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Transcript: The importance of FOSS

·2707 words·13 mins
Issac Dowling
Issac Dowling

So much tech has little problems that seem like they should be easily solvable or were only even introduced for ridiculous reasons. Yet the developer doesn’t seem to care, or maybe their company doesn’t let them care, or maybe it’s an issue that you think you could solve, but you don’t have access to the code. You get the app, but not the right to modify it. Free and open source software, or FOSS, or FLOSS, free specifically as in Libre open source software, does mean that you, you, have the exact same right as the developers to modify the code, at least for yourself. And for non-developers, that means even if you can’t program, if you know somebody who can and they also like the app, you can just ask them to make something. And if they want to, they will. And if they don’t want to, you shouldn’t harass them. FOSS softwares are so generally designed to be user-first, where if you’re Microsoft, you might look at Windows and say, I could make it easier to switch away from Edge, but then nobody would use Edge. May as well not bother. You’ve got an interest in making things not the best for the user, so they’re better for you. But if you’re just making an app because you want to use the app, or you like making apps, why not make it the best it can be? So I wanted to make a video explaining why, beyond the Stallman enthusiasts and I use Arch by the ways, the freedom to use your hardware and software as you wish is extremely important and can help you a lot personally. When a big company decides to remove a feature or change something you don’t like, the reaction doesn’t always have to be, oh, what am I going to do? It’s, oh, what am I going to do? And then you find something to do. Probably the easiest to explain example of this taking-things-into-your-own-hands attitude is Home Assistant, where someone finally said, no, if you smart home brands don’t want to work together, I’ll make you work together. And if you’re tired of controlling them with the ever-listening, ever-mediocre voice assistants that are proprietary, well, there’s Rhasspy, Home Assistant Assist, which is the one you should probably actually be using at this point, and even the one I do, Bloob. I mean, I can just say, in a fully open-source stack, Blueberry, make the door light red and the bedside light blue, and it’ll do it. That’s really cool. Plus, instead of Philips Hue or any other proprietary lighting system, which doesn’t necessarily force you into keeping with their ecosystem, but does involve such a high monetary investment that it’s probably worth just sticking to them if you want everything to be the same and everything to feel cohesive, I can light stuff by just soldering together some LEDs and a microcontroller, put in WLED on it, and boom, I’ve got something that can work standalone within other smart home ecosystems, it’s all open, and I can customize it to be exactly how I’d like. Philips Hue probably wasn’t the best example, because as far as I know, their main issue is price. But I haven’t actually seen older Philips Hue bulbs get disabled. So the problem with closed-source smart home things is the devices that do get axed. Philips Hue is the exception to the rule that any device with internet-connected functionality will eventually lose it, and there’s no legal recourse for customers that have just had their devices suddenly disabled in some way. If instead everything is open and all of the servery things are ran on your own devices, what exactly is there to take away? Till the traces on its PCB go black or 2.4 GHz WiFi stops existing, those WLED lights will keep working exactly as they always have. In stark contrast to multi-billion or multi-trillion dollar companies being able to deprecate this and change that even if I don’t want it changed, if WLED were to make a change that I didn’t like, I can just roll back. So it is with every open project, and so it should be with everything you buy. And I realize maybe I went on for a bit too long about smart home stuff in particular, but at least it’s a very good example, and we’re about to see more. Recently, my Samsung phone updated to One UI 6, and I think it’s worse. I mean, the new fonts are nice, even if I didn’t have a problem with the old ones, they copied the iPhone, again, but more customization is a good thing, so fair enough, but they changed the notification quick access buttons. They’re now visually more cluttered, and, in my opinion, less reasonably organized. Can I do anything about that? Nope. There’s no option in the settings to go back to the old way, it’s just stuck how it is. And that’s really frustrating, but not frustrating enough to, probably, convince people to switch phones. So all we’re really teaching companies by accepting this kind of thing is that, well, if they mess with our things a little bit at a time, we’re probably going to do nothing about it, and it’s just seen as okay to take away the choice and take away customization, for a company to decide this is how things are now, because we always just stick with it. Contrast that to the Linux way of doing things, and yes, Android is technically open source at its core, and even Linux at the core, but it’s really, really not the same, and these Samsung and Google ad ditions definitely are not open source. The Linux way of doing things is that an update came out, people didn’t like the look of it, so people took the old one and kept it going. That’s it. That’s all. There’s no more complicated, “we petitioned for the developer to make it the old way”, or I had to file a bug report or an issue and try and ask them to change it, they just took the old one, because it was within their rights, because it was open source software, and they kept on going. That’s obviously the switch between Gnome 2 and Gnome 3 and people carrying on Gnome 2 as Mate. Nobody’s stopping you. So if you have a workflow, and enough other people have a workflow, that can just carry on for as long as you like it, even if other projects decide to change things. Nothing is going to just randomly brick itself and stop working, because “that’s not the way we do things anymore”. Unlike the Diamond Northwest bus app. I realise this means nothing to anyone who isn’t in Manchester, maybe you’ve experienced something similar elsewhere. We had the transition recently-ish to the Bee Network. All of our buses are yellow now, updated with USB-C and screens and they announce the next stop and all of that fancy new thing. Electric buses. Woo! That’s a good thing. The problem is somewhere during that transition, the Diamond Northwest bus app no longer tracks a bunch of buses live locations anymore. Which is really frustrating if you want to get those buses because you don’t know where they are and timetables are never accurate and especially if it’s a once per hour thing I’m ranting about buses at this point. Luckily, that’s not a problem because the government has the open bus data service. All bus companies have to publish the buses live locations just as an API that we can access. And someone built an open source website called around that and it’s excellent. It’s the best resource in the UK for tracking buses. It goes far more in depth. People take pictures of these buses. You can see the license plate of the bus that’s about to come to you and I realize I’m getting giddy over buses but the point is this thing