The Problem With Proprietary Software

The Problem With Google

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Software mega-corporations have been taking advantage of us for decades.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft are spying on everyone to an unacceptable degree. Targeted advertising and data mining has gotten out of hand: we need to take back our freedom. Luckily, there's an alternative: Free and Open Source Software (or FOSS), which is free, as in freedom (not free, as in beer, although FOSSware is usually both). This means that anyone can use it, modify it, and distribute it, for any purpose. Well known free software includes Firefox, GNU/Linux, VLC Media Player, and LibreOffice.

Proprietary software is any software which is copyrighted by a company or individual and does not release its source code under a permissive license. Some examples of proprietary software include Microsoft Windows, Photoshop, Facebook, and Google Chrome. Proprietary software is usually sold for profit, like Photoshop, released as a free (as in money) service in exchange for user information, like Google services, or both, like Microsoft Windows.

The Cost of Proprietary Software

Many of the most commonly known large software companies (like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft) are extremely exploitative and take advantage of their users through information harvesting, extremely high prices and intrusive targeted advertising. There are many dangers to this kind of proprietary software.

Most people can only name one or two search engines, image editors, operating systems, word processors, or web browsers. Once a corporation has developed a piece of software, they can create as many copies as they want. This means you can easily make a monopoly in a software market once you have developed some software, as each individual copy of your software costs almost nothing to create and distribute. This is excellent for the pockets of technology company executives, but not good for consumers and entrepreneurs. Because there aren't any companies to compete with in a software monopoly, companies can jack up the prices for their software, whether that price be monetary or a level of privacy invasion, to whatever they wish, and consumers can do very little about it.

In the case of Microsoft Windows, very few users know of any alternatives other than macOS, which is often dismissed as too expensive, so Microsoft can do whatever they want to their customers. Recently, Microsoft started adding targeted advertisements to the Start Menu of their already costly operating system, charging monthly subscription fees to remove ads from Microsoft Solitaire and Minesweeper[1], and now have irremovable snooping tools that send Microsoft details about everything from your computer hardware to the amount of photos you have viewed in their 'Photos' application in the past day. In one report, a Windows 10 installation configured to transmit as little data as possible to Microsoft sent 5500 messages to Microsoft operated servers in a single day.[2, 3] Also, as Windows users can no longer disable forced updates, they are totally at the mercy of whatever Microsoft throws at them.

As well as Windows, the various services Google offers spy on users to an unacceptable degree. Google stores every search you ever make, your entire browser history in Google Chrome; and in other browsers, browsing history and analytics from millions of websites. Google Analytics, a 'free' service that aggregates various statistics such as page views, location heatmaps, and even aggressive gender and age predictions for every user, has its code embedded in millions of major websites, meaning that even without a Google account, using a browser other than Google Chrome, Google can still generate a comprehensive list of websites you visit and create targeted advertisements based on them. Google has even taken it to the next level, and created entire operating systems, ChromeOS and Android, that have spyware integrated into the operating systems themselves. It has gotten to the point where using Google products is mandatory for use in classrooms in many areas in America and Australia. By locking children into their harmful ecosystems early on, they are creating customers for life. Don't be mistaken — Google is an advertising company, not a search engine, not a cloud service provider, not an operating system developer.

Some software, like Photoshop, isn't renowned for spying or targeted advertising, but rather comes with a massive up-front cost. Adobe Photoshop costs $240 anually[4] for a license, and Microsoft's Visual Studio (code editor) costs $539, also anually.[5] (Prices in USD.) This locks out a massive market of users, like students and people in the third world who can't afford these software pacakges. Also, because of patent law surrounding software, companies can patent broad concepts and create a monopoly that cannot legally be broken. This leads to software like Adobe Photoshop being classed as 'industry standards' which raise the bar even higher for many potential users, as they can't get a job without a license for the software and extensive knowledge of the software.

What Can I Do?

The best thing you can do to stop companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook from becoming even worse than they already are is to stop using their products. Luckily, there is an alternative to the endless exploitation: Free and Open Source Software. FOSSware is community developed software which has its source code publicly released for anyone to freely audit, improve on, or share. This comes with a myriad of benefits, including not being subjected to the unethical pratices of major software corporations, and saving a significant amount of time and money; with the added bonus of equally good software.

