Sunday, April 17, 2005

Microsoft vs. Open Source

Introduction

In typing this article, I felt it was necessary to prove to myself the usefulness of Microsoft Word versus OpenOffice Writer before assuming that Microsoft is a useless, arrogant monolith whose mission in life is to sit on and crush all competition (and possibly better companies, products and services). This is the somewhat justifiable opinion held by those purveyors of open-source software who spend every molecule of media telling the public that Microsoft is the big, bad wolf, and perhaps sometimes it is! I must admit, it is the 800-pound gorilla of the computer software jungle.

It seems to me, however, that the gorilla is learning how to make itself more like its smaller, more agile counterparts. By that I mean it is addressing very real threats to Internet security, and meeting its dissatisfied customer base with press-worthy reforms, lest a more promising open-source behemoth named Linux overtake it.

I have learned in my short cyber-career that Unix is the granddaddy of operating systems, that Linux is one of its progeny, and that Microsoft is the bloated, all-consuming monster who has usurped and absorbed all opposition, sometimes to its own detriment. Yet it has been soundly challenged by its less-formidable competitors to straighten up or face extinction. Witness recent developments in its anti-virus, anti-spyware, and other programs designed to protect customers’ safety and security. No operating system is perfect, but open-source software vendors (like Linux and others) have consistently met those challenges more effectively, forcing Microsoft to rethink its ruthless my-way-or-the-superhighway approach to making and marketing its products. Open Source software distributors are no longer scattered in the background, virtually unknown to us who were ignorant of their existence. Happily, we now know they are there.

Both Microsoft and Open Source software serve very valuable purposes. Open Source is an excellent alternative to MS, and MS is , well, Microsoft.

Oops!

My only complaint with Open Source is that it does not always work on my computer, whereas Microsoft usually does. I appreciate OS when it works, no doubt. I have purchased, downloaded, and/or installed (or attempted to install) Linux operating systems unsuccessfully. I admit ignorance of how to partition my hard drive, etc. I have, however, downloaded and used OpenOffice, Paint.NET (open source?), and others with some success. It seems that open source products are slower on my computer. It may be in some cases my computer is the problem. But I doubt if it always is. My unfamiliarity with Linux (or any other software) prevents me from fixing problems and experiencing the power and potential of open source.

Good Idea

It is my intention to learn more about and use open-source software in conjunction with Microsoft’s, so as to compare their merits and pitfalls. It is a lifelong pursuit, which I have only recently embarked upon. Having had my appetite whetted for a different-if-not-better computer experience by a caller to the Kim Komando show regarding Linux, and subsequent references to open-source alternatives to MS, my appreciation for them has bloomed and grown, as well as my appreciation for Microsoft. However, it is tempered by occasional failures from both sides.

Conclusion

In the meantime, my Open Source/Microsoft diatribe draws to a heartfelt conclusion. If nothing else, having an alternative to Microsoft has taught me to appreciate what it is good for, and that is more expensive convenience. I somewhat perceive its return to the roots of programming philosophy, that the computer is our slave—not the other way around. We self-proclaimed (and non-programming) enthusiasts of a better cyber-universe have pursued that philosophy in our own way, perhaps to the detriment of the bigger good. If both parties work together, perhaps we can slay the dragons of identity theft, pornography, and other unseemly enemies.

We’ve only just begun to boldly go where no mere Windows-user has gone before (not to invoke any Star Trek overtones). In a perfect world, Microsoft would be open source :)

Thank you Bill Gates for seeing the Light!
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