The cost of fixing a computer, and Open Source Software

Note: I started writing this a while ago, but just finished it. This is made obvious by the time stamps of the tweets I reference.

Twitter is a great tool, but sometimes you need more than a 140 characters for a reply. This is one of those cases.

It all started with a retweet by Karen Lopez, a.k.a. @datachick:

@jlopez255: Starting today -“Name your own price computer repair”, U name the price for my labor and I will fix your computer. Parts extra.

Which lead to me putting forth the following propositions to Karen and Jennifer:

  1. It’s a problem that is is cheaper to buy a new computer than repair it for low end computers under 3 years old.
  2. We need to make repairing computers cheaper, because many individuals cannot afford what professionals rightfully charge for their skill level.
  3. OSS is better suited than closed course for bringing down the cost of computer repair.
  4. You can petition the Lord with prayer.
On point one I was preaching to the choir. On point number two I received no direct response. However, for number 3 Karen responded:
@zippy1981@jlopez255 I have not had great ease of use with OSS. For every great 1, there are 10 that require lots of Dev / tech skills.
I don’t refute this statement at face value, However, I do have the following commentary to offer backing up my third proposition.
First of all, lets limit the scope to the average personal machine owned by joe sixpack. Microsoft Office, or Open Office (or Libre Office) are power tools for these people. Other than an Office Suite, we are really talking about the web browser, and maybe the email client. For these users, a default Ubuntu install is more than enough. Most of their stuff is done on the web. Open/Libre Office are a little lacking in UX and features, but google docs makes up for the UX. Also, most of these users don’t want or need the missing features. In terms of web browsers and a window manager, the web browsers are exactly the same (yes I trained both my parents to use firefox), and the Ubuntu GUI is on par Windows 7 in terms of polish, with some interesting innovations such as how it handles full screen windows. Also, for netbooks, Ubuntu has a special install disc that tweaks the UI for the small screen.
Secondly, with Ubuntu, Linux is truly for end users. Rarely does something not work. When it fails to work, you might have to bust out the command line, but the procedures are no more complicated than what one would have to do on windows. Quite frankly, if you want a *nix OS that requires you to do a lot manually, try a BSD or Solaris.
Third, my point was OSS is better suited for reimaging hard drives cheaply than windows. Because OSS is free as in beer for all practical purposes, there are no licensing restrictions to enforce. Therefore, there are no restrictions on creative ways of deploying Linux automatically. Windows Deployment Services (WDS) and its predecessor Remote Installation Services (RIS) are expensive, and designed for enterprise deployment. Microsoft could develop a version of these aimed at mom and pop geeksquad equivalents. If such a program allowed you to entered license keys for windows, office, etc and it install fully patched versions of the licensed software, plus whatever third party stuff they wanted to add (and their was a gallery where you could pick third party free and paid software to install), that might compete with what can be achieved when your software is free as in freedom and beer. However, I honestly don’t see Microsoft doing this until someone does this with Linux first.
So my point was that OSS has better potential for automating PC repair compared to Windows. You can simplify the process with OSS which will allow less skilled people to perform PC repaired. These less skilled people will command lower fees.