By Russell Williams
While listening to a recent “technology” segment on a local breakfast show, I became frankly incensed by the guest’s all too apparent ignorance of the importance of Open Source Software. A little earlier I was listening to the Tech News Today (TNT) podcast where the panel were debating a question asked by a listener. The question was whether consumers who might have once replaced their desktop every 3-4 years, a laptop every 3 years are now expected to upgrade their iPad or other tablet device every 18-24 months. The linkage between these shows and the title might not yet be obvious, but all will become clear.
At a training session for mainly young people who are interested in developing mobile apps, the issue of developing mobile apps for the many dated mobile devices in circulation in the Federation and by extension the region arrived at the same conversation being had on the podcast about the new iPad 2.
Why is it that if the hardware and Operating System (OS) I have been using for years still meets my needs and does what I need it to do, do I need to upgrade my hardware? The TNT Team touched on something which again hit home at the development session; and that was – as users we need to apply OS and security upgrades, and occasionally these gradually slow down our trusty machine.
A fellow mentor shared this sentiment, as he explained that 3 of his PC’s had now been crippled by an XP update! We debated that the likely reason was that the developers were using dual or quad core machines with 4GB+ of memory, whether forgetting or more precisely not giving a nano second’s thought, to the poor user with a regular Celeron/single core Pentium 4 with 2GB memory max!
It was at that point I had flashbacks to my university lectures and my youth, when computer memory was not measured even in Megabytes (MB) but Kilo Bytes (KB)! Indeed I recall a lecturer telling us how important it was to write efficient code as he reminisced of writing Assembly Language code in an era when “no one in their wildest dreams would have put so much silicon end to end in a computer”. I was fortunate enough to have a 286 PC with 640KB of memory to write my programs on. All a far cry from the 2 or 3GHz 64 bit Quad Core Pentium PC’s with 4GB+ of memory available in today’s PCs.
So what does all this old school stuff have to do with iPads and Open Source?
In a time of economic strife and austerity in many parts of the world including ours, we will see individuals and companies extending the life of hardware and reconsider whether we can afford to maintain expensive software licences and upgrade regimes. So why then subject ourselves to a manufacturer’s enforced upgrade cycle? That is the main reason I have refused to climb on Apple’s hamster wheel – for those unfamiliar with the furry animal, a hamster wheel is like a treadmill for mice/hamsters – the idea of shelling out increasingly larger amounts of cash for mainly cosmetic changes or more built in obsolescence, goes against my better judgement and Yorkshire thrift.
The bottom line is that through adopting Open Source Software and Open Standards in particular, the consumer has options and can avoid being locked in by a vendor and extorted by excessive licences and having your vital data at the mercy of the availability of funds.
But more importantly, adoption of Open Source Technologies presents a host of opportunities for our economies if we’re prepared to free ourselves from the shackles of proprietary software and solutions. If we can break free of the slavish loyalty to “brand name” suppliers and the dogmatic resistance to Open Source solutions as the guest on the radio show, we could develop our own software.
These opportunities will be explored in Part 2.