Proprietary Software Feels Icky

Posted on Feb 15, 2023

In the last couple years I’ve been using more and more FOSS things as daily drivers, and I’ve gotten to the point where using proprietary software leaves me with what I can only describe as an icky feeling. It’s just weird.

There are closed-source applications that do run well, and get the job done effectively. I’m not going to pretend that they suck at everything always. But the emphasis with propretiary software is getting the most minimal functionality and reliability possible to warrant being paid for, and then not improving it until enough people complain about how sucky it is. I have first-hand experience with this, and I hated it. I felt rushed, and my tasks/projects felt incomplete by the time I had to deploy them. Trying to perfect them meant risking my next “performance review” and looking too unproductive.

So my anecdotal experience from the developer and business perspective only serves to reinforce my disdain for proprietary, closed-source software. However I only hear the same story from the majority of current and former developers on forums like Hacker News. The companies that actually care enough about their products and employees to get it right are in a disappointingly small minority.

With open source community-driven projects, there is more incentive to get things right before a release, because there is no time limit. No risk of being fired for not doing it fast enough to break even with costs at a bare minimum. Contributors also usually want to boost their reputation, which means providing good quality contributions. Not poor implementations. And if a poor implementation is added, it’s usually a matter of time until someone with more skill and knowledge in that implementing that particular feature comes along and updates it.

Open source community projects tend to know what the users of said projects want much better. As the developers/contributors are usually working on it to fill in a niche that they’re a part of, and have experience with.

There are some commonly-spoken benefits to propretiary software, of course:

  1. Important bugs are usually fixed quicker.
  2. In some fields, the software is better implemented by a team with more funding. Think video production, game development, etc.
  3. Legal backing: if the company screws up majorly, they risk getting sued, or losing financial backing.

But there are also counters to these:

  1. Just because the fixes aren’t upstreamed doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Many times, a stranger will have figured out a patch to a bug, and submitted a merge request. But that patch will sit around for some time until it’s accepted by the main project. All you have to do is grab that patched version, and run that instead. This takes more work and knowledge obviously, and the layman won’t like this, but it is a workaround.
  2. If a project gets big enough, it will get some donated funding from corporations. One of the best examples of this is Blender, which is now kind of the industry-standard tool in its field. It isn’t often that projects get big enough for this, in fairness.
  3. This can also be a downside. Corporations pander to the group they think will make them the most money for the least amount of effort, particularly on controversial issues. This happens with open source community-driven projects as well, but at least the project owners personally believe in the change, rather than being purely a money-making scheme.

Then there’s my major issue with it: spyware. It used to be that corporations at least stuck to obnoxious marketing tactics to make money. But now they’ve expanded their horizons by taking advice from internet thieves and detestables. Selling your personal data, as it turns out, is a very profitable endeavour. And corporations sure as hell won’t be missing out on a new way of raking in some sweet sweet cash despite the ethics involved.

With open source projects, you can at least rely on a herd immunity of sorts. That enough unbiased people will have grazed the code to quickly spot any attempt of secretly slipping in malware.

Windows is one thing I refuse to run on bare metal on my personal machines nowadays, primarily due to the spyware aspect. Even partitions separate from your boot partition are at risk. Even your network is at risk. Simply by virtue of you not being able to prove exactly what Windows is doing when it’s running, you have essentially compromised everything it touches. Now you can either rely on the legal aspect of Windows getting sued if caught doing such things, but the reality is that many corporations have been caught doing shady things despite the laws. Especially if their actions toe the legal line, so to speak.

Apple is not immune from this either. Their products suffer from the same problems that other companies’ products do. They’ve been flamed many times for spying on users’ private data:

With the recent (and shockingly fast progression) of gaming on Linux, thanks to Valve’s open source work on a fork of a popular open source project known as Wine, you’re not missing out on much. I really have to give kudos to Valve for that as a side note.

If you want all the features of Windows-specific GPU drivers, then set up a GPU-passthrough system1, pin your CPU cores to the VM, and install your games there. You’ll hardly notice a difference in performance compared to bare metal, if at all.

If you’re a developer, you’ve got everything you could ever want as a first-class citizen on Linux.

Even if you don’t want to use the more difficult-to-learn text editors, you can use VSCodium instead of VS Code to get rid of the spyware and (unnecessary) proprietary addons.

And although if you want full functionality on Linux, you’ll have to run some closed-source kernel blobs, you’ve at least mitigated some of the biggest sources of spookiness, and given control of your system back to you.