Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why I use open source for my DIY projects and you should too


I've been a user of proprietary products for a very long time without giving it much thought. In fact I'm writing this on an iMac with OSX as the operating system. I own this iMac for at least 5 years and it is a nice machine but as time went by something kept nagging. I used to believe that for good reliable software you had to pay money. If software was free (as in gratis) it was probably unstable, user unfriendly and unpolished that it wasn't worth any money. At least that is what I thought.
Logo of the open source initiative. By Open Source Initiative official SVG - Simon Phipps, former president of OSI, CC BY 2.5,

Enter open source

Two years ago I entered the makers community with initially modest projects. On the internet I found other makers that were freely sharing information either on their own website's, forums or third party websites designed to share information. This information helped me a lot with my project so I felt obligated to share my projects without withholding information e.g with this blog.

For these projects I used open source software a lot. To give a few examples:

All choices above for open source were initially driven by price but I quickly found that this software was rock solid. I have yet to encounter a crash on the Raspberry Pi security camera and it runs continuously eight months in a row now. The media center starts in seconds and is very user friendly and again very stable. My son has been very happy with his Ubuntu PC which looks very polished. He's able to play games, a misconception is that it's impossible to play games on Linux, and he actually learns a lot about computers. Finally I use the IBM Thinkpad as my PC on my workbench and even took it with us on summer holiday to do some 3D designing.

Because of these projects my misconceptions about open source software being unstable, unpolished and user unfriendly vanished. I learnt that it can be as good as or better than proprietary software and as a bonus it is free. From this point on I slowly regarded open source software as a viable alternative. I even started replacing proprietary software on my iMac for open source alternatives. I replaced the horrible iTunes with VLC as my main media player and Safari with FireFox as my web browser. When I needed a drawing program for laser cutting I installed Inkscape and when I started with 3D printing I installed FreeCAD and OpenSCAD as my 3D CAD programs.

But gradually I a became aware that something more important is in play than a free (as in gratis) and good and reliable product. Open source software enables, even encourages, the user to share all the information that he or she wants unhindered by the license agreement. This is not only beneficial for the makers community, that is based on sharing, but also for the community as a whole for sharing ideas is inspirational and enables us to improve.

That is not to say that open source software doesn't have license agreement although they tend to be short and clearly stated contrary to proprietary ones. It is however important to read it and live up to this agreement. 

In conclusion

Use open source as often as possible. Not only is it free (as in gratis) but it can be as good or better than proprietary software without the all the limiting terms found in a typical software license agreement. Open source enables the community to freely share ideas, information, concepts etc. This is key for a successful and thriving society.

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