Five reasons why you should choose open source software

Open Rights Group local organiser, Francis Clarke, writes for Bioregion Birmingham.

Virtually all of us interact with open source software every day. Over 80% of the world’s web servers run on open source software, and Android phones and tablets are built on the open source Linux operating system. In this article I want to overcome the jargon that too often surrounds discussion of open source software, and give you five clear reasons why people interested in progressive political and social change should choose it wherever possible.

What is open source software?

Open source software is software which everyone has the right to study, change and distribute. Open source software is usually built by a community of people from across the world rather than a single company. If you’d like to know more, the Wikipedia article on open source software is a good place to start.Open source symbol

By contrast, proprietary software is usually developed by a single company and places significant restrictions on how people can use and share it.

Popular examples of open source software

Firefox (independent alternative to Google Chrome and Internet Explorer)
Signal Private Messenger (a highly rated open source alternative to WhatsApp)
LibreOffice (a well-regarded alternative to Microsoft Office)
GIMP (a full-featured alternative to Adobe Photoshop)
Ubuntu (a popular version of the Linux open source operating system, an alternative to Windows and Mac operating systems)
Ubuntu MATE (a customised version of Ubuntu well-suited to older desktops and laptops)
WordPress (web software which powers 26.9% of all websites worldwide)
CyanogenMod (community developed version of Android mobile operating system)
   
Reasons to choose open source software

1. Value for money

In virtually all cases, open source software is freely available to everyone at zero cost. What’s more, you have the legal right to share as many copies of the software as you like.

This stands in direct contrast to proprietary software, which often comes with a high price tag and prohibitions on sharing. And because anyone is free to study and update open source software, you can avoid the expense associated with being ‘locked in’ to a single supplier.

2. Environmental benefits

Choosing open source is a great way of extending the lifecycle of existing computer hardware while helping to overcome the financial and environmental costs associated with ‘designed obsolescence’.

CyanogenMod allows users to upgrade their phone’s old software whilst Ubuntu MATE, a simplified version of the popular Linux operating system can breathe new life into an old desktop or laptop machine.

3. Security, privacy and user rights

Open source software can make an important contribution to protecting your digital life. With open source software anyone can take a detailed look at the source code and report or fix flaws. In contrast, with proprietary software users have to trust the company which made the software, and researchers who report security problems can be sued for doing so.

More chillingly, under the Investigatory Powers Bill (which is expected to become law this December) technology companies could be secretly forced by government agencies to weaken their software in order to facilitate surveillance. This will have the effect of threatening everyone’s security and privacy. Open source software, by virtue of not belonging to a single company, is better placed to resist these pressures than traditional proprietary software.

4. Reduce your dependence on corporations

While choosing open source software does not mean rejecting corporate power altogether (major corporations are important contributors to many open source projects), it offers you a way of exercising control over your digital life.
 
Fed up with Google tracking your every move online? Why not switch from Chrome to Firefox, adding the open source Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere extensions for extra protection?

Disappointed by WhatsApp’s plans to share user data with Facebook? Vote with your feet by switching to the non-commercial and open source Signal Private Messenger app.  

5. Develop your skills and be part of a global community

At its best open source software encourages both self-reliance and cooperation. Is the software you’re using not meeting your needs? Change it, either by building your own software (for those of you who have the coding skills) or by reaching out and connecting with other people online who can help you.  

Open source software also offers you the chance to become part of a community. As a Firefox user, for example, I’ve been able to learn from Mozilla Advocacy about important issues such as net neutrality, encryption, and European copyright reform, while taking action alongside Mozilla supporters from around the world. Don’t get me wrong, Google Chrome is a fine web browser but Google has never made me feel a part of something in the way Mozilla has.

 

Francis ClarkeFrancis Clarke is the founder of OpenUp Digital, a Birmingham-based business which helps businesses, community groups and individuals get the most out of digital communications. Francis is also the Local Organiser for the Open Rights Group (ORG) in Birmingham. ORG is the UK's only digital campaigning organisation working to protect rights to privacy and free speech online. You can follow Francis on Twitter @francisclarke.  

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