Open Ballot: freedom or function?


For our next podcast, we want to know whether the primary reason you use open source software is for its freedom or for its function. It's a choice between the freedom to potentially redistribute and modify the code, and the festival of functionality that can be found within most open source software when compared against other tools at the same price.

We realise that, for most, the answer is likely to be a mixture of both, but we're interested in which you think is the most important. If you'd like your views read out on our podcast, please post your answer below. Anonymous Penguins post at their own peril.

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Your comments

Because I Choose To ....

I like the fact that I can find applications that will fit my needs without having to shell out my hard earned cash up front.

Being able to feedback to the developer(s) with bugs and feature requests when you know that your voice is not going to be lost in a might corporation is also appealing.

Of course, the ability to write plugins etc is not exclusive to Open Source apps but I find that the information required to do so much easier to locate, as are people who want to help.

Freedom within functionality

It is by far the functionality of Free software that I like the most. I like that the functionality fits my way of working rather than a way forced by some manufacturer. For example, I get this podcast using mashpodder and wrote a script to copy the files to my portable device. For me a podcast client should run without me even thinking about it. It does not need need a gui. If I wanted a gui client, there are plenty as well. I like that I am not forced into using a specific application. I like the freedom that the functionality and variety allow.

Certainly both

I would certainly say both, but i think functionality is more important.

I use Ubuntu on my laptop because I get better battery life, more secure and stable performance, nicer fonts, and a far better boot time over Windows Vista. I use the same applications, mostly, so it's just a matter of what's faster and easier to use. Ubuntu, naturally.

My computer ideology is portability, and Linux is the only operating system designed for this. This is freedom at its best.

the freedom to choose both of them

It's the fact that I can choose, that I can get inside the system as deeper as I want, to change that functionality that I really need to change, or to correct, or at least to know that others share the same freedom to do the same and make a better, functional, product

Freedom, but

I use open source software because I believe in the ideal of free software. I do believe that the progress would be much faster if all projects were open sourced. However, I have no problems using programs like Skype or Dropbox for their functionality... Guess I am just a hypocrite.


It's awesome, don't you think? when ever you need help just post in a forum and the answer will, in most cases, be swiftly and painlessly given to you, and for the curious mind, the chance to learn how things work. Do you want extra functionality in your favorite application? Ask the community, help build your dream system or do it your-selfs you lazy, lazy people....hehehe


I'm finding it's the little things in the OS: centralised updates, windows snapping to each other and the desktop edge, multiple desktops, drop-down calendar from the clock. I really need these for me to work these days. They're all things that proprietary programs COULD have, but just don't seem to, or don't do as well.

So I suppose it's function. The open source nature is secondary to me, though I know I can rely on FOSS to be more to my liking.

On the other hand, open file formats are essential to me as a writer. I have old files that I may never be able to read again, so I've learned my lesson. Whatever platform I use in the future, where file formats are concerned, it's Freedom all the way


As a regular proprietary software user, I first switched to GNU/Linux because of the software freedom ideas and to this day it's the biggest reason i use free software.

I thought it was cost

until I started using closed-source software. I got a Macbook, and an OSX update broke my wifi card. I wasn't hard-down, the link would just flake out at inopportune times, about every half hour. The update to fix it didn't come for nearly 8 months. About a month into the problem, I installed Linux on my Macbook because the flaky wifi kept me from getting things done. The card worked fine under Linux.

I'm not trying to say Linux is better than OSX just because I got a flaky driver. The thing of it was, I was used to open-source software, where I can go hunt down the driver developer via email or IRC, or at least talk to someone more knowledgeable than myself, diagnose and get a fix in a reasonable amount of time. With OSX, I filed a bug, I called support, I wasted a couple hours talking to a "Genius," I basically exhausted my avenues, and didn't get a result. When the fix was released, Apple never followed up on my tickets, either.

