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?