To FLOSS or not to FLOSS

I am struggling with a decision I never imagined I would have to make. Most of those who know me would be surprised at what I am considering. The question that is weighing on my mind is whether I should buy an iMac.

(All the following is NOT derived with scientific rigor. It is merely the ramblings of a floss purist questioning his ideals via personal anecdotes.)

A long time ago I realized that I am not a typical computer user. I use Firefox to surf the web and emacs for everything else. These preferences, which tend towards a positive feedback loop , have brought me to a small isolated area of the Venn diagram.

However, I do have a wife and son and they fall into the larger section of that imaginary Venn diagram. They browse the web, use email (predominantly through the web), IM (again web based), manage photos via f-spot, watch videos through mplayer, play some time wasting games,etc.

Of course my son does a bit more with various tools like scratch.

The core problem and reason for this post is that he wants to do more, but can’t. Editing videos on linux is near impossible. Cinelerra is about as useful to an impatient ten year old as mowing the lawn with a pair of scissors. Kdenlive looks promising, but crashes constantly with segfaults and other weird errors. After hours or days of stubborn persistence his natural response it to give up. I don’t blame him.

The core philosophy of floss is freedom. Freedom is a hollow concept without pragmatic consequences. “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”, thus for popular systems at least stability is approachable. Of course there are caveats and other problems with this which I will punt. With FLOSS one also has the ability to make an application do what they want (the freedom part). If a package comes close, but not quite, then you have the ability (whether you do it yourself or higher it out) to get the feature you need. This saves you writing a system from scratch.

Non-free systems in the floss view are bad because you can become entrapped in that system. In order for Digital Restrictions Management to ‘work’ it has to be infused throughout the system from the hardware level up to user level apps including network services. Enforcing whimsical industry group policies through fallible systems is always a poor judgement call.

Expanding closed systems through undocumented, broken api’s is an exercise in frustration. While there are exceptions they are exactly that, rare exceptions.

One can easily observe some real world consequences that are surprising for a floss purist. Floss tends to be a copycat of the closed giants. One can easily argue that the closed giants also copy each other.

Another observation that contradicts the philosophy of floss is that the media apps tend to crash. Sure, mplayer and co. will play most codecs perfectly fine. Creating or manipulating media is a different experience entirely.

A naive observer would be forgiven wondering what benefit there is to all this freedom when innovation is not the de facto emergent property.

Bringing all these tangents together I am back where I started: Do I buy an iMac so my son can create media with relative ease or do I hold onto ideals and contribute to an immature ecosystem? In other words do I side with short-sited pragmatism or hold out for potential long term rewards?

Comments (7)

  1. Brenton wrote::

    That’s some pretty entrenched idealism you have. I think what you should be asking yourself is, should I be imposing my “FLOSS” philosophy on others, or allowing them to make up their own mind?

    Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 3:01 pm #
  2. zion wrote::

    Normally I would agree. However, one of the tasks of parenting is to guide your children through the world. There is a delicate balance of despotic ’cause I said so’ and liberal ‘hope you learned your lesson.’ Also determining whether they have to tools to enable good decision making.

    There is also time factors. Do I want to dedicate time in searching out tools or fixing the broken ones? Time is the one thing floss demands.

    I know with an iMac everything will be bundled into a system that ‘will just work.’ I am not confident win7 will deliver that, and I know floss won’t.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 3:23 pm #
  3. Brenton wrote::

    Well, at this stage of Freeman’s life, I can’t imagine him running into any, “I wish I never used proprietary software, because now I can’t…” moments. Also, no one can grasp your issues with these non-floss systems until they exprience them for themselves.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 4:14 pm #
  4. Aadaam wrote::

    Once I was a bash + opera ( + gimp) user, now I’m a mac user with a lot of open terminals and safari (and adium).

    The thing is, that on a mac, at least, before snow leo which I haven’t tried yet, you get a full-blown UNIX distro with all the utilities (perl, python, emacs, etc), and all the possible, convenient tools (for MSN, for drawing, for video editing)

    The thing is that the theories and theorems of the FLOSS community limits creativity. If your son would be a director instead a programmer, he can’t live himself out, because FLOSS theorems and practices do not allow most of the manufacturers to build on the platforms, and there are multiple layers which are missing.

    There are two kinds of programmers, and always will be: one, who thinks that all source code should be open, and all programs to be free, and the ones, who do not think that. The first part will run on everything, the second part won’t run on Linux. (Mostly because the linux community is being hesitant to acknowledge that stable, guaranteed ABIs are required to produce commercial software.. or in fact, anything which tries to last more than a month without open sourcecode)

    Programmers are paid for programming, and their valueable product is their sourcecode. Years of experience and studies, and enthusiast professionalism should be awarded with high salary, and if a company thinks that they don’t want to give away all of their business value because of that, it makes sense.

    Therefore, GPL communities exists on restricted resources. Some layers are missing, professional, experienced guys are rare, even if not unfoundable.

    But… why to restrict others’ creativity if you do have the resources to actually pay these guys for their work?

    Saturday, October 31, 2009 at 5:54 pm #
  5. Edward Brown wrote::

    Get the kid a Mac. It’s really not that bad, and infinitely better than Windows. He can always make an informed choice down the road to do some stuff or all stuff on Linux.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 7:32 am #
  6. Wertigon wrote::

    In this situation I’d say, try to do both.

    However, I’d buy an iMac after searching all other alternatives. Have you tried out, say, Kino? It’s a bit limited but very easy to use. Ideology is good, but, I see no problem using non-free alternatives if those are the only options that actually works.

    However, you should tell a project exactly why their software sucks and why it needs to be improved, too. Or even better, help fixing the broken software. :)

    Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 9:03 am #
  7. Opoho wrote::

    Have you tried Pitivi ?

    Monday, November 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm #