Open source

There has always been a strong desire in the computing world that machines and software should be open and ideally free. My first PC was an Apple II and I loved it. You were encouraged to unclip the lid and add things to it. Many add-on boards were made by outside companies. You could program it in Applesoft BASIC and in assembler. Your code could even read and write tracks and sectors on the floppy disk. With the Apple Macintosh this stopped. Apple locked the machines up for ever, and did a very clever marketing job persuading a minority that it is worth paying double or treble the price for something you couldn't do anything to yourself. I was delighted to hear the other day that 'it is no longer cool to buy Apple'.

Non-Apple PCs, based on the original design by IBM, have always been open. As a result competition has made them cheap, and owners can do repairs and upgrades themselves. However the operating system is not open. In Windows you can only change what Microsoft allows you to. It also forces you to buy the software all over again, even if you don't need to, by ending its support for an old version. To justify the hundred pounds or so, it bloats the software with pretty bits that most people don't want or need. This bloating means that you can't even run the new version on an old machine, so you must buy the hardware again as well. For companies and schools this is a major, pointless headache and expense.

The urge for open-ness has led to movements like Open Source. They believe that software should be collaborative and free, both in terms of money and licencing. The name OpenSource was chosen as the original word 'free' implied it was only free of cost. In some cases you can even get the source code, so you can make changes to the software itself.


(C) Peter Scott 2013

Last edit 26 December 2015