I still have OSX installed on my Macbook, so I can boot it up to play Torchlight on Steam, but still, the issue is the same. If I find a bug or want to request a feature, I have to fill out a form and send it to some faceless corporation where I will be promptly ignored. If I have an idea for an open source project, I can talk to the developers, or open a request and see it tracked through to completion (or spawn a wonderfully entertaining flame-war).

Recently, I've played a couple games that I enjoyed on Linux, so I grabbed the source, compiled it, and installed the programs on my Nokia N810. Now, I'm working on getting the binary packages (Gearhead 2 (text only) and Exult, if you care) into the N810 repositories. Can't do that in an iPad world.

I readily admit that this level of involvement is not for everyone, but it's definitely for me. The rest of you can use whatever's in the Ubuntu Software Center :P

Both reasons for me. I love

Both reasons for me. I love the open innovation, and the ability to hack anything and recompile it specificaly for my laptop. I love being on the edge with arch linux and looking at development accross the web from phoronix to hedgewars. I simply use open software because it has much more pros than cons. The ratio of pros and cons in open software is far better than on an OSX or MS machine. And of course there is the added joy of being able to say neither when someone asks "Do you have a mac or pc" then watch gleefully as they gasp when you say that you run linux, which is free (as in beer to them).

On a side note, the other day I was browesing the arch forums and I came accross a guy who had switched from ubuntu to arch because he didn't like the ubuntu logo. That's why we should keep tux. He's cool.

Cost isn't the end game

Functionality is the big driver for me of OSS - I'm not that interested in umpteen different code forks. Where OSS does score big time is in cross-platform-ability - e.g. I can use Thunderbird on Mac, Windows and Linux.

The availability of code makes this possible (so "freedom" is therefore #2 on the list of choices for me) and also that developers know that they only need to do their mod once - recompile and it's available on the other platforms. The ease that devs can do this mean that you're more likely to see innovation on the open sourced platforms.

Look at the battle between Safari (closed source) and Firefox (open), or Android (open-ish) and iOS (closed, locked, and double-bolted). If the press are to be believed then the number of new apps per-month on Android is in excess of those on iOS.

As a developer myself, I see more demand for open source based solution. And let's be honest, my time is way too precious to be screwing around with learning a different framework for each platform I've got to support. So I use an open source solution, safe in the knowledge that I can easily port my code to each platform as needed.


Primarily it's the freedom.
The functionality is a secondary concern, and I am proud to say that I was using GNU+Linux a decade ago, when it's functionality was significantly less than it is today. (Installing Linux on a laptop back then was ***FUN***!)

A bit of both

Functionality comes first, since even the most free system would be worthless unless it had at least some usable features. The freedom of free software also has many benefits of a very practical nature, such as helping to make it more secure and also easier to obtain support.

Functionality is more important

I started using Ubuntu because of it's free price tag not the freedom factor. I don't code so being Open Source or Proprietary is irrelevant in my situation, although I support and believe in Open Source Software.

I love the fact that Ubuntu works well and it's changing some interface elements to make it more user friendly and functional.

I hope Canonical develops it's own DE and gets rid of Gnome completely because I strongly believe Gnome is holding Ubuntu back with it's slow development.

Freedom first, functionality later

Freedom was very important for the first wave of users of Free Libre Open Source Software. But, functionality is we need for World Domination.

For an easier life...

I enjoy the fact that I rarely come across "you can't do that because you don't have the relevant licence" messages since I started using Linux, it can be overwhelming at first to have literally any project only a download away.

And it probably has something to do with my lefty ways swinging me towards projects that are more community led than for the big bucks.


Freedom to create function

Functionality is of prime importance because ultimately, I want my hardware to do stuff. And that's principle to the whole thing; it's my hardware and I should have the freedom to do as I please with it, and then also be free to share me experience and allow others to do the same with theirs.


Surprised Myself

My initial reaction to this question was function first, freedom second, but then I realised that Open Source software is so successful simply because it IS open. Nothing improves the breed quite like Peer Review. The systems I use are fast and efficient because the code has been thoroughly reviewed, tested and patched by any number of coders.
So I have to modify my thoughts and say Freedom first. If there is no Open Source product that will get the job done, then I must resort to Proprietary software, but grudgingly.


