The software trap

Software companies have long ignored piracy most developing Asian countries, as a way of building market share. They are now starting to crack-down, and Adobe have apparently started on Sri Lanka. A friend of mine asked me what a business faced with a sudden increase in its costs (licences for some of this stuff are expensive), could do by way of switching to open source. This is my reply.


Firstly, the reason that Adobe are cracking down is that they are pretty certain it will be difficult for people to switch. That is the business model, and it is a common one in the industry.

To quote Bill Gates, “As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.”

Assuming Adobe knows what they are doing (they usually do) they probably have your friends custom. “If you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow”.

This is a wonderful example of the traps set by proprietary software companies – but once you have fallen into a trap, it is too late to avoid it.

Secondly, looking for one for one substitutes will never work for software like this, where people depend on things working in exactly the way they are used to. It works for things like word-processors and spreadsheets because:

1) Few people use the complex functionality, so they do not notice subtle differences.
2) The market is vast, so there is a lot of work going into making things work in exactly the same way so people can switch easily.

They need to look at all the software in detail. They have built their work-flow, and their skills around Abobe software. Using something else will need changes in work flow and modus operandi generally, as well as requiring retraining.

Thirdly, the strengths and weaknesses of open source software in this particular area are different from the proprietary offerings. Open source software is generally better for typesetting text, especially complex text such as equations (which is why it is often used by academic journals), and is pretty good at both 2d and 3d images for on-screen display. However, it has some weaknesses in preparing images for print. For example, Panatone colour names are proprietary and can never be incorporated into an open source product. Some open source products are geared to on-screen graphics and handle CMYK and large colour palettes poorly.

Finally, and most importantly, I would never encourage anyone to use open source software to save money on license fees. These are a tiny part of the costs and benefits of software, and are usually negligible in context. Use open source because it is better, use it to avoid vendor lock-in, use it because it is open to public scrutiny and is therefore trustworthy. Do not use it just because it is cheap.

I will answer your question and suggest some software they could try, this will get them started, but I only know a fraction of what is available, and that not thoroughly, so they will need to find and try out many more applications.

You would a lot of good if you use this story to warn others to avoid the proprietary software traps before they are sprung, rather than trying to scramble out after being firmly imprisoned.