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The Support Myth

Written on June 23, 2005

The principle differentiator between open and closed source software these days is supposedly support. The quality gap between the two camps has either closed or Open Source is widely recognized to be superior. The primary reason today for not adopting an open source solution (where there is a business case for doing so) is that there may not be any support for the software. This is certainly a big part of the FUD campaign pursued by Microsoft against Open Source and Linux. I suggest that “the support myth” is just that – mythical.

If you use Windows, are you free to contact Microsoft and ask for help? No, not really – you maintain a busy in-house staff to take care of this for you, and to reinstall the operating system or reboot the workstation or server (!) as your primary troubleshooting methods. If there is a glitch in Word, can you do anything about it? No, you can’t. You can complain and whine, but you cannot fix it or get it fixed. Once a new version of Word is out, you can take your chances and buy a new license, and then hope that your problem got fixed, and that any new features don’t break your workflow, render your old documents unreadable or require a new training course. Most closed source software “support” is not supportive, and can only help you in narrow ways when the software is broken, but never when it’s wrong.

A common complaint of those confronted with the Open Source model is the claim that while you are permitted to change the source of your software, you lack the expertise to do so, which makes it a non-advantage. The counter to this is that, if you need a feature or a bug fix, you can simply sponsor a hack-a-thon to get it implemented, supporting the community and getting your needed fix far faster and more cheaply than hiring a consultant or having fully customized software written. There are a lot of changes required in the way that people think of software development in an Open Source world, but those changes will be easier to make once you shed your belief in the outmoded “support myth”.

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