Ahh yes functionality would be the first step to worl domination....

Originally funtion but now.........

When I first discovered open source I was primarily driven by function, but cost also played a major part and I don't think you can separate that out. It cost me nothing to extensively try out all this fantastic software at my own pace and with a huge community backing it up. Gradually, with experience I have also come to appreciate the considerable advantages of open source and the possibility that in some ways even I can contribute to its development. 3 years on, I would rather gouge my own eyes out with rusty nails than go back to relying on Bills offerings.

Freedom is (my) functionality

The biggest attraction is that freedom is based on open source and open standards, which means I can build my functionality on an open source base.

Propriety code does almost everything I want, and very well, but the last mile of making code do exactly what I need is only possible in an open system.

I'm mainly in it for the penguins

I'd have to say freedom because, if we're honest, the functionality isn't always there in the less mature packages.

It is from the ability of any developer to improve such packages that the quality of software that we are coming to expect from OSS arises.

im in it for the chicks....

Function and Freedom are both very important and one cannot exist w/out the other. But if you really had to seperate the chicken from the egg It starts with freedom, which is the basis of all potential for human creativity.

I started with Freedom....

I started with Freedom when I began playing with Linux three years ago but now the boot is definitely with Functionality!

Three years ago I couldn't do all I wanted with the OS however, my knowledge has increased, I've able to buy an application to run my Benq 5000E scanner with (Sane just wouldn't work) and the standard of Open Sourced Software has improved by leaps and bounds to a point where most can do all they want without effort.

I think the answer is YES!

Freedom to add functionality.

For me, it's the freedom to make my systems do what I want and then discover that I have the freedom to make them do things I hadn't even considered yet!

There are always sacrafices.

As you pointed out, like most people, I choose FOSS for both reasons, but I can't say either is more important. If it didn't work, then I couldn't use it, and if it wasn't free, then what would be the point? It has to have elements of both to survive.

In general, the vast majority of FOSS is garbage. Lets just be honest with ourselves for a moment and admit that. It isn't just the user apps either. We don't have sound figured out to any extent. Programmers still insist on linking to version x.yz (exactly) of a library, even though the repository may only offer a different version, and installing it yourself may break compatibility with other apps. Even programs that have good functionality have terrible interfaces. We have a long ways to go still.

On the other hand, we do have a lot of software that blows anything else out of the water. I have been trying out the new gnome shell for several days and I'm already hooked and can't wait for the stable release in September. However, for every Firefox or OOo, there are a thousand apps that are embarrassing to even look at. Rome wasn't built in a day, but we can't make the mistake of thinking we are there yet either.

Freedom LEADS to functionality...

As a few have already implied, open source in and of itself tends to lead to improved functionality. In lieu of having to contact the aforementioned faceless and uncaring corporation to submit a "feature request", only to get ignored, with Linux, you can write a script yourself, or hop on a forum, and get something patched or worked-around in a matter of hours or even minutes.

Since it has been used as an example, let's take Apple into consideration. They SAY that the new IOS4 and its 100 "new" features, happened as a result of "listening to "feature requests". What REALLY happened is that they stole 97 of those 100 features from the Cydia community (which is largely open source, or at the very least collaborative) after that sector of their hardware users did all the legwork and beta testing for them.


The reason they hold back like this is due to support. As Linux is supported by no one and everyone at the same time, our freedom means that we are free to change, improve, degrade, or even break our software entirely.

Breakthroughs frequently are the children of such mishaps, and that freedom leads to giant leaps in software development. What takes Apple or Microsoft 5 years to develop, test, and bring to market can take Linux a few short months because of the very nature of the beast.

I come for the freedom but stay for the function

The idea of freedom is what first bought me to open source software, it's ideals and principles. Later, and although the freedom still means a lot to me, it's more the function which keeps me here.

Often I find people telling me all about some new piece they've gone and bought for their proprietary system and all of its fantastic features and I find myself just saying "Yeah, and that's great how? I've got that and it's free". With little effort I can install a base system and a few extra apps and I'm going.

