My 2 paisas

Why does FOSS matter to me so much?

Posted on: December 27, 2010

Lately after I have become a part of a new team, as usual I have been very expressive about my affinity towards FOSS. And again as always, I end up arguing the pros of FOSS in all aspects of software. However, sometimes I am forced to think why exactly does FOSS matter to me, personally. I am usually a follower just because I find someone else doing it and feel that even I should do it. This has been the case with most of my hobbies like Coin and stamp collection. Probably my likeness towards FOSS was also due to that. My first 5 semesters in college was always spent playing AOE or watching movies. However with the start of sixth semester, I started getting conscious about campus placements. As one of my close friend was deep into FOSS, it was very easy for me to enter FOSS world with his help, especially with 24 hours internet available. After entering into the world of linux, what attracted me most was the adventurous ride of trying out different things with being skeptical of Virus or formatting. Since everything was available online, I was able to try many different things. I kept trying different linux based distributions, different replacements of popular softwares used in Windows and trying to convince others to use the same. I remember me having to beg my friends to give me their laptops to play AOE as I didnt have Windows installed in mine. I also tried various ways to run AOE and other popular games on linux. However due to lack of dedication and discipline, I never came out with any thing productive or any contribution to FOSS. So while leaving college all I had learnt was to debug various simple problems in linux and chatting and talking to people on IRC and mailing lists.

After college, I joined a company completely dedicated to philosophy of FOSS and again my adventure of trying out many things for one particular problem continued. I was also close to making some meaningful contribution but then again I had to leave it in between. However the 8 months spent in the company were very useful to develop my personal skill set.  Not only was I able to get a good understanding of PERL, I was able to understand how big softwares are written and how problems in them are debugged. I also wrote few plugins in perl but since I left in between probably they were never included in the main stream project.

At this point of my life, after leaving the company I was in a very bad situation where I had no expertise in any specific domain and was a Jack of all trades. But it was not good enough and I had to struggle for 3 months before I could find a job for myself. The job had nothing to do with FOSS but I had no choice at that moment. But the new job gave me initially lot of time to again install Ubuntu on my (office) laptop and also get good internet connectivity using which I could continue my adventure of swimming in ocean of FOSS world and pick small fishes whenever possible. Along with the new job, I got engaged with a parallel activity of volunteering at FSMK. This was very important for me as this was the only means for me to connected to actual people contributing to FOSS. It also provided me very specific examples of how FOSS has helped change lives of so many people. This gave me the oxygen which I needed to keep swimming in the FOSS world. It also gave me an immense confidence of propagating FOSS to other people. Till I got connected to FSMK, I was propagating FOSS more because I used it and It made more sense then Windows as the options and features as a desktop OS were so much. However after getting into FSMK, I was able to see the real impact of FOSS philosophy. Seeing slum children use FOSS to nurture their creativity, watching blind people use FOSS to interact more easily with other world and compete with normal world. All this would never have been possible if FOSS was not there. And that is the real reason why I promote FOSS. I am not bothered with my freedom and my right to view the source code. But I want to make sure that everyone in the world gets a chance to showcase his creativity, improve his lifestyle and grow in his career. This can only be done with FOSS. All the proprietary companies can come up with massive plans of donating computer hardware and softwares free of cost just so that they can show it as their Corporate responsibility but none of these companies are going to cut their profits so that they can make any real difference to people’s lives. And this is why FOSS is the messiah of  the world of economically challenged and differently enabled people.

However the Mahabharat has just begun and probably this is the toughest time for FOSS. Because most of the developers of FOSS have become complacent towards the actual reason of existence of FOSS. FOSS is becoming more and more volunteering than a necessity and this might lead to its end. As there is a very strong force of profit and capitalism driving proprietary softwares but FOSS is driven only due to their philosophy. If the philosophy is compromised, then it will only be a matter of time before proprietary companies gulp the FOSS world. We are already seeing many FOSS companies getting acquired. Let us see what 2011 has in store for the FOSS world.

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