Reason #2 why I like Linux is more of a “why I dislike closed systems.” The “Rights Management” error in the image on the left is from a Microsoft Word document I tried opening in LibreOffice. Sadly when I copied the document over to a USB key I couldn’t even open it on a Windows machine using Microsoft Word 2007.
The open nature of Linux and open source software means that stuff like this rarely happens. Quite some time ago I remember reading about a hospital unable to access their medical data because it was being held hostage by a company that developed the hospital’s proprietary software system and data formats.
You don’t have to be a fan of free software, or open source software, to be a fan of open data formats, but open source software is a good introduction to openness. It’s also a great introduction to sharing and playing nicely together, something we seem to have forgotten in this competitive age.
Being open also means being open to change. And here free and open source software also excels. A great example is the story of how The Working Centre’s community Computer Recycling Project developed their point of sale. It began with the eCommerce suite OSCommerce. Because OSCommerce is an open source project the centre was able to hire a programmer to build on top of the eCommerce suite a simpler to use Point-Of-Sale system tailored better than a closed source POS could be. But the story doesn’t end there. The project already had a programmer on staff who helped spec the project and made modifications when the contract for the original programmer was finished. Even I, with my limited programming knowledge, was able to fix some bugs (which I couldn’t do with closed source software). And for the past year the project has had a new volunteer, Todd, who has been doing an amazing job squashing a tonne of bugs and moving it more towards something we wouldn’t be embarrassed to release, after all it’s also about contributing back.