Open all hours

Once I find the toolset I like, I'll stick with it, thanks

Free as in beer or free as in speech? Open source is an often contentious issue that can cause huge arguments and great divides within companies and within the industry as a whole. Some argue about whether open source is a Communist plot (thanks for that, Bill) and some argue about how to even define what open source actually is. Users, as ever, seem unmoved by the arguments, and simply want to be able to open their email and spell check their documents.

Is open source doomed to play a role in a niche market or can it break out of the mould and burst forth onto our desktops? Should open source communities even bother trying to replace Windows as the operating system and simply concentrate on the areas open source has performed well in: Firefox, Apache, PHP. I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m quite glad. It’s fun watching a new paradigm emerging. It’s also quite enlightening. The hoary old chestnut that gets trotted out is as true today as it was when Ghandi used it in a far more serious context: first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.

Whatever comes of the open source debate, at the end of the day it’s good for the industry as a whole. Whether open communities of developers (we used to call them “committees”) prove to be better than the closed-shop proprietary approach or not really is beside the point. As an end user I want software that does what I want it to do, not what someone else thinks I might need. I switched to Firefox because it had tabbed browsing and for the extensions. I’ll use any word processor that can spell check on the fly and allows me to build a library of words I want to include. I don’t care for web-publishing options, for a million fonts or for document merge capabilities simply because that’s not what I use my word processor for. I don’t care how it’s developed, once I find the toolset I like, I’ll stick with it, thanks. I think most end users fall into that camp.

Reader Tony O asks some important questions. Why is it that the guys laying water pipes along his street are able to do so without digging up the entire footpath or road? Why is it that the local council is happy to pay for that kind of service out of our rates but won’t pay for fibre ducts to be laid? Why do telcos insist that it’s so very costly to lay fibre when there are so many options including micro-trenching and running fibre through existing ducts, like Vector is doing with its gas pipes?

The role of local councils in the infrastructure debate is one that should be brought into the light more often. Councils, far more so than central government, have a huge role to play in our broadband uptake. Just ask TelstraClear, which couldn’t get permission to run fibre overhead in Auckland because the local council refused to consider it. Or ask Woosh, which has to battle to get permission to put up its apparently evil wireless radio towers all over the place. Governments, whether they’re local or state, seem quite willing to spend millions digging up entire suburbs to lay new roads, yet don’t spare a thought for our telco infrastructure in the process. Surely it can’t be that expensive to require all new subdivision or roading projects and the like to also lay ducting for fibre operators?

I see the City of London is building a wi-fi network using existing “street furniture”, which is a fancy way of saying street lights and the like. Why aren’t our councils doing this? It should be part of the government’s proposed MUSH network rollout as well. Anyone wanting to dig a hole should be asked to lay trenching for cable as well, for the good of us all. Or am I being too Communist about it?

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