Proprietary Software Not Necessarily The Best Software

I’m a big fan of open source software. I use it extensively at home and at work. I’ve also contributed to a few projects here and there. I think that on average, it is usually more secure, more stable, and more extensible than proprietary software. Oh, and it’s usually free too.

I got a little reminder today that proprietary software isn’t necessarily the best software. I recently upgraded to Ubuntu 8.10. The first time booting up into the new version of the OS, a little pop-up notified me that some proprietary drivers were available for my graphics adapter. Sweet, I thought. Maybe now I can finally enable Compiz on my work laptop. The driver installed without a problem, and sure enough, most features of Compiz worked without an issue. However, over time I noticed Compiz was slowing things down a bit (it’s an older laptop, with an older graphics adapter), so I disabled it.

Today, I was scheduled to give a presentation to a small group of peers at work. I arrived on time, hooked up my laptop to the projector like I’ve done a hundred times before, and hit the magical key sequence to change the resolution and output to the projector. Nothing. I tried again and again, even rebooting. Nothing. Fifteen minutes after the presentation should have started, I finally bit the bullet and booted into Windows to give the presentation…something I have only done one other time since putting Ubuntu on my work laptop. Man I was pissed, especially since it took Windows forever to boot…reminding me why I switched to Ubuntu in the first place.

This worked fine in version 8.04. What the heck happened?

When I got back to my desk, I did some searching on the web, and found some forum threads indicating that a proprietary video driver could be the cause of such an issue. Remembering I had enabled the proprietary video driver, I quickly disabled it, hooked up to a projector, and tried again. Bingo! Worked like a charm. As a side benefit, I also got the dual-monitor support that had been advertised in the newest version of Ubuntu. Up until now, I couldn’t get that to work either.

So, the moral of the story is, just because it’s proprietary doesn’t always mean it’s better.

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