Free Software or Adobe's products?

Recently, I was tasked with creating marketing videos and product mock ups. No tools were specified, so there was an opportunity to pick a tool. Unfortunately, that was not so easy. I used up about a day to evaluate the available options. To assist in my search, I went to reddit, Hacker News, Ask Ubuntu, and did google searches for random articles that may come in useful.

I noticed something. Take video editors as an example. Some of the recommended free and open source software were no longer maintained. That may not sound like a big deal, but from my point of view, if one were to invest time into learning how to use a piece of software, one would prefer to have the certainty that the time is well used, and the knowledge earned will be useful in the future. It is true that the open source video editors are made by volunteers that are unpaid, and therefore may lack the necessary resources or motivation to continue maintaining the software. This may not be such a big problem for those who opt for free software because budget is a very high priority, but for people who wish to get work done, and who like it when some technologies change slowly, using potentially unmaintained software is a problem.

Why not use Adobe Premiere Elements or Adobe Premiere Pro? Buy once, and all the problems are gone. Except if one happens to be a militant free software advocate. I think pragmatism often wins in this regard. Get things done. We need to recognize that sometimes, the free and open source model is the ideal (think security), and there are other times when closed may be better (think of advanced CAD). Then there is the region in between. Sometimes the industry standard happens to be free (Apache, NGINX, Python, etc.), but most of the time the industry standard software is not free.

So, now when I look for software, I look for free and open source options using an unscientific set of criteria. First, I count the stars on the project's GitHub page, if available. The more popular the software, the easier it may be to learn from others. The more popular the project, the lower the risk of it becoming unmaintained. However, I found that counting stars is not ideal. Suppose the project only has one main contributor. Then the risk of the project becoming unmaintained is greater than when there are multiple regular core contributors. I evaluate this risk by counting the number of people who have contributed regularly and significantly (inherently subjective). For projects that are not on GitHub, this method also works. As an aside, I take a superficial look at the bug reports or issues to see if they are being regularly addressed. The project should also have regular commits, preferably daily. And there are plus points if the project is backed by a foundation, or is run by a commercial company with stakes in open source.

If few of the criteria are met, I will feel nervous, and instead search for commercial solutions. This has worked out nicely. At the moment, I try my best to use established software as much as possible, and only use potentially unmaintained software when I can understand them. The added benefit of using established software is that it is easy to get help, and if something annoys me, there is a good chance that someone else is annoyed and has the skills to fix the problem and contribute patches upstream.

But for now, it seems that for 'creative software', Adobe's products are the industry standard, and there are no comparable free and open source tools available to just get the job done. So here I come. I think I'll start with Adobe Premiere Elements and Adobe Photoshop Elements. They may be expensive, but I think it's well worth the money and time to buy them. Time to exercise creativity!