As moral beings, humans try to align their behavior with their values.
I don’t use Microsoft Word to write. I’ve successfully resisted putting Office on my laptop. I refuse to have anything to do with Office, if I can help it.
I admit it’s a quirk, but it’s how I live my values.
Why would a writer care about his word processing software? Do painters worry about the brand of paints they use, so long as the colors are true?
Writers don’t care about software, but they ought to.
Artists in general, and writers in particular, like to set themselves against The Man, whether it’s a corporation, a government, or some other institution that demands control and stereotyped thinking. But no writer ever thinks of the software they depend on.
Microsoft is a behemoth of a company that rakes in billions of dollars a year mostly because its convinced manufacturers and the general public that it’s the only game in town.
Though they may grumble, individuals and independent businesses feel compelled to fork over hundreds of dollars every few years for the latest version of Office because they don’t think they have a choice.
Artists and thinkers love choices, but how many resist the lock Microsoft or any other software company has on their set of tools? It may seem a small thing, but it’s important to me, because I believe an open door is always better than a closed door, that an invitation to play is always better than a warning not to break something.
I believe an open door is always better than a closed door, that an invitation to play is always better than a warning not to break something.
I learned this lesson in 1996, when a friend introduced me to open source software, specifically Linux, an alternative to Microsoft Windows. Without getting into the technical details, here’s the difference between open source and closed source: If the Wizard of Oz believed in open source, he’d invite you behind the curtain and let you play with his machines. If he believed in its antithesis, represented by Microsoft, Apple, and similar companies, he’d sue you before you got within 30 feet of his magician’s tricks.
What kind of world would you prefer?
After long exploration, I eventually found a way to live my belief with LibreOffice, a suite of productivity tools that include a word processor, a spreadsheet tool, presentation software, and a desktop database. LibreOffice does exactly the same things as Office. They’re even compatible, up to a point.
But LibreOffice is free of the shackles of a company that builds tools within a model that imprisons you in a philosophical and financial jail. LibreOffice costs nothing (though a donation is encouraged), it’s built and maintained by an egalitarian user community called The Document Foundation, and if you want to see behind the curtain, you have only to ask. Imagine Microsoft doing the same thing. Impossible.
So I write everything in LibreOffice, and I share files with colleagues with confidence, even if they choose to use a Microsoft product. I feel that in this crazy way, I’m aligning my values with my practice, even if it’s only software.
How many times do we get to live this way?
To learn more about open source software and alternatives to proprietary software, visit the Open Source Initiative.