My wife has an account on my laptop running Ubuntu and despite not being particularly technically minded (sorry sweetie) she just logs on and gets on with what she wants to do because it just works and has all of the functionality she needs. Following on from that she's even started to get a little more into the freedom side of it.

Nothing to say, except...

...I have a man-crush on all four of you.

Umm... isn't there something missing?

Freedom, function or hate?
What about hate? Hatred of MS, Apple, Sony, etc.
I have had horrible experiences with all of these companies and they have driven me to grovel to the FOSS gods.

But I guess that answers your question. I came to FOSS for FREEDOM from those companies. The functionality came along with that.

Function with Freedom Frosting

Like a lot of people, I got into open source software just through looking for software to fulfill a few tasks -- recovering data from dead drives, web browser, office suite that didn't eat up a paycheck.

Looking back (about seven years with Linux), I'm sort of shocked at how fast the movement from open-source applications to an entire open-source operating system was. I couldn't google much of anything about open-source software without tripping over Linux info, and I remembered seeing a stuffed Tux in the window of an office I walked by every day in Dublin. It wasn't long (only a week or two) before I came across Knoppix and could play with software, and that led to installing it on an old machine and sitting slack-jawed as I marveled at the speed.

That exposure led to the freedom discussion, which appealed to me on a political and social basis; but if it weren't for functionality, I might not be here.

...oh, and to the Penguin with no pants...

Linux IS better than OSX. Notice how it is called OSX, and not OSY? - It is because OSX is so entirely illogical, that it HAD to be designed by a woman... ;)

Fredoom often leeds too hiden functionalaty

I want an N900, why? It gives me the option of higher functionality. (maybe slower)
but I love the option of eks getting inkscape on an n900 and doing some work on a long bus right i take every day

Sure it's not the sly iphone which gives you basically WYSIWYG expirians.
But I love the thought of geting that"extra"(sometimes bugy). But that exciting feeling of extra is my reason for using linux.

Timely question

Firstly I think we must not forget that, without a focus on freedom, the GNU Linux OS we love today simply would not exist in it's current diverse form.

However, on a more practical note, having persevered with Fedora / OOO / GIMP on my laptop for months, today I re-installed it with Windows 7, Office 2010, and Photoshop. Yes, this cost me hundred of pounds, but the improvement in usability is significant. You do get what you pay for.

All is not lost though - I do still run Fedora 13 on my netbook, and Mythbuntu on my server!

Functionality first ...

... with functionality we get adoption,
with adoption we should get more developers,
with more developers we should get more freedom ...

btw. hi to all football fans from Slovenia ;)

Many networked machines

Would cost too much to run many machines with MS products and
being a pensioner I can't afford it.
So long as it does the job, Linux is fine.
Payer, c'est mourir un peu!

Personal choice!!

I do occationally boot into Windows 7, apart from the cost of the OS, a few Games and a Driver or 2, the rest of the software is Open Source or Free. Pidgin, FF, MonoDevelop, QT and Avast(AV)

I just prefer Linux, that's my personal choice.

Silent Updates

I switched when I found out Windows Update sometimes installs silent updates (for WGA for example). I wanted a system that I owned myself and would do only what I asked it. Now, I like the freedom and the possibility (although I don't use it as often as I thought I would, because everything is written in a C variant) to change or add a feature.



function first

It has to be functional first and foremost.
I use a Vm of Xp so I can use Photoshop and Illustrator, a choice based solely on function.
I choose to do this from a Linux base operating system and that choice is base on freedom (I think).
There is often a sacrifice to be made in Linux land.
Choosing freedom often comes at the cost of functionality.

What an interesting question.

Been using Linux for years. The freedom always appealed to me, probably more than the functionality at first. Nowadays, the functionality is pretty much all there.


