Recently, the popular design community Behance owned by Adobe has blocked all the accounts of its Mainland Chinese users, causing an uproar in China’s design community and raising serious concerns about using copyrighted, closed source software.
Software Giants Block User Access in U.S.-sanctioned Countries
Following the footsteps of Figma and GitHub, Behance’s decision has gravely impacted millions of users—and by extension related IT and design industries—in U.S.-sanctioned countries. There has been worrying speculation that Adobe’s popular suite of design software will be next to cut off services to Mainland users. Products by U.S. software giants are used throughout the world, and often monopolize software markets in multiple countries. It is thus not difficult to imagine the huge blow account bans have on affected IT and media industries, where these software are used in daily operations.
Although Hong Kong users are not affected by these incidents, Mainland China’s account bans have nevertheless served as a wake-up call for us to start looking for software alternatives. Currently, 96.4% of Hong Kong companies use Microsoft suite software for daily operations, and Adobe suite is also used in all media-related industries. Our heavy dependence on closed source software indicates that if we don’t have a backup plan, our digital assets would be in danger should our accounts be denied access by the software companies.
This backup plan can be open source software. Open source technology is becoming more mature by the day, and several highly competitive open source products already exist in the market. Currently, many large overseas enterprises have already begun the shift from closed source to open source software—Hong Kong might as well follow suit.
Closed Source VS Open Source Software: The Strengths of Open Source
Closed source software refers to software whose source code is only privately accessible by the producing company itself. Users usually have to pay a fee in order to gain access to the software. Naturally, this follows that user access can be revoked by the company anytime, if necessary. To solve this issue, Hong Kong should start switching to open source alternatives.
Open source software is the opposite of closed source software. The source code of the software product is open to the general public, meaning that anyone can access and edit the software for free. This brings forth a number of benefits:
1. Flexibility and Agility
One of the most obvious benefits is agility. From a company perspective, as anyone can access the source code and contribute changes, companies can develop their own competitive products using that source code, without having to worry about access permission when using closed source software.
Moreover, from a user perspective, they can enjoy a number of similar alternatives. For example, GIMP and Krita are both open source design software and alternatives to Adobe Photoshop. If Adobe ever becomes unavailable, designers can still continue projects on these open source alternatives instead of losing all their work.
Free access is one of the most attractive points of open source software. As the source code is available online, companies can use the code for free. This is especially crucial in Hong Kong, where the majority of companies are small or medium-sized and IT budgets are tight. 24.1% of medium-sized enterprises and 9.8% small businesses in Hong Kong are reluctant to go digital thanks to expensive computer and software costs. Not only can free, open source software solve this problem, but productivity will also potentially increase as industries become more digitalized.
Security appears to be a major concern regarding open source software because of how readily accessible they are. However, this is a needless worry as long as you know which products to choose. Open source products developed by large companies like Google’s Android operating system and Automattic’s WordPress are trustworthy, secure and widely-used worldwide.
Popular open source software have great quality that is on par with their paid counterparts thanks to community contributions. A popular example is Android vs. IOS. IOS is closed source and owned by Apple while Android is open source. Currently, many tech giants like Samsung and Huawei run on Android. While making their own modifications to the Android system for their products, they also contribute QOL improvements to the system itself. Every few months, Google includes some of these popular updates to the general Android system for open source use, continuously improving its quality.
The Open Source Era
While traditional closed source software is still prevalent today, the rising popularity of open source products is difficult to ignore. These incidents of U.S.-sanctioned account bans are important warnings that Hong Kong must heed to stay competitive in the international community. If we do not begin the switch to open source software now, who knows if we will be the next to suffer?