Since I started using Linux, and more specifically Arch Linux, I really enjoyed the freedom of the open-source ecosystem. Initially leaving Windows, I was afraid that some of my favorite programs may not function properly or wouldn’t have usable alternatives on Linux. Therefore, I greatly investigated the availability of software designed for specific tasks – listening to music, browsing the Web, gaming, etc. In principle, everything was there and in significant variety! To this day, however, I deeply dread invisible walls of computing restrictions, like copyrights, proprietary file systems, and so on and so forth. Even getting to know industry-oriented openSUSE required a bit of courage on my part. Alas, various restrictions are definitely present and their main ‘culprit’ is monopolies.
Monopoly is an economic term, and as such refers to influence/presence of a company/product on the market. The software space is like any market, hence all (most) of the same principles apply. Monopolies are established when a single company/product in its type/purpose becomes and remains insanely popular, because it appeals to the target audience splendidly. They [monopolies] persist, provided that they’re flexible enough to adjust to the inherent dynamics of people’s tastes. Microsoft’s Windows does it quite well, though as we know, not without ‘hick-ups’. Monopolies are not intrinsically bad. However, they often tend to be when instead of encouraging, they enforce the use of a product by restricting the use of alternatives. Notable examples again from the Windows-verse – proprietary file formats. Many software suites use their own file formats, rather than utilize publicly available (free) formats. One reason could be a choice of tailored features or a technical merit. This wouldn’t be a real problem if the competition had complete access to those formats, even if only for the sake of being fair. Obviously, this does not happen, because companies barb their software with copyrights in order to protect their secrets and accomplishments.
How do we go about the problem, then? It’s far less complicated than it may sound. After all, it is (hopefully!) in our interest to encourage the use of alternative products and lessen the presence of a particular monopoly. What we ourselves can do is:
- Become an example, use chosen alternatives and show they’re equally good as monopolists.
- Spread the word about alternatives, how good they are and why people should start using them.
- Improve alternatives, participate in their development. After all, ‘community’ means ‘unity’ and ‘unity’ means ‘power’.
Alternatives and competition in general are vital to the market as they encourage improvement of available products and their better adjustment to the needs of the populace. Contrary, monopolies lead to stagnation and lack of development, because there is no (or hardly any) demand for it. Things worth considering when going for the most popular product, because it’s popular.