Open Source Tools and the End of Price Gouging
Have you ever read Tolstoy's famous short story "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" It's a morality parable about a man whose greed for land leads to his death. On the technology scene these days, it's worth asking an analagous question: How much technology does a man (or woman) really need? There are numerous signs that upcoming operating systems, chips and other key components represent overkill for many users, and lots of those users can take advantage of fully functional technology for free, or for very low prices. Open source has helped create this environment, and as the trend continues, it bodes especially well for open source platforms and applications.
In an interesting column, PCMag.com's John Dvorak argues that Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 operating system should be free. He writes:
"In the olden days, when a new OS was released, there was always a reason and always a need. For example, when 3.5-inch floppies came out, the drivers needed to be incorporated into the new OS. Or when volume sizes of the hard drive went beyond the ability of the OS to recognize them, support for the ubiquitous CD-ROM had to be built into the OS...When you go over the complete list of predicted, new features [in Windows 8], you are going to ask yourself exactly why Microsoft would charge money for this? Windows 8 is an obvious tweak of Win 7 and should be free to all users of Win 7 and Vista. Let's be real. This is not a new OS, and we shouldn't have to pay hundreds of dollars for it."
This trend actually bodes very well for Linux and open source applications, which are free, and which have actually closed longstanding gaps when compared to proprietary operating systems and applications. The fact is that as Apple and Microsoft continue to upgrade their proprietary offerings, they are simply not offering much of a benefit over free tools.
If you're a Linux user, ask yourself: Do you have the same compatibility problems that you used to, when it comes, say, to getting a Wi-Fi connection or hooking up a new device? Probably not. And yet, only a few short years ago, Windows and the Mac OS had enormous compatibility advantages over Linux. This gap closes more and more as each year passes, and it's why Linux is a perfectly viable OS choice compared to Microsoft's and Apple's expensive creations.
On the hardware front, Intel has been arguing recently that it can still charge big price premiums for its newest high-margin chips, but these days, unless you're doing high-end video editing or gaming, you don't necessarily need Intel's latest chip. Why pay for the absolute fastest CPU cycles if you don't need to?
Here again, the market has shifted radically in recent years. Back in the days of 386 chips and 486 chips, you had to get the 486, and pay big bucks for it, when it arrived. But now you don't necessarily have to have the absolute fastest chip, and if you buy one, it won't be the fastest in a matter of months.
Across the whole tech landscape, the environment that allowed price gouging is quickly being eroded. Open source software is a big part of what erodes it, and the trend will only continue until the price gouging of the past becomes a distant memory.