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Is It Free Software if You Pay For It? - page 2

Reasons For Buying

  • October 23, 2009
  • By Charlie Schluting

Why not spend your budget on support you may never use? Here are a few reasons:

  • incapable of support
  • crappy product
  • good product
  • spite

Unfortunately, the SLA mentioned in the previous section will never mention anything about the quality of support. Receiving a response from an inept person within 60 minutes does absolutely no good. If you have to repeat, and-heaven forbid-explain what you are talking about to the person multiple times, you are better off solving the problem on your own. This is a common experience with most large companies, and open source companies often sadly fall victim to cost cutting and poor service too. The good news is that many smaller companies employ extremely bright people, and they often function at all levels of the organization. Ask for a better SLA, or even ask that unresolved issues be addressed directly by a developer within 24 hours; some companies will actually commit to that. If a company will only commit to a "response time" and has no customer references, you probably don't want to buy (unless you have to).

Crappy software, we imagine, is a good reason not to buy ancillary products or support services. If the software is crappy enough to warrant a no-buy decision, you are likely in the position to switch to an alternative product; lucky you!

Surprisingly, good software is frequently a major reason not to buy. Why purchase support if it always works as advertised? The only reason, if you don't need the insurance of an SLA, would be to support the project. The vast majority of users of open source products fall into this category, which is fine, as long as some percentage of people support the project.

Finally, we have spite. Software developers are not known for their charming nature or tactful mailing list replies. If a project is run by a completely wild character, people often shy away from supporting the project. Chances are the project will eventually fail due to coordination and teamwork issues, but even if not, who wants to support such behavior? What if you submit a support ticket and it gets escalated to one of those well-known, hot-tempered developers? Nobody wants that.

You may notice that we failed to mention "horribly crippled software, unless you pay" products. These simply are not open source projects, and are not worth considering.

There are many reasons to support individual developers or their budding companies if they are kind, produce a useful product, and truly offer something of value.

The majority of open source software businesses that have existed at least a few years have found a niche to occupy and flourish in. Open source software companies often provide surprisingly stellar support services. Just do your homework, and beware: the big-company shockingly-bad-support service is not always limited to big companies.


When he's not writing for Enterprise Networking Planet or riding his motorcycle, Charlie Schluting works as the VP of Strategic Alliances at the US Division of LINBIT, the creators of DRBD. He also operates OmniTraining.net, and recently finished Network Ninja, a must-read for every network engineer.

Article courtesy of Enterprise Networking Planet

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