got ruined by the companies that manage it because there is maybe not literally open source but not vendor specific access to this data and to these tools someone just made a solution that’s better because they could. This is excellent and exactly the kind of ethos that open software inspires. So, a huge shout out to Kieran Mather and the later maintainer Joshua Goodwin for that. I just feel like if I’m crediting the wrong people please, please, please tell me because I really want to credit them. This is just amazing. On to the next thing. Although we’ve not been looking at typical app apps so far those are probably the most relevant for regular people. I mean, pay your respects to VLC, OBS, Firefox, Blender, LibreOffice, most emulators, Audacity or the forks of it now, Linux even as a whole. Are you saying you have none of those on your computer? If not, why? Not only are those all good apps they’re often actually the standards. How often do you see VLC on someone’s computer because, well, it’s just the best and Blender, Blender is an actual standard that real people use in real jobs for 3D modeling. People aren’t using those because they’d like an open version or something else. They’re using them because they’re the best thing. And that’s not the case for everything. There’s Photoshop and then there’s GIMP but GIMP isn’t trying to be Photoshop. It’s okay for one thing to not be another thing. It’s okay that Classicube isn’t Minecraft. They’re not trying to be. It’s okay that OpenArena isn’t going to be the next Modern Warfare. It’s not trying to be. Linux is unapologetically not Windows and that’s okay. For lots of these open source apps they are not quite the same as the open source version, especially video editing. Kdenlive is just not resolved at all. But it doesn’t have to be because for many people that’s good enough and as separate projects they still work well. You know what all of those apps are? Good, no nonsense, free and just really useful. So open source obviously isn’t perfect, what is? But it and the open mindset are probably the best we’ve got even if they don’t fit every project perfectly. And there’s so much good stuff that if you’re willing to stick with me for a minute I want to recommend you a few things. Not everything I use, not even close, but a few of the standouts that seem particularly applicable to my audience. First, nothing to do with my audience, breezy weather on Android. It just looks incredible and there’s no nonsense, no rubbish to it. It works really well. All I really need to show you is this. It looks like that and it works well. Go and try it. Next is or If you like hacking things together or building kind of awkward solutions and you need notifications, It’s just, it’s excellent. It’s probably not for everyone but it’s super simple to get a notification. There are clients for computers and phones and you could probably make one for basically anything. It’s just really really useful even if this probably isn’t relevant to everyone. Next, Joplin. Having a potentially proprietary notes solution if you rely on them a lot is a terrible idea. If that company does something you don’t like or they start charging or anything like that, you’re stuck with them unless you want to go through a really awkward process of exploiting. That’s obviously not the case with every notes thing and obviously you should look at what’s right for you. But with Joplin, everything is marked down. There are great plugins. It works really well across platform. There are sync features. It’s customizable. Joplin is just excellent and it’s something I think you should look into if you’re currently using a pretty basic notes solution and would like something to replace that and isn’t proprietary. And finally, since I’ve got one last thing to talk to you about after this, so I want to keep this section short, the Fossify app suite. If you’re an open source enthusiast and you’re using Android, you’re probably using at least one of the simple mobile tools apps. And that’s because they’re really nice. They were simple tools for your mobile device. They were open source. They just worked well. They were recently bought out and have kind of been tarnished in the eyes of the open source community. And Fossify has come in, forked them, and kind of polished them up a little bit and republished them. Those are the ones you should probably be looking at if you’re currently using simple mobile tools. And if you’re not, and you need a calendar or contacts app, phone app, anything like that, and you’re currently using something proprietary, maybe just give them a try. Do you actually need a proprietary solution for those? Probably not. Maybe you’re using Google’s fancy pixel call screening. Then you’ll need one. Maybe there’s some magic thing about your calendar app that’s amazing. But if it’s not, you may as well give it a try since I think you might like it. You could be in a position, if you don’t think about this often, where lots of the apps you’re using are proprietary and there’s no good reason for it. So hopefully this video has prompted you to kind of think about that and maybe look at some alternatives. And I’ve got one last thing to talk to you about, and it’s not related to the concept of this video at all. It’s for long-term viewers, so bye bye. If you were just here for the open source stuff. I’ve been gone for a while. So that’s because I’ve had college things to do, and beyond that, I’ve just kind of had stuff to do. I’ve been very, very, very tired, and not very motivated because having tons of stressful things to do brought my motivation down, but I still had lots of work to do, and so I didn’t see this as an escape from the boring things. I saw it as something that will take my very, very finite energy and make it even lower. But recently, my motivation with college and things like that got low enough that kind of things started to go back up again, instead of having this be an extension of things to do. I was like, if I don’t do this, I’m just I’m not doing the things that I love anymore. If I’m not doing this, then I’m missing out on something huge that I could be doing. I really enjoy making videos, and even if I wasn’t making the videos, just the research involved in them makes me find interesting things to talk about that I just really want to know about. So these are really selfishly beneficial as well as hopefully you like them. So, I’m back, I think. You should expect me to be fully, fully back by March, and regular things hopefully by the mid to end of February. I really appreciate if you’ve been a long-term viewer or even someone recently who’s just been like, I want more videos. I see you, and I appreciate it a lot since this is one of my favourite things to do. I’ve been skipping out on it, so thanks for sticking with me if you have for the last three or four months. But, I’m back. Let’s do this. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed, hopefully you’re excited to see more of me over the coming months and getting back into things and making things better. I want to continue videos as they were in the past and make those better step by step. But I also want to get back to bigger things. Half an hour long videos that are edited really well and shot in artsy ways just because I feel like it. I am creatively pent up and I’m ready to make videos again. Thank you for watching, thanks for sticking with this, and bye.


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