Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
Proprietary Software is a Plague

09/01/2018 20:07:54

So as I'm sure my readers have noticed, the rate at which I've been producing content here has slowed. The reason for that is simple: I don't have as much to say as of late. However I have been saving up yet another classic rant and today I'm ready to unleash it upon you all. Proprietary Software is a plague and today I'm going to explain why.

Before I get going I want to address the elephant in the room. I've spent my entire career writing proprietary software, haven't I? Yes I have. I am part of the problem. However because I've spent the vast majority of my career writing custom software for clients which is used internally, I am able to absolve myself of most of this. The reality is that when I write custom software for a client the ultimate choice of whether or not that software is distributed and under what license it's distributed is up to them. For the most part these are internal tools, and distribution isn't even a factor. In addition my clients retain full rights to the source code I produce. It belongs to them, not me. In that situation the client ultimately maintains the control and power that will benefit their business in the long run.

In addition it is important to note that I believe the negative impact proprietary software is substantially lessened for certain activities. For example when it comes to video games and consuming content, proprietary software isn't really a negative as long as that software is made available on a relatively wide range of platforms. That's because in my mind these activities are reasonably transient and I'm okay with that.

Where proprietary software really plagues people is in general business and personal scenarios. Proprietary software generally isn't just a purchase once and use forever type of engagement. Instead vendors are always looking for ways to extract more revenue out of you. Whether that comes from insane licensing mechanisms, support agreements, subscriptions or the tried and true technique of releasing new major versions as part of a regular cadence, it is inherently antagonistic.

But that's just the start of the pain. Not only does purchasing proprietary software put you on a hit list maintained by the bean counters, but it also inherently puts your personal data at risk. Proprietary software has a vested interest when it comes to maneuvering users into vendor lock in scenarios. For example when you sign up for a proprietary cloud service and start housing your data there, you should have a well defined escape plan coming into it. If you can't figure out how you to quickly and efficiently extract your data from that service up front, you shouldn't use that service. Ultimately your data belongs to you and all too often proprietary software blurs the line between what is yours and what is theirs in a futile effort to lock you into using and paying for their software. Even if they offer mechanisms to extract your data up front, there is no guarantee that those mechanisms will still be available or functional by the time you wish to make use of them.

To be blunt: That's still not the worst of it. Buying proprietary software effectively puts you into a relationship with another entity that likely doesn't have your best interests in mind. And while it may be true that for a time, your mutual interests can both be served by some sort of arrangement, on a long enough time line circumstances will change and eventually one of you will be on the receiving end of some bad news. If you leave them, that's just the free market at work. If they decide to leave you by dropping the product or dropping support for your chosen version of the product, you are up the creek. You no longer have any power and you are now completely at the mercy of forces out of your control.

But that's the real trick here. Building your business on top of proprietary software or housing your personal data within proprietary cloud services is a strategy that requires you to place yourself at mercy of forces out of your control from the very get go. The cold hard reality of the situation is that most simply don't realize that until a drastic change of circumstance occurs which forces them to re-evaluate their relative position.

This line of reasoning, among others, is one reason I why I have slowly but surely begun transitioning to using Free and Open Source Software for everything I do. It's been a long and tough journey but ultimately it has been worth the effort. Because at the end of the day, I hold my own fate in my hands while ultimately deciding what my level of involvement will be. If you would like some tips on how you can do that for yourself, do not hesitate to reach out to me as I am more than willing to discuss the subject in detail.

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