled into a company's ecosystem like those of Microsoft, Apple, and Google. Use what you like from them but also look at alternatives.

    1. CRConrad

      Don't worry.

      I worry about security though and would like to have a good Linux anti malware and anti virus that can be used.
      The reason that there are hardly any anti-virus programs for Linux is that there are hardly any viruses for Linux.

  40. therobyouknow

    truth aggregation. Time v money. Subscription? ownership matter? books/music

    Comment-bait indeed.

    Impact of this article depends on all points being true, which they are I'd say. But pragmatic reality is they're not all true at the same time, for all software. When you see it like that, the impact of the article falls apart.

    Time and money are interchangeable; one pays money to save time or spends time to save money. That can sometimes roughly fit using commercial vs Foss. I think if we had one without the other, neither would be as good; they keep each other on their toes. Both, if done right are good.

    I use lots of both. E.g. beyondcompare on mac, Windows and Linux. Mind gems FDFF on Windows. Ardour for music.

    And what's wrong with paying people for software. People have living expenses etc, shouldn't they be rewarded for their work. As for Foss, equally valid movement people volunteering but they also seek some kind of reward or recognition if it's not money.

    Ownership. No, you don't own the software. So what?! You've paid for some kind of unit of someone's time making the software.

    This article seems to have lost the concept of the value of work to make something.

    Books and music CD and vinyl. You don't own the music on those either. You bought a ticket to a concert or theatre show. Do you own the show or part of it? No. Is it necessary to do so.

    The word subscription conspicuous by it's absence in the article. Think Adobe CC. Or Webflow. But subscription not necessarily bad. Some open source projects use it like ardour. Ask them why. And perhaps the subscription concept reinforces this article's main point but not quite in the way intended. Subscription after all is upfront about one renting software, not owing it, rather than a lie by deception. Product becomes a service.

  41. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    "No, the real reason that companies rarely open up the source code of their obsolete products is much simpler.

    It's simple embarrassment. Shame at its poor quality."

    Yes. Not to mention exposing any "borrowings" and potential patent infringements (a different subject) that may have gone on.

    Same in the nowadays no-support electronics industry.

  42. fred_flinstone

    Aaah the panacea that is FOSS.

    However, if you are not paying people to support the code (or ensure it meets even the most basic of security standards) you are on your own when it breaks or gets hacked.

    And given many of the FOSS developers do it in their spare time (often when single), you frequently see orphaned packages (when said developer 'gets a life') and inevitably some of these are hijacked by bad actors. And then the whole world is panicking because that useful widget snuck in everywhere. Again.

    So if you are happy with the real wild west, fill yer boots with a FOSS OS. But if you have better things to do, go with one of the licensed alternatives where at least the software owners (Apple, Microsoft etc.) want to keep the (ad) revenue flowing and therefore are motivated to fix the biggest issues.

    Personally I have a mixture, licensed for the mainstream stuff, FOSS and similar when there is no better alternative, and roll my own when I want something no one else has thought of (or when my employer wants something added/tweaked in their huge code base).

    But not everyone can write the stuff and even those who can often have better things to do.

  43. Arthur Daily

    You can BUY software, and the opportunity to resell it later, unfettered. But only in Germany and Switzerland, where on their Ebay's and the like, you may buy. Even Adobe - who were the last holdout. Germany takes first doctrine seriously, and the fines will be eye-popping for claiming otherwise. After that court loss, Adobe and others put critical bits online only, to get around that. Technically many countries are not charging yearly rental taxes - as they should. But older versions are generally good enough. Secondly, some Nordic countries do not criminalize civil matters, but set damages at actual rates, not imaginary in their dreams blackmail levels. Therefore is is legal to take measures for emergency recovery - such as hacking intrusion/ransomware. Few people know licensing bullshittery slows fast recovery, so in some countries you can remove or defuse software time bombs. Obviously the best solution is to hang on to what you have.

  44. Fabrizio
    Megaphone

    2-step process

    This:

    Step one: switch to FOSS apps. Stop using your proprietary ones. Get familiar with free replacements on your old OS.

    Step two: switch to a FOSS OS. It will be more familiar because you're used to the apps.

    That's how I switched from Windows Vista to Linux...

  45. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    there's no fridge

    Well, there sort of is although with huge restrictions. Like my isolated 80486DX2 on Win3.1 that runs some legacy hardware with a certain legacy software. Unfixable if anything breaks.

  46. IdontneednostinkinHANDLE

    Open source?

    I’m pretty sure the term ‘open source’ was used by intelligence agencies before there were even computers

    1. CRConrad

      So what?

      Ever heard of an obscure concept called "context"? Words mean different things in different contexts.

      You're welcome.

  47. IGnatius T Foobar !

    Windows is obsolete

    Even Microsoft knows that proprietary software is obsolete. That's why they've switched over to being a cloud provider, so you can pay them forever for *access* to software instead of for the software itself. I daresay it's a better business model, and even ESR said so in his final blog article before he gave up on the blog actually working [ http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=8764 ].

