Three strikes and you’re out!

A while ago, I asked whether we are seeing a trend to promote shallow layers of “open source” on top of a deep proprietary software stack. Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.

Strike three. [added later: Chem4Word is an open source plug-in for Microsoft Word which adds support for chemistry markup.]

As a lapsed chemist, it saddens me to criticise a project with such a worthy goal. But this software spreads proprietary lock-in, not freedom. Those wishing to use it can only do so by first buying a stack of proprietary software. Those receiving documents created using it may well not be able to open them unless they have the same software and the same plug-in. Those who distribute the software, or documents created using it, are making science less free.

I am left with some questions:

  1. Will those funding the project also be funding a port to a free software alternative, such as OpenOffice; if not, why not?
  2. Is the phrase “open source” being embraced, extended and de-commoditised?
  3. Is it time for the New Zealand Open Source Society to change its name, or does it support initiatives such as this one?

This shows once again what happens when we focus on the software licensing, instead of on the user’s freedom. Or am I missing something? Are the chemists involved in this doing something that I have missed?

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