When it comes to the software I use on Linux, I'm very purpose driven in my application choices. In almost every situation, I'll use the best software for the task at hand. And as a result, sometimes this means using proprietary software on my Linux PCs.
In this article, I'll take a hard look at how proprietary software affects Linux adoption for desktop users and whether it's a good thing for existing users.
An application's purpose
One of the most practical aspects of software is what it empowers us to accomplish. Software can help us with our daily lives, our work, education, and of course entertainment. Ideally, I'd love to suggest that we Linux users proudly avoid proprietary software as a matter of course. In truth, this isn't entirely possible for everyone out there. Below are some applications that are incredibly difficult to quit.
Skype – I would love to never again rely on Skype. In most of work life, I do well with some preferred WebRTC alternatives. Unfortunately, I work with some clients who rely on Skype due to policy.
Open source alternative to Skype – Perhaps Jitsi or Ekiga could be solid candidates. Unfortunately since this is an application type that requires everyone to use the software, I see far greater potential with WebRTC alternatives like Sylaps.
Dropbox – As long as you don't rely on it for sharing super-private information, it's really difficult to say no to it's cheap pricing when you're managing a ton of data. If I tried hosting my own alternative, the pricing would be difficult to compete with.
Open source alternative to Dropbox – Syncthing is a close second to Dropbox. But it doesn't come with cloud storage, it's merely site to site syncing. That brings me to ownCloud as the most likely alternative. Again though, you must provide the cost effective hosting. Dropbox gives me 2 GBs for free and 1 TB for $10 per month.
Spotify – Long gone are the days where I tried managing my own music collections. So now more than ever, services like Spotify gain popularity as it curates great music and provides a means for social music discovery as well.
Open source alternative to Spotify – A personal collection of individually ripped music files into ogg vorbis, served up on a SubSonic host. Doable, if you have an extensive music collection. But is it practical? Perhaps if you have a collection of existing music files ready to go, but I highly doubt it.
Steam – If you play video games on Steam, you're likely using this software to manage your games. While there are other games out there of the open source variety, they hardly hold a candle to the sheer variety found within the confines of Steam.
Open source alternative to Steam – Don't even think of mentioning Desura, as they initially went through a bankruptcy and later ended up being acquired by the folks at Linden Lab. There is absolutely no contest between them and Valve's Steam client/games. Steam wins that race all day long.
Telegram – It may not be as secure as we once thought, but it's still the best messenger I've ever used. Works flawlessly between my Linux desktop and my Android phone. It's fast, stable and provides me with a strong supplement to my usual SMS applications.
Open source alternative to Telegram – In a word, it would have to be Tox. It's a great alternative if you're willing to once again get everyone to switch messengers. As long as it took me to get folks to switch to Telegram, I can't see myself doing the same thing all over again. Besides that, I would also need to join Google Play Beta to get their mobile app. Anyone else wanting the mobile app would have to do the same. No big issue for me perhaps. For my contacts however, yeah that's not happening.
Above I shared proprietary applications that I believe make it "challenging" to completely kick the proprietary software habit. The next issue I see is software availability on other platforms. For myself, I know which open source applications to look for. But for newcomers, it's immensely difficult.
First, we don't have the sheer number of applications found on Windows. It's frustrating when you have someone interested in making the leap to Linux, only for them to discover their oddball favorite app isn't going to be available if they switch. Need Quickbooks? Not happening. Photoshop? Perhaps GIMP will suffice? Yeah, good luck convincing people of that. These proprietary applications are not only vendor locked in, they're also locking people in and they rarely escape from that situation.
The problem isn't the applications specifically, it's the learned workflow, availability of choice and people unwilling to come out of their comfort zones. In other instances, it's a simple matter that they can't duplicate that specific workflow using open source software. The entire situation is painfully frustrating and expecting it to change is just naive.
Proprietary software and Linux adoption
Speaking for myself, I think a limited number of core proprietary applications on Linux is a good thing. Not because I love seeing people locking themselves up in DRM and vendor specific experiences. Rather, because it means people are exposing themselves to lots of awesome open source applications as well.
Right now, I'm listening to the proprietary application Spotify, in a terminal drop down called tilda by piping it through a script called Sconsify. It's an open source app that utilizes Spotify's API and allows me to run a low resource script to enjoy my favorite playlists. To me, this is why proprietary software on Linux is just fine by me. It allows me to marry different software together to meet my needs on my terms.
I also need to point out that folks who absolutely balk at the idea of anything proprietary touching their computers do have options. There are distributions available that will respect your software freedom. Using those, you can run any FoSS applications you choose.
What say you? Do you think proprietary applications will be the undoing for today's popular Linux distributions? Perhaps instead, you feel the same way I do. Hit the Comments, share your perspective.
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