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Is Open Source Software Falling Short?

Can free open source software compete with its well-funded proprietary competitor?
Posted February 21, 2012
By

Matt Hartley


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Open source software has managed to find its way into the minds and hearts of users on all three popular desktop platforms. I know of countless Windows users who enjoy free access to applications such as Firefox, LibreOffice, GIMP, Filezilla, among others. Users of these popular software titles know all to well the benefits of using open source software.

Yet, there's still the question of using open source software in place of proprietary software. Specifically: can open source software provide an adequate replacement for legacy software?

This is the question I’ll answer in this article. I’ll look at the open source applications I use, and how they differ from their proprietary alternatives.

Web browsing

For web browsing, I tend to lean on Chromium, Chrome and Firefox. Two of these are considered open source browsers, with the third being software that has some restrictions to it.

Lately, I've found myself using Chromium more, as it feels a lot like Chrome, thanks to having a shared code base. So on the browser front, I've found that using open source browsers is not a big deal.

Both Firefox and Chromium provide me with a vastly superior browsing experience when compared to the proprietary alternatives on Windows and OS X. With the available extensions, ease of import/export options, there's nothing to miss.

In this instance, open source browsing is a no-brainer.

Office Suites

If you are someone who relies on really large spreadsheets or MS Office documents with specialized formatting, then making the switch to LibreOffice might not be doable. But for most office suite users who don’t need to collaborate with a limited formatting issue, LibreOffice is more than enough to get the job done.

The biggest challenge for getting people to make the switch to LibreOffice is going to be the user interface, since it's dated and in dire need of a refresh. At the same time, I'm not a fan of the MS Office ribbon UI, either. Many people happen to like it, though I’m not among them.

Back on the LibreOffice front, we're still waiting for the UI to find its way to a refreshed appearance. There has been much talk of a new UI called Citrus, however it has yet to even appear on the roadmap.

Based on an examination of the issues explained above with LibreOffice, the real issue is going to be whether or not an office environment is using the software across the board. If everyone in your work group is using the same product for their office suite, there is no problem to be had with formatting. While on the other hand, mixing and matching office suites can lead to some frustration.

Specialized legacy applications

One of the easiest places to find yourself hung up is with legacy software. These are applications that you used to use on another platform, that you're now missing while running an open source operating system such as Linux on your desktop.

Applications such as Photoshop and After Affects, as well as other Adobe products, tend to be among the most sought-after software titles some users miss on the Linux desktop. In addition to Adobe products, there are various cad programs, plus different enterprise-specific apps that cause users to question whether open source apps can stand up to legacy software needs.

Now despite what some people might tell you, a lot of the time there's going to be open source applications that will meet most of your needs. And these days, the number of applications running under an open source alternative seems to be growing.

In fact, there are very few instances where an open source alternative can't be found easily. Even better is that if an application doesn't exist yet, it's likely it will in the near future.

Work-a-rounds for legacy software

As we've discussed above, sometimes open source applications aren't going to be a natural fit for all end users. This means if you're relying on the Windows desktop, you're not going to be swapping out that legacy software without some reservations.

If you're using Linux however, this may mean you're going to be looking at a virtualization option as your reluctance to dump legacy apps may have you on the ropes.

With many businesses, you'll likely be using a server that is designated for such things as providing you access to the software you need – regardless of your OS. If it's a standalone PC, however, then you might want to consider something like WINE for select Windows legacy software titles.


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Tags: open source, Linux, open source apps


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