Understanding Free and Open Source Software

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For some people, there's a sense of security in fast food restaurants. For the most part, they've got something right: consistency. Even if it's not exceptionally tasty, or very nutritious, even if it produces huge amounts of branded plastic and paper rubbish, and isn't really that low cost, people who eat there have their expectations, low though they might be, met. But consistency comes at a cost: people buying it have little real ability to control what they get.

They have no idea, really, what ingredients went into the meal. In some cases, the fast food chain trumpets its "secret recipe" as a major selling point...  In an effort to maximise consistency of flavour (and profits), artificial essences are used along with ingredients of decidedly "variable" quality. A lot of times, while what you get might contain some of the recognisable ingredients plastered all over the restaurant, its menus, and its advertising using carefully crafted marketing photos... but what you actually get bears only a vague resemblance to those photographed exemplars - your burger or nuggets box hasn't been put together with anything even remotely resembling pride or love. It's been put together by someone using a highly optimised, proscriptive assembly process, designed to be followed by unskilled employees getting a minimum wage salary, who may or may not care about things like hygiene or presentation.

Contrast this to home made meals. They span a much much wider gamut of qualities. Yes, many home made meals are boring or not overly tasty. Some lack interesting ingredients, or are put together without confidence by an inexperienced cook... but when put together by someone really wanting to make something for themselves and their friends to enjoy, culinary magic can happen. Yes, much of it might be unremarkable, but I think most people will agree that you'll never be able to buy better food than the best home cooked meals you've had

That's because a meal is so much more than the food. It's the ambience of the place you eat, the company with whom you dine and converse. It's the smells of the house, the discussion of where the food came from, the fact that the cook usually knows all of the ingredients (often locally produced, and might have grown some of them him/herself). You can discuss and share recipes, you can learn techniques to let you recreate and perhaps even embellish (or make more to your own taste or substitute different ingredients) food others have made for you.

To me, proprietary software is the fast food of the computers. Yeah, it scales well, and makes lots of money. But not sure about the ingredients, or the secrecy they brag about... It fundamentally lacks much that I value. 

Free and open source software is made by the people who eat it, and share it with their friends. They know where the ingredients come from. They consider nutritional value and sustainability as well as tastes - surprisingly, a well crafted home cooked meal is almost always more nutritious than what you're likely to get at a restaurant...

I know for sure that I value a meal made for - and shared with - me with love (or that I've made with love to share with those dear to me) over one I've bought from someone I don't know and who knows nothing about me, who's just trying to make a living.  I don't begrudge them doing that, and perhaps there's a time for eating out, but I know what I prefer.

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