Matt Asay asks the question “What to do when open source is not good enough?” in his CNET blog.
He argues that he sometimes encounters cases where his choice of open source software does not fulfill his desired feature set and so he resorts to proprietary, closed source, binary only applications. For example, Asay switches from Adium to iChat when he needs video chat capability and from OpenOffice.org Impress to MS PowerPoint, when he needs video embedding. He concludes it is o.k. to use binary only applications in these cases and I would not disagree.
However, I’m not quite sure if Asay asks the right question or answers the question he asks.
Open Source is there so you can improve on the software you got, as opposed to a binary license that does prevent you from even pin pointing (debugging) a problem. The core freedom of open source is being able to add/modify/fix what is “your itch”. That the software is it also “free as in beer” is more of a side effect.
The better answer to Asay’s question is “If open source is not good enough, then improve it.” Sure not everybody is a programmer, but everybody can hire someone to do the job.
That is where it becomes clear that the “free as in beer” is only for making a copy of the software. If you really want to get the best out of it and solve your specific issue, then you have to invest like in anything else. You don’t even have to share (publish) the fruits of your investment. Only when you want to give it to someone else (for money or for free) you have to give that person the same rights you got (under the GPL at least).
So now it is your decision if you want to invest your money/talent/time into proprietary software that does not give you these freedoms or in open source that does. I’m not saying OSS is the only solution, but I’m saying it is equivalent to closed source and even better in some cases.
Ask yourself how would you answer the question “What to do when closed source software is not good enough?” I’ll think you’ll come to the same answer, use a competing application that does do what you want. Now in case of proprietary binary only software, you are at the mercy of “the market.” If you can’t find the app with the features you need, you are out of options and have to start from scratch to build the software you need. In case of open source you can take the package that comes the closest to your needs and add/modify/fix.
It’s all about options, you choose yours.