Open Source Software

What is Open Source Software?

Free and Open Source means that the source code of a software package is publicly available and free for anyone to use. Some well known examples of open source software include Firefox, VLC, Linux, and MediaWiki, the software that powers Wikipedia. When people talk about open source software, or free software, they are usually talking about Free and Open Source Software (abbreviated as FOSS.) (The term 'Free Software' is something of a misnomer, as it is free as in freedom, not as in price, although it is almost always both.) This is why free software is so powerful; you as the user have freedom to use, modify, and distribute the software. Note that the terms "Free software", "FOSS" and "Open Source Software" are often used interchangeably. (Technically, open source software can be non-free, which is why the term FOSS is used, but this is uncommon.)

Why use Open Source?

  1. Free and Open Source Software is essential as it respects the user. Because anyone can view the source code, anyone can audit free software to ensure that proper security measures are taken and that no malicious code is present, and many free software advocates do. The GNU/Linux and BSD operating systems are used extensively by many major technology companies (including Google, and ironically Microsoft[6]) for their servers, as they are extremely fast and secure. Because many more people view the source code than in proprietary software settings, bugs and security flaws are found much more quickly, and often patched within hours.
  2. Free and Open Source Software is often much faster and supports many more platforms than proprietary software. Because anybody can contribute to free software projects, anyone can optimise and improve software to make it run on older hardware, or even different operating systems. Porting software to another operating system often requires minimal effort, and anyone who wishes to extend support for free software to their platform can easily do so; where they otherwise might have to open a support ticket for proprietary software and get a response along the lines of their feature request being denied due to lack of interest.
  3. Free and Open Source software does not spy on you. With the rise of advertising companies like Google, privacy can be a massive concern. Google's Chrome browser sends browsing history and usage statistics to Google, and uses that data for targeted advertising. Not only is this exploiting users, but if the security of a firm like Google were compromised, everyone's data would be compromised too. Additionally, because data-aggregation firms do not release the source code or even details of their security mechanisms, you can never be sure who to trust. Over 5 billion online accounts are known to have been compromised because of poor security practices in proprietary software.[7]

Common Questions

  1. Why do people create free software? There are many reasons for creating free software. Many programmers simply enjoy programming. Some people write and maintain free software projects for professional reasons. Some people write free software because they are fed up with the inadequacies of outdated or poorly designed proprietary software. Some write free software to give back to the community. As Richard Stallman (founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project) puts it, "There is no shortage of professional musicians who keep at it even though they have no hope of making a living that way."[8] And yet, people are still skeptical of the motives of free software developers. Here is a a great article on the motives for writing free software.
  2. How can free software possibly rival proprietary software? In addition to professional and amateur programmers working on free software in their spare time, many people are sponsored or paid full time to write free software by corporations in need of better software. Some, like the maintainers of the Linux Mint operating system, receive enough donations to live off. The Red Hat Linux operating system is FOSS and commercial at the same time, as they make enough money from tech support to develop their OS. Even if only 1 generous person in 100 000 people writes free software as a hobby, that's 76 000 people.[9] The amount of people who are able to benefit from free software is massive; and often companies will sponsor free software projects that they depend on for their products and services to function. For example, the developer of Tiled, a FOSS map editor for video game development, receives almost $2000 a month from donations,[10] enough to fund two working days a week development for it.

Free Software Library

Firefox screenshot
Mozilla Firefox icon

Firefox

Web Browser
  • Great battery life
  • Speed on par with Chrome[11]
  • 30% less memory usage than Chrome[12]
  • Supports a massive library of browser addons
  • Supports all modern web standards
  • Hardly any telemetry (if you don't want any tracking, Waterfox is a fork of Firefox without telemetry)
Replaces:
Google Chrome icon Chrome
Microsoft Edge icon Edge
Apple Safari icon Safari
Opera browser icon Opera
Alternatives:
Waterfox icon Waterfox
Chromium icon Chromium
Qutebrowser icon Qute-
browser
Iridium icon Iridium
LibreOffice screenshot
LibreOffice icon

