Why Open Source Software?

Why Open Source Software?

Hi, my name is Albert Westra. Back when I was around 12 years old, my best friend introduced me to the operating system we all know and love (and grieve for) Mandrake. Back then, I wasn’t really all that interested in open source software. Heck, all I really cared about Mandrake was the fact that I could change the wallpaper on every single virtual desktop, plus mess around with how my desktop looked and felt. Additionally, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of disks that were required to install it.

A few months later I ended up erasing my parents IBM tower by accident, and that mistake began my curiosity with computers. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I built my first computer, and became interested in computer graphics. It was during this period of time that I was introduced to the wonderful world of Adobe software, specifically Photoshop. I was very intrigued by what I could do with it, but I wasn’t really willing to pony up the money for it after the trial period was up.Then my best-friend showed me Ubuntu 6.10 which had a piece of software pre-installed known as (the) GIMP.

Over the next three to four years I bounced between Gimp/Ubuntu and Photoshop/Windows, mainly because each title had something the other couldn’t do. Fast forward to today, you wouldn’t see me using Windows or Photoshop even if my life depended on it. Especially on Windows 10.

So why go open source? Some chose it because they value their privacy above all else. Especially after the public revelations of a certain NSA whistleblower, and a recent website hack conundrum that has left many a men disappointed, and couch ridden. For others, it is and ever will be a matter of principle. Software to them is a form of free speech which should remain in the open and stay in the open. For me and probably a lot of others switching to open source, the big initial reason was ultimately the cost.

Granted, just because a project is open source and free to download, doesn’t mean it’s free as in beer. It still requires developers to write the code, and when it comes to graphically focused projects, a lot of math. A “shit ton” of math. Enough math to make someone have a hangover from all the math they did the night before. Like the hangover you’d get if you had a few too many and woke up the next morning newly married to a member of a biker gang. And yet… these writers of code make it freely available on the inter-webs for people like you and I to use to our heart’s content. While my initial reasons for using open source software was because I had a big gaping hole in my wallet, it doesn’t mean I don’t own them anything. In fact, I owe these developers a great deal. If it wasn’t for them, I probably would have given up on drawing and pursued something else. I do give back when I can, but it will never amount to what I truly owe them.

Now my next reason for using open source software does kinda flow with the first one, but it’s a little more of an incentive reason. I may not be give as much as I wish I could to projects, however I’m able to focus where that money goes into a particular project. Take the Krita project for example. So far they have launched two Kickstarter campaigns and both have successfully been funded.  What made their Kickstarter work was not only the swag (though we do like swag), but that those who contributed money got to choose the direction the development would go. Granted that list was predetermined before the Kickstarter campaign began, but it was features that had already been requested by the community of Krita. Ten years ago, it was pretty hard to fund the projects you wanted to help, but today you are only 2 to 5 clicks from sending money anywhere in the world. It can also be said that you could use the same money you would have spent on proprietary software to learn a bit of code and fix a bug or add a new feature to the software of your choice. So while most open source software does not cost anything upfront, it does give you  the opportunity to give back financially or even with your personal time.

The biggest reason why I “go open source” and use it daily is ultimately the community. Call me a sucker, but there are some really amazing people in the open source community, and it’s not just the Developers. It’s the writers, artists, engineers, scientists, and others who use the software on a daily basis. If it wasn’t for open source software, we probably wouldn’t be as technologically advanced and knowledgeable as we are now. In fact, the majority of the Internet we use as a communication tool, runs on one of the biggest code collaborations in the world. This collaboration is know as the Linux Kernel. Obviously if it wasn’t for this particular community, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. Another example of this is the MyPaint community which I’m a part of. I not only enjoy reading about what is going on in the code, but I also enjoy talking to some of the people in the community about it. Plus every once in a while I get to submit a bug fix. Quite simply, I like the interaction.

Is the open source community perfect? I would like it to be perfect, but it is far from it. Just imagine, the person who is the overseer of the Linux Kernel is not a benevolent angel. He can be or is for the lack of a better word a dick. Especially if you yourself have experienced his wrath or been associated with a company that he has flipped off. Now, I’m far from perfect and have made a few mistakes which have affected those around me. But despite our individual challenges and the behavior of a few, this chaos of people from around the world manages to get along and create amazing projects. So all-in-all, it is a beautiful mess. My reasons for going Open Source are probably different than your reasons, and that’s okay. We are people who can not only think as a group, but are individuals as well and we will have different opinions on any subject. One thing is for sure, when we get together and collaborate, we can achieve great things, even if it’s just on the software level.

We have great open source software that can rival its proprietary counterparts, however, don’t forget about the people behind the scenes. One of my main goals here on Freedom Penguin, besides software reviews and technical tutorials, is that I want to interview the people behind the code. Though not just the developers, but also its community. If any of you readers out there have someone that you want interviewed, be sure to contact one of us here at Freedom Penguin. Most of my articles will be focused towards the artist community, because it’s what I love to do. However don’t be afraid to ask me any questions. If I don’t know the answer, we’ll figure it out together. I’m honored to be part of the community Matt has assembled and I hope you will not only read, but enjoy our content.

Albert Westra
Albert is a Freelance Artist from Spokane, WA whom uses mainly open source software in his work. His goal is to become an independent Graphic Novelist and Illustrator while helping other artists use open source software as their main tools.

He is a full time Linux user and contributes to the community and other open projects whether it's financing, bug reporting, documentation, or the occasional bug fix as long as it's python.

3 thoughts on “Why Open Source Software?”

  1. Being an artist, programmer, Linux admin and a huge open source enthusiast I find your story similar to mine. You have raised some valid points here. Not every one have the same reason behind using the open source software but at the end of the day, we as a community is making something valuable which meets every one’s requirement. Like you, am also a huge fan of mypaint, they are not just producing yet another painting software but making a minimalistic yet awesome painting app that too in python.

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