Open Source Annoyances

Every decision has benefits and costs, and the decision to try open source software is no different. Here are some of the most common frustrations people face when using open source software, along with some ways people get around these issues.

  • Conversion between open source data files and their proprietary counterparts is not always perfect. For example, a resume created in might look different when opened in Microsoft Word. One option is to distribute documents in PDF format, which is easy to generate and looks the same everywhere.
  • You may find that open source software looks and behaves differently than proprietary alternatives you are used to. Sometimes features are missing or incomplete in the software, or you have to use the software in a different way to achieve the same result.
  • Getting help for open source software can be difficult. If your local computer shop (or the wizardly friend or relative you turn to with your questions) does not use or support open source software, you will need to look elsewhere for help.
    • Some online forums (such as the Linux Questions or Ubuntu Help forums) can offer good support. Mailing lists and forums devoted to specific applications also exist.
    • You can participate in a local user group like KWLUG, where people meet and discuss open source issues. The folks at Computer Recycling can also answer some of your questions.
  • None of these groups will do all your computer maintenance for you, but they can help you with specific questions and direct you to places where you can get additional help.
  • It can take additional work to get movies and music files to play under Linux (this tends to be easier in Windows). In some countries, open source software to play DVDs and MP3s is restricted or legally unclear, so Ubuntu and other distributions do not release such software officially.
  • Not all hardware is supported well in open source operating systems. For example, Linux support for printers, wireless cards and video cards can be spotty. It is best to check that your hardware is supported in Linux before attempting to install it. Sometimes you can cheaply replace components that do not work under Linux with others that do.
  • Open source exists in a "do it yourself" culture. If features don't exist in software that you are using, you are given the options of waiting patiently, paying somebody to develop the features you want, or developing those features yourself. This attitude can be frustrating, especially to those of us who are less technologically-savvy. Sometimes a different open source project supports the feature you need. Sometimes there are ways to work around the limitation until the feature you need is implemented.
  • Like other software, many open source applications assume you have internet access when installing and using them. It is certainly possible to install and use most of this software without internet access, but it can be tricky. This is especially true for Linux distributions, which break up applications into packages that depend on each other.
  • Because it is so easy and cheap to release open source software, the software quality varies dramatically. The health and quality of open source software depends on its support. Applications that are well-supported (by a strong community user base, a foundation or a corporation) tends to work better and be more featureful than software written by lone individuals in their spare time.
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