LibreOffice

Office Suite A fast and powerful open source Office Suite, LibreOffice boasts a word processor, spreadsheets, slideshow presentations, a powerful designing tool, a math formula editor, and a database application.
  • Boasts a word processor, spreadsheets, slideshow presentations, designing tool, math formula editor, and a database
  • Can open and save proprietary Microsoft Office documents
Replaces:
Microsoft Word icon Word
Microsoft Powerpoint icon Powerpoint
Microsoft Excel icon Excel
Microsoft Publisher icon Publisher
Google Docs icon Docs
Google Sheets icon Sheets
Google Slides icon Slides
Alternatives:
Abiword icon Abiword
Calligra Word icon Calligra Suite
OpenOffice icon OpenOffice Suite
Etherpad screenshot
Etherpad icon

Etherpad

Realtime Collaborative Word Processor Extremely fast and powerful, Etherpad is the swiss army knife for all your collaboration needs. It supports a flexible rich text syntax, with a large library of plugins to sate your word processing desires.
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Extensive plugin library
  • Much faster than Google Docs
  • Extensible rich text formatting
Replaces:
Google Docs icon Google Docs
Alternatives:
HackMD icon HackMD
CryptPad icon CryptPad
Kubuntu GNU/Linux screenshot
Tux, Linux mascot

Kubuntu GNU/Linux

Operating System Kubuntu GNU/Linux is an easy to use alternative to MacOS and Windows. It is a very popular GNU/Linux distribution that combines the well known Ubuntu Linux operating system with the powerful and user friendly KDE desktop. Here is an in-depth Kubuntu installation guide.
  • Complete control over your system
  • Uses a package manager, so you'll never touch another installer wizard again (you can update your system and every application with a click of a button!)
  • Extremely quick - great for old hardware (for really old hardware though, consider Xubuntu or Lubuntu)
  • Supports a massive range of software, including 7000 games
  • Supports running proprietary Windows applications (.exe's) through WINE
  • Very user friendly
  • Extremely secure
  • Highly accessible, and supports many languages
  • No spying
Replaces:
Windows logo Windows
Apple logo macOS
Alternatives:
Linux Mint icon Linux Mint
Ubuntu Linux icon Ubuntu Linux
Fedora Linux icon Fedora Linux
Arch Linux icon Arch Linux
FreeBSD icon FreeBSD
OpenBSD icon OpenBSD
Riot Instant Messaging screenshot
Riot icon

Riot

Instant Messaging Available for all platforms, Riot is an excellent FOSS messaging service combining the power of the Matrix collaboration platform with a nice UI and a wealth of features. It supports everything you could possibly need, and even offers integrations with IRC, Slack, and Github.
  • Offers encrypted chat
  • Available on desktop, mobile and the web
  • Supports group and direct chat
  • Supports voice and video calls
  • Integrated widgets for crypto price, Etherpad, video conferences and more!
  • No spying
  • Image and file uploads
  • Integrates with IRC, Slack and Gitter
  • Built on the powerful Matrix platform
Replaces:
WhatsApp icon WhatsApp
Facebook Messenger icon Messenger
Discord icon Discord
Alternatives:
XMPP icon XMPP
Mumble icon Mumble
Signal Instant Messenger icon Signal
IRC
Krita screenshot
Krita icon

Krita

Image Editor With an intuitive and flexible interface, Krita is the go-to drawing tool for all your image editing needs. Krita sports a similar interface to Photoshop, and without the hefty pricetag. If Krita doesn't meet your standards, try GIMP for a feature packed editor oriented toward the more technical image alteration needs.
  • Photoshop-like interface
  • Supports a wide range of image formats, including .psd files
  • Excellent for drawing
  • Stylus and drawing tablet support
Replaces:
Adobe Photoshop icon Photoshop
Adobe Illustrator icon Illustrator
Alternatives:
GNU Image Manipulation Program icon GIMP
Inkscape icon Inkscape
VLC Media Player screenshot
VLC icon

