Open source software

As computer users (and students), we usually try to get things as cheaply as possible. So when it comes to software, we usually look to free alternatives before forking out hundreds of dollars on commercial programs. And as we know, most of the best free software are open source projects created and built up all while keeping the source code of the program available to the public to improve upon, or use as a base for their own projects. While a great concept when everyone cooperates, there have been examples of abuse of the open-source concept.

One fairly well-known example of such abuse is the long-running program Pro Flight Simulator (http://www.proflightsimulator.com/). The PC flight simulation industry has long been dominated by two products: the semi-professional X-Plane series, and the (now-defunct) consumer-level Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, for over a decade now, there has been a third player,FlightGear(http://www.flightgear.org/), which is an open-source flight simulator program that attempts to replicate most of the features found in commercial flight sims. While it has never enjoyed the popularity of X-Plane and MFS, it has nonetheless going strong, with an active development community.

Because of its open-source nature, anybody is able to modify and recompile the code and distribute it in any way they like. A few years ago, one such program appeared, calling itself Pro Flight Simulator (http://www.proflightsimulator.com/). It claims to be most accurate and detailed flight sim program on the market, directly comparing itself to Microsoft Flight Simulator. However, according to several users on major flight enthusiast community boards, Pro Flight Sim looks and plays identical to FlightGear. The only difference is that while FlightGear is freeware, Pro Flight Sim costs $49, not to mention its website looking like the style of a paid infomercial on television. FlightGear’s own developers have also noticed this, and have indeed confirmed that as far as anyone could tell, Pro Flight Simulator is just FlightGear with a different name, and costs money (http://www.flightgear.org/flightprosim.html).

Unfortunately, the recompilation and commercialization of Pro Flight Simulator is completely legal, due to it being based on (virtually identical to) the open-source FlightGear and its licensing agreement. But this issue does raise the question of whether drastic action should be taken against these kinds of scams. Of course, it is understandable when one makes a new program based on an open-source project and markets that, but in the case of Pro Flight Simulator, they are trying to profit from little effort, and no one wins. We can only hope that word-of-mouth on message boards will get through to people considering buying the program, and cause them to reconsider.

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