    Locking customers into a cloud is more lucrative than locking them into low-quality proprietary software.

    Please stop using Windows. It is obsolete.

  48. johnksellers

    There is a way out of the mess

    I once came across somebody's Windows app suite that he ingeniously managed to hack into a single file. To install into ANY Windows computer, you just copied the file into your disk and then executed the file with a run command and you were in business. END OF STORY!

    On another occasion, I developed an app for the first failed attempt at a pen-based tablet.

    (Year's ago the long defunct Momenta was an interesting try with an OO Windows-replacement-want-to-be OS that died for several reasons including the stupidly of using a multi-battery, serially connected pack that tried to ignore the conventional laptop mandate that batteries must be independently topped when charging. Its graphic backbone used a beautiful homogeneous matrix transform system for graphics)

    The chief engineer of the development saw the transformable, drag and drop, live widgets I developed for the app, took a peak at my code, and said, "I bet that can will work on every app on the system!"

    We walked over to a computer and tried it, and low and behold it worked!

    The point is, if one is systematic in a certain way, vast quantities of complexity disappear and cease to exist, and existential functionality increases exponentially. You can avoid the endless treadmill of the busy work of infinite individual impossible-to-maintain compatibility issues and replace it with positive unintended consequences. The fact is, most software maintenance today is unnecessary busywork and is a direct consequence of not doing things systematically in the right way in the first place.

    Do such systematic, zero-maintenance systems exist in the Real World? Because of our universal stupidity, not very often. But by chance, have you ever heard of the Decimal System?

    What is it like? Zero maintenance, globally accepted, maximum simple while not being simplistic, universally useful, free, not expected to require replacement for thousands of years.

    Are we systematic enough in our efforts to make superior real progress? Absolutely NOT! The test for a sufficient level of being systematic is simply whether the prevalent unintended consequences of our efforts are generally good or bad. END OF STORY.

    What the pervasive aggressive Big Boys of the industry completely miss is that if they were to give up their greed of primarily trying to move money many others piles to their own pile and instead relentlessly pursued a high level of the right kind of systematic effort, they would become authentically richer than they could ever be pursuing their current money-grubbing fashion.

    Why? Because the World would monotonically become a much better place and there is a permutive astronomical amount of possible potential in that direction.

    It is true that efforts would become more challenging and may very well multiply the amount of effort to complete a project, but the consequences of any such successful efforts would measurably and permanently change the World for the better. The total effect over the long haul would be a fraction of what it currently is to achieve any particular amount of positive outcome over the long term.

    What we are missing isn't just making the World twice as good, we are missing the chance to make the World 100s of times better.

    The potential is there. If one is systematic in a particularly good way that has some merit. But being systematic in many ways is nonlinear and exponentially growing benefit in the long term.

    Take the example of the linear effort of an egg slicer. If you slice and dice an egg with linear effort cuts along the three dimensions, you can cut the egg into a thousand tiny dice cubes. The outcome was N cubed. That is an exponential result of the linear effort.

    Likewise, if you make many of the independent aspects of your project systematic in the right way, then you reduce complexity in every dimension and the positive results exponentially grow much faster than the required linear effort.

    To consider how much better the outcome can be, consider that the number of possible outcomes is incredibly huge and the best of the lot is going to be good indeed!

    For example, solving within the very limited problem space of Rubik's cube actually produces a large problem space. If you stacked all the unique permutations of cubes on top of each other, the resulting stack of cubes would be about 300 light-years long. But such a space can be navigated by a World class cuber, who can find the unique solution in about 7 seconds flat by being systematic in the right way.

    So the number of possible solutions to a real-world problem is much much larger than this. So doesn't that mean the best solution is likely to be much better than what we usually do?

    Also, consider the dynamic of being systematic along multiple dimensions. Then we can step back and wait for the good consequences that we can't even imagine because their are so many if the that are actually possible.

    So we could make things a lot better if we just understand that it is possible. We can all start doing something about this by making it part of the public dialogue and educating everyone about it.

  49. Cav Bronze badge

    "This is why many software vendors regularly change their file formats, but ensure that the new product can import the old product's file, often with a scary warning.

    It's because it keeps you paying."

    Cynical nonsense.

    Do you really think that software vendors should keep formats the same, for ever? If we want new features then formats change and this applies to free software as well comercially available.

    SOME free, open source products are good but no, you are no more likely to get a quick fix from open source than you are from a commercial supplier. The suppliers of free software are under no obligation to provide any sort of support, or even a fix. they can, if they so wish just walk away from a project at any point.

  50. AmyInNH

    Paper

    5 flippin file cabinets full of papers, that I had to track. "Why!", I asked my coworker, to which he replied, "Sick of losing info due to "new" applications."

    That was about 1990.

    Today, this very day, a coworker complaining about having to scour the company's multitudes of sites and pcs to find any trace of work done on a project 10 years back.

    SW is an endless series of disposable trash, well, most of it.

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