VLC Media Player

Media Player VLC is a very powerful media player capable of playing a massive range of audio and video files.
  • Supports a massive range of file types and codecs
  • Fully configurable interface, hotkeys and more
  • Create and edit playlists of audio and video
  • Highly extensible
Replaces:
Windows Media Player icon Windows Media Player
Alternatives:
Dragon Player icon Dragon Player
Kdenlive screenshot
Kdenlive icon

Kdenlive

Video Editor Kdenlive (KDE Non-Linear Video Editor) is a very powerful video editor with an intuitive interface, perfect for all your editing needs, from home video to short films.
  • Non-linear editing
  • Multiple audio and video tracks
  • Lots of video enhancements
Replaces:
iMovie icon iMovie
Alternatives:
Pitivi icon Pitivi
Shotcut icon Shotcut
Cherrytree screenshot
Cherrytree icon

Cherrytree

Hierarchial Note Taker Cherrytree is the note taker's dream come true: lightweight, flexible notetaking, with a powerful hierarchy allowing you to organise your notes extremely effectively.
  • Organise your notes in a useful hierarchy
  • Supports plain and rich text
  • Allows you to write an run code, in along with your notes
  • Dynamic hyperlinks between documents
Replaces:
Evernote icon Evernote
Alternatives:
Simplenote icon Simplenote
Moodle screenshot
Moodle icon

Moodle

Open Source Learning Platform Moodle is an extensive community-driven open source learning platform used by universities, high schools, and even airlines to educate hundreds of millions of students and employees worldwide.
  • Support for over 100 languages
  • Massive worldwide community
  • No spying
  • Doesn't lock you into a proprietary ecosystem
Replaces:
Google Classroom icon Google Classroom
KDE Marble screenshot
KDE Marble icon

Marble

Virtual Globe KDE Marble is an extremely useful virtual globe application, rivalling Google Earth.
  • Supports various different maps - road maps, satellite images, and more!
  • Supports viewing the moon!
  • Has a powerful navigation system
Replaces:
Google Earth icon Google Earth
Alternatives:
NASA icon WorldWind
Blender screenshot
Blender icon

Blender

3D Modeller Blender is an extremely powerful and feature-packed 3D modeller, ready out of the box for game design and animation.
  • Incredibly flexible interface
  • Extensive 3D modelling toolset
  • Beautiful rendering algorithms
  • Easy to automate, with a powerful Python scripting API
Replaces:
Maya icon Maya
AutoCAD icon AutoCAD
Alternatives:
FreeCAD icon FreeCAD
BRL-CAD icon BRL-CAD

More Information

Interesting Websites

  1. https://www.fsf.org/ - The Free Software Foundation website
  2. https://www.gnu.org/ - GNU homepage (GNU is a large part of most Linux distributions)
  3. https://www.ubuntu.com/ - Ubuntu GNU/Linux homepage
  4. https://itsfoss.com/ - Blog on FOSS software
  5. https://www.linux.com/ - Blog on Linux
  6. https://prism-break.org/en/ - Comprehensive list of FOSS alternatives to proprietary software
  7. https://alternativeto.net/ - Comprehensive list of software alternatives, many of which are FOSS
  8. https://www.kernel.org/doc/html/latest/ - Linux kernel documentation

Sources

  1. ^ https://www.pcworld.com/article/3039827/windows/7-ways-windows-10-pushes-ads-at-you-and-how-to-stop-them.html
  2. ^ https://thehackernews.com/2016/02/microsoft-windows10-privacy.html
  3. ^ https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/08/even-when-told-not-to-windows-10-just-cant-stop-talking-to-microsoft/
  4. ^ https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/plans.html?single_app=photoshop
  5. ^ https://www.visualstudio.com/vs/pricing/
  6. ^ https://www.wired.com/2015/09/microsoft-using-linux-run-cloud/
  7. ^ https://haveibeenpwned.com/
  8. ^ http://www.linfo.org/manifesto.html
  9. ^ http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
  10. ^ https://www.patreon.com/bjorn
  11. ^ https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=firefox-quantum-bench&num=1
  12. ^ https://thenextweb.com/tech/2017/11/14/mozilla-built-new-fast-firefox-quantum-browser/

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