Being able to step through the source code and make modifications/learn from it is appealing but I'm way too lazy to actually ever do that. So, the 'function' is the most appealing aspect in my opinion. There is never a lack of things to do when you have Linux on your machine. If you want to brush up on your SQL (SQLite), if you realize you really should know more about version control (SVN), if you want to have a go at cracking your neighbors 128-bit WEP key, there are free tools available for fekin everything. If you think of something you need, you can be pretty sure some nerdlinger has already written it. God bless all nerdlingers, they regularly save my bacon in work.

Most things in life that are worth doing are difficult, to some degree. Linux fits into this category. There is always something new to have a go at (like subsonic or Wireshark for example), it usually takes a bit of effort, and you can feel all warm and smug when you're done, before swiftly moving onto the next thing.

Ubuntu let me enjoy the freedom and functionality

I tried for a couple of times in the two years before I found Ubuntu (2007) to switch to Linux, but I kept having problems getting things working.

I still sometimes have problems, but barely any really. And I usually can fix them quickly myself.

Now that I can enjoy Linux, it's mainly the freedom I love on a philosophical level. Practically, the functionality is excellent. It does everything I can think of that I could want.

Things most people who use Windows or Mac routinely pay extra money for (things left out of those OSes, deliberately), are easy to use in Linux. They are either already there or can be downloaded for free.

I recently had the experience of helping a family member set up something in Windows 7. It only reconfirmed my love of Linux--the clean logic of it all, and the freedom (and free cost!).

Ridiculous question, not worth siding over

Sorry, I would like to answer your question as absolute as you want, but it really borders on ridiculous.

"What do you prefer more on your jet: wings or a landing gear? We realise that, for most, the answer is likely to be a mixture of both, but we're interested in which you think is the most important."

The purpose of software is to be functional.
The purpose of open source is to be free.
Open source software is to be free and functional.

Since people don't debate all day about what they like better: the wings or the landing gear of their plane, I'm not going to enter a ridiculous debate over whether Freedom or Functionality are the best thing about Open Source Software.

Because it's fun

Because it's fun, simple as that.


it depends what type of user you are.

for me, on a pure functionality level i think the mac is best.

i use linux because i believe passionately in the freedom issues.

we must become the change we want to see in the world and so i decided to move completely from mac to linux

when i’m using linux, i do miss garageband, logic, imovie etc.

however, for the average user apps like logic are overkill... for the average user who just wants internet, email, office suite and a way to sync their mp3 player, i think linux is ideal.

not having the fear of malware and the hassle and cost of renewing antivirus software every year is a big selling point over windows and cost of hardware is a big selling point over mac. (The cheapest mac is £650).

Given the enormous strides that Linux has made over the last 10 years, I have confidence in the community that the remaining gaps in functionality will be overcome eventually, although I do believe that, in their own interests, the likes of Red Hat, Suse and Canonical should club together to fund intensive development in areas where Linux is lacking. If the big companies paid for say 20 full time developers to work on a killer video app and 20 fulltime developers to work on a killer audio app then Linux really could make much more rapid progress and discussions about functionality would become a thing of the past.

Freedom has no alternative

Without freedom, software cannot be functional. It is as easy as this.


To have the best functionality with a healthy dollop of freedom goes hand in hand. As the freedom promotes the wide adoption and with that more contributions, which in turn move the software forward to the best functionality.

Re: Ridiculous question, not worth siding over

@uomosenzanome: that's not a good comparison though. A jet needs *both*: a) functioning wings; and b) landing gear.

Whereas you can have closed source software that's highly featureful, or open source software that's very bare. And vice-versa. So the question here is: how important are those things to you? Would you always use a functionally inferior (but open source) program to defend your freedom? Or is open source nice to have, but you'd rather use proprietary software if it can do more?

A bit of both

Function: because it does everything I need it to, it's as sexy or minimal as I want it to be and does everything Windows does but more robustly.

Freedom: freedom from the extortionate cost of buying upgrades from MS. I don't have an issue with a company that pours resources into product development and charges a fair price for it, but the way MS operate they charge hugely inflated prices and still provide zero support to joe public once it's paid for.

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