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Proprietary Software and Open Source

Let me just state up front: If you don't know what open source means, then you probably know what proprietary means, as it is the software and tools you use every day.
The good news for you:

You might save a lot of money in the future. Open source is great and many times superior to the quality of prorietary software.
Don't believe me? I have used both over the last 10 years and do not jump to judgements like this lightly.

Proprietary software is basically software produced by individuals and companies for as much profit as possible. This follows the old maxim of capitalism that you never sell a product or service for less than you absolutely have to. Price and hence, profit decrease is imposed by competition and free market. If you have an monopoly, you can basically sell it for anything you like, since people either get it from you or not at all. (MS Windows and Office have a profit margin of over 80%

Compared to that, open source is written by volunteers, that give their time to write code for free, often to release the code by the GPL

Now, you might wonder, how can free software programmed by "amateurs" be better than commercial one done by big companies? Well, that is a good question and I was surprised by this discovery myself.

Reason no 1:  
Proprietary software has always been written with a focus on profit, quality being a side requirement. It is clear that quality directly eats away from profit by punching up cost of development. Also, many companies go the way of putting money in marketing and sales promotion, instead of putting it into quality control, since the one "that shoutest loudest will get most merchandise sold".
There is much indication for that, see quasi support.

Reason no 2:
Facing no competition, quality standards decline. Nobody is able to look into your closed source code anyway, so why not code sloppy? It is very difficult to ascertain how much a certain piece of software is worth, even for professionals. This opens up the world of exorbitant licensing fees and EULAS that take away pretty much every right that you would have when you buy a toaster. And the industry has of course no interest to lower the prices if they don't have to.

Enter the competition

Now open source software, in short oss, on the other hand is not written mainly for profit, but for quality and reputation. You can see the code and see the mastership of a programmer by examining it.
Back in 2001 when I first got to examine Linux seriously (RedHat 7.x), I was highly suprised by the quality that the software had, commercial grade with all the points that software needs to run for business: stable, secure and reliable.

Now while programming open source will not make you an easy millionaire (as proprietary design often used to do in the old days), oss programmers usualy work for a company and get payed for doing other work than just code oss.

Evil communism?

So how can this free stuff produce profit and productivity if it is all free? Consider the GPL and then realize that
oss works with the system of abundance. While in proprietary design, each company has to invent the wheel all over again or pay for licensing code from another, oss shares all code in the community. When building my project, I do not have to write code that exists already, I can reuse and build on code that is available. All GPL code. And a lot has been done somewhere already. The condition? Well, I gotta open up my code too.
Sharing is compulsive, which is the total evil for some companies, since it sounds like giving stuff away.

They should not fear it much, for 2 reasons:

Reason 1:
Everybody needs support and the best people to provide it are the original authors. Of course you can take a look at the code and do it yourself, but in buiness, we all know that time is a precious commodity and chances are it will be cheaper getting support by the author than to dive into a gigantically complex source code tree.

Reason 2:
"There is nothing permanent except change." A very true ancient proverb. The change has arrived and very likely software in the future will not be the overpriced rip-off that it is today. Prices have been the same for years and years, while production methods have improved in efficiency. The industry is now invited to lower their fat margins, which they have enjoyed long now or perish in free market competition, as it has been always the rule.

Open source is here to stay and nothing can make it vanish again.

Take a look at these great oss projects, and you will see that the future is here already. 

Now what is the exclusive domain of proprietary software and does it exist anymore?

Yes, it does and has mainly to do with the very high and very low scale of software.

The very high is large business applications, written master tailored for specialized business needs. ERP is still in that category. There is not oss project to replace SAP so far and it might not for quite some time.
The open source community does not let itself totally being dicated by business interest. Especially the free software movement and creaters of GNU abhor the idea of any commercial entanglement or software for money ideology. Creation of such complex business software needs a direct focus on business needs.

The very low end is cheap software that will not cost more than 40$ or so. Many people don't care about money that much to spare such a trivial amount and/or are used to pay for software.
Ease of use is paramount for them and if it requires even one bit of more effort, they are content to pay the money and let it be.

I for myself cannot stand to do a bad deal, be it in business or else. And overpaying for low quality junk is a thing that I avoid whenever  possible.

To state it simply: You would be surprised what you can get for free and high quality when choosing oss.

Now finding software for Linux on the web is a lot of fun, especially when you are using apt-get (or using synaptic package manager to browse for packages), which is just about the coolest easiest way to install software ever.
But even without it, most of the software is free that you can find.
When you try to find software for Windows on the other hand, the internet seems to be a neighborhood of cheesy sales people, every one bent on promising your free free free, but ripping you off with endless shareware, that is try. Some of this you find out after you have installed the program and are using it right to the when a pop up greets you and tell you in no unknown terms, basically: .... if you don't buy me right now, you have wasted all your evaluation efforts so far.

Windows just attracts lots of people trying to cash in on the general user's assumption that you need to pay for every piece of software and Windows does need a lot of them to be fully functional.

On the other hand, while you can get any conceivable piece of software on Windows, paying or not, some tools are just not gettable on Linux, not even paying.

Sure, there is a equivalent for everything, but for example editing video, gaming, music production, Linux is still in the very early stages.


Microsoft profit margins:

this document was created on:
20. Nov. 2006
and last updated on:
20. Nov. 2006