a matter of choice

Henry Ford said about the Model T :

You can have it in any color, so long as it is black.

Something very similar is often said by FOSS advocates – “You can choose any software, so long as it is FOSS”. I’m of course, referring to the dissent being voiced whenever we hear about some large scale adoption of Microsoft software. Other proprietary software products are also adopted on large scales, but MS has a special place in our hearts 😉 .

Are we being hypocrites? If choice is one of the many things FOSS stands for, then shouldn’t we accept others’ choice, even if it happens to be a non-FOSS one?

I think there are more factors than a simple FOSS/non-FOSS choice involved here.

One is interoperability. When you use proprietary software, you are alienating those who have opted not to use the same product. Office 2007 has a lot of features and bells and whistles – not found in any other office suite and very essential in enterprise environments. But if my boss mails me a docx file to read over the weekend, what am I supposed to do? I am supposed to get a plugin for OpenOffice.org which will convert docx to xHTML and display the result. It will be an axiomatic statement if I say office documents will never reach the same level of portability as HTML. But is it too much to expect MS to release just enough specs so their files can be read and edited using other products? Natively? Apparently, yes. And hence, we protest.

Another is standardization. An ODF file can be opened in any ODF-supporting applicaton. While MS says its Office Open XML is really open and has also released a specification document which is in the process of being ratified as a standard, there are questions and criticisms.

You will rarely hear protests if someone ditches OpenOffice for KWord or Abiword. I say, those are real options. That is what we mean by “FOSS gives you a choice”. A pity we won’t be seeing MS Word in the list any time soon.

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