Software

Edited: 2009年 9月 16日

This piece is in part inspired by a website that I found a few years back.

Perspective

Obtaining a free copy of commercial software is a thrilling enterprise. Download a huge file, burn it onto a film embedded in a 25-cent piece of plastic, get the activation code on the open waters of the net, and by the end of it, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. $800 piece of software, all in a day’s work.

But one little problem. Piracy is illegal. For a Christian, the legal reason alone should be enough to avoid the practice (Romans 13:7). End of discussion. And for purportedly law-abiding citizens who aren’t Christian, well, don’t start breaking the law now (or else you’re no longer law-abiding citizens). But this article isn’t going to dwell on the illegality of copyright infringement. Most of the people who do it already know about it, and they choose to ignore it. I can’t stop someone from transgressing against God or man (logical OR there). That’s between him and God or him and the authorities, whichever he fears more. But since the legal reason isn’t sufficient, I have put together this piece, hoping it would dissuade people from the practice by breaking down excuses and providing alternatives.

Before I get into the discussion, I just want to point out that copyright infringement is NOT equivalent to stealing (though both are bad, and the spirit of the law is the same in both cases). See Wikipedia for details.

Discussion

One might argue that the guy who pirates the software wasn’t going to buy it in the first place. Maybe not, but how is this excuse different from taking something from the store and saying the same thing? If he wasn’t going to buy it, then he has no entitlement to the services it provides.

One might then argue that big businesses are making billions of dollars, and that it’s unfair to feed the mansions and luxury cars of the corporate executives. But does piracy solve the problem of wealth distribution? Not really. The homeless man isn’t going to get any of the money, and what’s he going to do with Adobe Photoshop anyway?

Software revenues go toward paying employees and paying dividends to shareholders. If piracy eats away at the profit margin, not only will the company have to start laying off folks to stay in the black, but shareholders whose spending fuels the economy will suffer as well. On the technical side, the company cannot continue to pay programmers to improve the software, and in fact, there would be no incentive to, since nobody is buying it anyway.

“But the software is mine after I buy it, so I can do anything I want with it, including giving copies to my friends,” one might argue. But that’s a misconception. The software itself does not belong to the end user. The ideas behind the software do not either. All the user owns is a piece of plastic that happens to contain some ones and zeroes and a license. That’s what he bought. He bought a ticket that gives (usually) one person or machine the right to run the software. So if one wants to have a LAN party for Broodwar, one has to buy n discs. That’s the price for entertainment. Live with it, or live without it.

But one might complain about the exorbitant prices of the software, “Businesses can afford it, but I don’t want to shell out $700 for Photoshop.” Then don’t buy it. It’s expensive for a reason. Why does the layman even need such a powerful piece of software? It’s for professionals, who need that much power, and who can also pay for it. The system is self-consistent. The inconsistent part is the person who thinks he needs so much power. (Fortunately, in the case of Adobe Creative Suite, it’s available under a student license for around $300. As I said before, the system is self-consistent.)

Look, I am a student myself. I know the cost of education. If I am willing to pay $100 textbooks that I hardly use, how illogical is it to buy, say Matlab, which I use far more often, for $100? It’s something that I need. It’s an investment for my future.

And in the grand scheme of things, $100 is nothing compared to the hundred thousand dollars of tuition. Forgo Starbucks/Jamba Juice/Yogurt/whatever kids eat these days for a month, and the cost is recovered.

I do want to point out that for some people (e.g., third-world countries), buying software is still not feasible, no matter how much they want to do the right thing. Fortunately, there is a solution.

Solution

God always provides a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). In this case, the way out is Linux. Now that might turn people off right away. After all, Linux is for geeks, is it not? Well, times have changed, or at least, it is changing rapidly. Mainstream Linux distributions for the desktop are getting easier to use, and look a lot like Windows. In some respects, the software is even better.

One of the most convenient advantages of Linux is that Windows malware, worms, and viruses won’t work under Linux. Most people do not run antivirus software in Linux (unless it’s to scan Windows machines) simply because the virus threat in Linux is very low. One fewer piece of software means less memory usage, which means more memory for other programs. It also means that the computer won’t be getting slower over time, and there’s less need to periodically reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating system. The registry won’t get cluttered either. In fact, there is no registry; most program configurations are on a per-user basis. Application preferences are saved in the user’s home folder, so by backing that up, the preferences get saved along with the data.

Another advantage of Linux is the pool of programs available to it. The Ubuntu distribution is simple to set up and simple to use. It has very good hardware support, and its available packages number over twenty-five thousand. Whatever it is, you will probably find a program that suits your need, for free. Thanks to the spirit of freedom in the open source movement, software can be freely improved and distributed. This means that bugs will be attended to more quickly because of so many volunteer developers. Nevertheless, there are gatekeepers to the code, which prevents anyone from committing malicious code. In fact, open source in general means better security, since patches can be released very quickly.

Though the transition is not as hard as many believe, it’s not cake either. Fortunately, Google is your friend.

To get you started, I provided a list of major software alternatives for Linux and the Windows equivalents they’re meant to replace. The good news is that most of the popular software for Linux is also available for Windows, so one can try them out before switching to Linux. So why switch to Linux then? Well, in case you’ve forgotten, you don’t want to be paying $200 to $300 every time Microsoft releases a new version of Windows.

Category Commercial Alternative
Scientific Computing Matlab Octave
Spreadsheet Excel Gnumeric, or OpenOffice
Word Processing Word Abiword, or OpenOffice
Internet Browsing Internet Explorer Mozilla Firefox
E-mail Client Outlook/Express Mozilla Thunderbird
Media Windows Media Player, Winamp VLC Media Player, MPlayer
Presentation Powerpoint OpenOffice
Graphics (amateur) Photoshop The Gimp
Vector Illustration Illustrator Inkscape
Backup Software SyncBack cp (comes with Linux)
File Transfer FileZilla FileZilla
Defragmentation Many Not necessary in Linux
CD/DVD burning Nero/Roxio GnomeBaker
3D Design Maya, 3ds max, Lightwave, Blender Blender
Instant Messaging Many Pidgin
Programming IDE Visual C++ Eclipse, CDT, and g++