Empowerment with FOSS

I recently got around to a project that had been on my “to do” list for many months when I transferred a personal video from analog tape to DVD. As part of the transfer, I also learned how to author a DVD. In this case, authoring meant creating an eight-screen menu system where the user could jump directly to one of 28 different chapters by selecting a representative frame from the chapter. I was quite pleased with the result.

In addition to liking the end-result, I was also proud of the fact that I used only Free and Open Source (FOSS) software running on Linux to do the job. When describing the process to colleagues, I would get the suitable (or perhaps simply polite) responses of “cool” or “wow.” It wasn’t until I was talking to a tech-savvy cousin at a Christmas party that I got a reality check when he said, “Yeah, I just use a Mac.”

Defensively, I quickly countered that I didn’t want to be forced to use a graphical interface, that the command line allowed me to script the process, and that I felt that I had much more control over the authoring process by using command line tools.

Over the past week, I have been reflecting on this conversation. While I stand by my counter argument, I don’t feel that it captured the essence of why I went the Linux/FOSS route. (I should note that I did use the graphical tool Kino to separate the video into chapters; the various command line tools were used to create the menu system and to burn the DVD. I’ll write about the details in a future post.)

I’m fairly certain that had I used commercial software (e.g., on a Mac), I would have been able to author a DVD in short order. However, I’m not sure I would have gained as deep an understanding of the process as I did by gathering the various utilities from across the Internet and “doing it myself.” Sure, it was a bit of a steep learning curve at times, but by knowing more about the nitty-gritty details, I think I ended up with a better result. I also had the option of modifying the code if it didn’t suit my needs. It was empowering to have so much control over the process.

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