Chances are you’re a Windows or Mac person. This duopoly has a tremendous hold on the consumer market. Windows continues delivering terrific business products, while Apple has cornered a niche of the consumer market. While Apple has made significant headways in the younger demographics, Windows is still king. The behemoth has a staggering desktop market share of 91 percent, and Apple/Macintosh (UNIX) has only about 7 percent. With about 98 percent of the population covered with these two operating systems, it’s easy to forget that there are alternatives. More importantly, that you can save money by choosing the third option: open source.
What’s Open Source?
If you’re asking for a standard definition, it can be difficult. Open source goes beyond software; really, it’s a way of living life – a philosophy. Open source is about designing products in a public way – open to critique and feedback. When you’re struggling with Windows – why has it just rebooted three times in a row? – the gut reaction is anger and need for help. Maybe you’ll need to call someone in India or dial through call-tree customer service (“Dial 0 for a representative. We’re sorry, we cannot help you due to a large call volume.”). With open source, you’re opting for some bumps in the road, but the ability to question the designers, coders, and people responsible for the software you use.
Anything open source should be in the public domain – the source code should be accessible. Support is made in donations, ad-support, or customer service. Legalistically, open source requires a free license for use. Contrast this with Windows, which charges about $50 to $100 for one computer with Windows 8.
The secondary aspect that’s fundamental to open source is a desire for others to improve the product. Ask Apple or Windows if they want public support and design of their products, and they’d laugh in your face. These are heavily funded closed source systems. When software and operating systems are closed to the general public, it means that the code – behind the scenes – is not publicly accessible or made to be. By choosing open source, you’re participating in a democratic system that fosters contribution and activity.
What Software Is Open Source?
With a significant profit incentive to make things inaccessible, trademarked, patented, and trade secrets, it may be surprising to hear that much of our digital technology comes from open source beginnings. In fact, chances are great that you are using open source technologies right now.
The web browser with the greatest market share is Google Chrome. A couple years ago, the stalwart was Internet Explorer, which was simply a function of it being preinstalled on Windows machines. Google Chrome makes up about 37 percent of market share.
If you’re using Chrome, type in, “chrome://credits/” (without the quotes) into your address bar. Suddenly, you’ll realize that Chrome has a lot of people to thank. Within this credit page, Google has placed a number of licenses – most of them are free and open source. Moreover, Chrome is a derivative of a purely open source project called Chromium. Open source is fundamental to Google Chrome’s existence.
Other open source software examples include: Android (smartphone operating system), MediaWiki (the backbone of Wikipedia), Firefox (web browser), Linux (operating systems; e.g., Ubuntu), LibreOffice (free Microsoft Office alternative), Thunderbird (desktop mail client), Vienna (RSS reader), and Gimp (photo editing alternative to Adobe Photoshop).
Oh, and one last example: WordPress. It’s the foundation for this site – all the code and pages you see are made possible through this open source initiative.
How Does Open Source Save Money?
As a reader of Frugaling.org, you’re probably wondering where the real savings are. The bottom line is that open source products save you lots of money; oftentimes, with little hassle or transition, too. Many of the aforementioned open source products are already part of your every day technology.
Free isn’t always better, unless the product is comparable. You don’t want to be sacrificing a good experience for a free one. Likewise, you have to be willing to try a different experience to save money. This leap probably keeps many in the 98% group.
Computers with Windows pre-installed suffer pricey licensing fees. Apple products have burdensome margins and markups – they pass their profits onto shareholders. If you choose either of those routes, you’ll be spending more than you have to. But if you consider open source routes or using only open source software, you are sure to save.
Start considering what open source alternatives you can begin using. If you buy a Windows-less computer like a Chromebook, you’ll spend about $249 (compare this to $1000 or more for most Macs). The computer is a barebones version of Chrome that comes with little software. In fact, the entire computer uses Google’s foundational software to freely access technologies – all made in part by open source. By buying a Chromebook, you can also install or rewrite over the software and install something like Ubuntu. If you install a new operating system that is based on open source technology, it can be easier to find other applications that also save you money.
Imagine never having to pay for Microsoft Office again. Imagine never having to buy into the crazy profit margins at Apple. Imagine being able to get real help – quickly – to your tech problems. Imagine being able to participate and grow a software – democratically. That’s the potential of open source.
Open source is credited with causing a $60 billion drop in private, closed source funding. Your bottom line will certainly be happy about that!