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The Open Source Workflow: Part 1

4 min read

Open Source: What is it and why should you care?


Let's say you already know what open source means. If you came here for a comprehensive historical perspective on open source, I'm sorry to disappoint. I'm severely unqualified to talk about that. But, there are plenty of resources where you can learn about the Open Source movement's history. Here is a great starter guide on how to purify your software life.

My Adventure

Today, nearly all of the software on my computer is Open Source. That means not only is it free to use, but I can edit any line of code I want, recompile, and run it for whatever reason I want without having to explain what I'm doing to anyone. There is no central owner of the code. Everyone owns it, no one owns it. Pick your choice. Either way, no one gets to tell you what you can or can't do on your computer. Your machine belongs to you.

One of the things that got me interested in Law is how companies managed to get a hold of people for duplicating media they already owned. If you have a physical copy of, I don't know, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and you let your friend borrow the book, then you're solid. If you have a digital copy and you make a copy of it and email it to your friend, you might have just committed a crime, Digital Piracy. I think that policy might be sensible under some conditions, but today, I refuse to validate proprietary media by writing it myself. I'm determined to change the world by offering my innovations to everyone and anyone who wants to use them. I can't speak for my future self all that much. A lot can change and surviving can get harder. But for now, my mind is set on bettering the lives of those around me.

But it wasn't always that way. Well... that's only a bit true.

My adventure starts in Year 2 of Brooklyn Latin. I had just gotten my first DSLR, and I was excited to be shooting in RAW for the first time ever. What problem did I face? Well, I didn't have access to Lightroom or Photoshop or any RAW editing software to do the trick. I wasn't about to drop 700 dollars on a fresh license either. I did what any child of the internet would do. I found free versions online. One of the pieces of software that I found was called Darktable and I credit much of my artistic development to it. Without it, I wouldn't have a college essay to write, without it, I might not even be here in Macaulay.

Darktable, that RAW editing software only had a Linux version at the time. They have since changed, remarking that "Hell froze over," and now they even have a Windows version. So why am I going on about this one piece of software when now I'm running open source everything? It was the driving force that made me change. After that, I always had Linux in my life.

So when I said, "That's only a bit true," I mean that while I didn't always have Linux, I always made Latin review sheets to help out my peers in Latin class. I heard that someone was selling sheets of nothing more than Latin verb tables. I was appalled to learn how much they were ripping people off. I got on it myself, and before long, tons of people could rely on me to organize the material for the current unit and get it looking spiffy in a PDF. By the end of the 2nd year, it looked like this.

Few moments would pride me more than when someone said "Thanks for the doc, Ralph," or, "You really saved my Latin grade with that sheet, man." Of course, I would respond, "Nah, you're the one that actually studied," or something like that. And that's always just been the way I am. I'm not tying to paint myself in a too positive light. I just want to maybe say that, if I could do it, maybe you can do something like that too. Don't get me wrong, I know actually contributing to an open source project is really tough, but it's worth considering, even if you're not a programmer.

Why should I care?

This may have been an interesting tangent, but let's get back on topic. Why should you care? Well, I can't tell you why it's meaningful for everyone, but I can tell you how I feel. There's never any paywalls, and that's very liberating. You never have to worry about another expense when you're trying to make it out here as a college student. That makes sense, but there's free stuff everywhere, right? Why should I use Open Source Software? Isn't all their stuff is free?

With the recent fiasco involving Cambridge Analytica, you can start to appreciate how important your data is. There's much more than you at stake here. We are vulnerable to structure change on the whole of society if we allow a central power control of media and consequently our opinions. A few years ago, this idea would be swiftly filed away under "BS Conspiracy Theory." Now we all have to give it some thought.

So, if you're a tiny bit uneasy about what you post, where, and what it's being used for, maybe you should give Open Source a shot. Over the next few weeks, I'll be delving into my Open Source workflow and annotating it every step of the way. In the next post, I'll outline a few of my Favorite open source replacements to proprietary software, and how I use it. Thereafter, I'll actually show my document tree and help you navigate it.

And of course, I understand that moving to a new platform seems insurmountable. That's still the case for some things I see day to day. Just allow me to demystify it for you, so that even if you don't switch, at least you can understand a little about where all those penguinistas are coming from.

🄯 2023 by Ralph 'Blake' Vente. All wrongs reversed.
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