The challenge of bringing Open Source to the masses


One of the most important aims of the Open Source movement has always been to involve the masses in the movement. Until very recently, this aim has been too much like wishful-thinking. These days, however, there are some reasons to believe that we are close to reach, at least partially, this aim. In this post, I am trying to answer the important question that ‘how can we get closer to involve the big masses in the Open Source movement?’

I think the practical ways to popularization of Open Source can be categorized as either ‘positive push’ or ‘negative push’. The positive push ways are the ways of promoting the Open Source stuff by enhancing the products or the ways they interact with the masses. The negative push ways are the ways of demoting the most important trend rivaling the Open Source movement: proprietary/non-free softwares. I discuss either way in a separate section.

Positive push
There are three different things which can positively influence the impact of the Open Source movement. It appears to me that the Open Source community must concentrate on these three issues while trying to bring the Open Source stuff to the masses.

The first thing is “Plug and Play“. I don’t have any doubt that one of the features that has made the Windows XP overwhelmingly dominant OS is its rather good plug and play features. Many drivers are automatically installed at the very moment you connect a new device to your computer while a number of other hardwares are just a few clicks away from being installed. Most importantly, you can (still) find the XP drivers for virtually any single hardware in the market. That is one of the things that makes XP ‘The Standard’. I don’t like it just like (many of) you guys do, but it is true. Therefore, FOSS guys must invest a lot on Plug and Play feature. It is not sufficient that the things CAN be got done at the end; a non-tech-savy grandpa should be just as positive as you geeky guys are.

The second thing is Wine. Being able to run your favorite application seamlessly from within your Linux distro is what that eliminates the huge advantage of Windows that many applications are designed for it and are not available for Linux. Currently, Wine is not working as well as it must. Many applications fail to run with Wine at all let alone run easily and seamlessly . I believe that as many developers as possible should heavily work on Wine to make it as powerful as possible. What we really need is a plug and play Wine: grab a disk containing a native Windows application and you are just a few clicks aways from running it from within your Linux distro.

The third trick is monetizing the Open Source projects. Any Open Source project can sustain only if it can be somehow monetized by the developers. Of course, the worst thing is trying to sell the program just like the proprietary ones. The best way is to monetize the program while keeping it free for the consumers. Google’s model is an excellent one. If you prefer a more tangible example, take FireFox. It is Open Source. It is free. It is lovely. It generates revenue and simply gets the work done. Remember! they would let you play only if you are big enough to be seen while sitting around the table.

Negative push
Aside from making the FOSS products appealing, it is important to make the rival look just as ugly as they really are. Most important thing in this regard is to push for kind of legislation against bundling the softwares with the new computers. Most of the computers sold these days have so many proprietary softwares, including the OS, preloaded. The customers have little chance of selecting the OS they want and are in most cases forced to pay the software companies for the software they might finally through away. The Open Source community must push for such legislation. That is, in my opinion, one of the key points in bringing the Open Source to the masses.

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