Professional Scrum Master, Project Manager, IT Business Architect (JEE, Spring, ICEfaces/JSF) Author of the book "ICEfaces 1.8: Next Generation Enterprise Web Development" Rainer has posted 13 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Proprietary Programs And Open Source Alternatives That Can Drive You Crazy Even More

02.08.2008
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Having a look at Dzone today I found The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy — and Their Open Source Alternatives. Pretty cool idea to give an overview of todays OpenSource alternatives. As I myself use OpenSource where it is possible and useful (we come back to useful later), I already know a lot of them.

I use some of them in production for years. My first contact with StarOffice/OpenOffice e.g. was at Sun Microsystems in 2000. The years before it was Microsoft Office, starting with WinWord 2 in 1995. Even in 2000 the predecessor of OpenOffice was an alternative to Microsoft Office. Since the 1.0 release of OpenOffice I think its even better. Although, I still argue about the user model that works behind the single applications, and that's pretty the same for both packages. I miss the real innovations. If you have to create an index e.g. or individual, more complex footers, with different numberings for your table of contents and the rest of the document, you may know what I'm talking about. As both offer nearly the same feature set and behavior for todays office work, yes, there is a real OpenSource alternative in the Office market.

Having a deeper look at the software development tools I can't find arguments against OpenSource at all. Eclipse already rules the market. Even traditional vendors, like Borland, port their stuff to this platform. IDEs, a concept once invented by Borland, become standardized. The feature set of the current Eclipse Europa release is overwhelming. It becomes more difficult from year to year to follow all this. Already today the Eclipse cost-value-ratio is better in many cases in comparison to commercial alternatives.

Looking at Linux, its pretty the same. Today it's one of the best OS you can use on the server-side. With KDE and Gnome it is comparable to Windows and Mac in the desktop arena. But, I don't think it's a real alternative on the application side. A lot of the OpenSource applications in the mentioned blog above were born on the Unix/Linux platform, because the most commercial application vendors don't support todays Linux. Windows is the market leader and why invest in OS-specific releases against long odds?

What's the result of this? OpenSource products that have no history in commercial environments, like OpenOffice when it was StarOffice, and also have no commercial supporter, like Eclipse with IBM, lack of quality. I had a deeper look at Gimp, Inkscape and Dia, for project-specific skin designs in an ICEfaces context. For me it's a bit naive to think that these three are alternatives to Photoshop, even Photoshop Elements, Illustrator or Xara, and Visio.

Most annoying to me was the user experience. Today Windows is also the most used platform for software development. So, I expect that I get Windows installers. Gimp e.g. doesn't support Windows officially. There only exists an older Windows hack by a motivated guy. All three have a X11 mimic, because their roots are Unix and they use the GTK adapter technology. Besides the strange look, the behavior of the desktop controls they deliver is different from Windows. If you are experienced with X11 window managers it may has an intuitive touch to you. I myself never had a good feeling using applications based on Motif and the like.

But, that's not the point here. When you have a focus on usability design like me, for desktop, Web and the like, you recognize that such applications miss learning lessions from the usability lab. They simply injure one of my development credos:

"The acceptance of your application doesn't depend on the functionality it delivers, but on the user model that defines how to use it."

Gimp is an excellent example that a feature-rich application, by the way truly comparable to Photoshop in a lot of areas, is useless because of the presentation it delivers. Inkscape and Dia simply lack of comparable functionality to their commercial counterparts. You may guess it, both are better in their user experience than Gimp, but not as much as you would expect it in an Windows environment.

For short, there are a lot of aspects you've to keep in mind before you can talk about a replacement through OpenSource. And the most important ones are, for sure, the already done investments in commercial applications and the resistance of users against alteration.
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Published at DZone with permission of its author, Rainer Eschen. (source)

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