The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support

Quite often there is a fear that surrounds open source tools and frameworks.  For most shops the deciding factor against open source software is the apparent "risk" that is associated with a framework/tool that is not attached to any business entity.

In this post I want to share an interaction that occurred this last weekend to show you that the open source ecosystem is alive and very healthy.  And while I won't go so far as to say the "risk" doesn't exist (you have to come to that conclusion on your time when your own fears are allayed) I do hope that this post puts some of those fears to rest.

Saturday morning before I went off to work there was a question posted to the RhinoMocks mailing list (for those who don't know RhinoMocks is an open source mocking framework).  Before the end of the day the problem was resolved to a satisfactory conclusion.  The "solution" (I put in quotes because there appears to be a bug but at least now we know there is a bug...hence "solution").  The result is not as important as the events that transpired to reach that conclusion below is the timeline.

12:22 AM - Kenneth posts the problem he is encountering

6:53 AM - I respond on the mailing list back to Kenneth with my findings and let him know that I will get some experts in DynamicProxy involved

6:56 AM - I enlisted the help of Krzysztof Kozmic on twitter (Krzysztof is a committer on DynamicProxy by Castle as has a great tutorial series on Dynamic Proxy)

8:38 AM - Fellow Devlicious blogger Tuna Toksoz (also a committer on the Castle project) hopped on the case and reported his findings

9:22 AM - Krzysztof responds to Tuna's findings reporting back on the root cause

10:23 AM - Kenneth reported back with feedback of Tuna's fix

Ultimately, as I mentioned earlier the fix was that it was found that RhinoMocks "relies on the buggy behavior, hence the error" (Krzysztof's words).  Again the result here isn't what is important but rather the journey.  Often people fear the support ecosystem around open source software but the exchange above and the players involved should give you some bit of confidence in the support of open source.  It is worth pointing out that all of this happened on a Saturday, something you'd pay a premium for in a closed source model.

Whatever your roll in the software world is, one aspect you have to consider when choosing any solution is risk.  The traditional thought has been that with commercial software the support would be better when backed by a reputable name.  I think the exchange showcased above demonstrates that support for open source software can compete (and potentially surpass) support that any commercial piece of software could offer.  Keep that in mind the next time you are evaluating commercial software versus open source software.


Posted 06-29-2009 10:18 PM by Tim Barcz

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Comments

jdn wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-29-2009 11:48 PM

What if TT and/or KK had been out of town that day?

Were they willing to offer any guarantees that their work actually fixed the problem?  Indemnify the customer that relied on their fix?  Offer a support contract for their work?

I'm sure relying on random support from random people might be nice for random people, but this little story does nothing for customers who need real, dedicated, and legally reliable support.  This is why RedHat still exists, for instance.

Your story is hardly convincing for anyone otherwise.  Nice try though.

Tim Barcz wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-29-2009 11:56 PM

"...who need real, dedicated, and legally reliable support. " - I wonder if this expectation has been created over the years by really crappy, yet legally reliable, software.

" This is why RedHat still exists, for instance." - I'm not saying that pay support isn't an option.  Heck, even RhinoMocks offers pay support/training (by Oren himself), but it's not the only method of assistance.

Mogens Heller Grabe wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 2:40 AM

"What if TT and/or KK had been out of town that day?" - then you could check out the source and possibly fix the bug yourself. Or at least you could see what went wrong and figure out a workaround.

When you are using closed source software you are STUCK, and completely at the mercy of your vendor.

Krzysztof Koźmic wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 4:04 AM

jdn

If you need reliable support please contact me and we can discuss my rates.

Or you can purchase support from Castle Stronghold, which is a company started by the creators of Castle project.

Moreover, I wouldn't say it's relying on random people, because these are the actual commiters to the project. Not more random than in case of any company where people come and go.

With healthy OSS projects, there are usually quite a few active commiters, so even though me, or Tuna might have been AFK for a while, there are others who would help, so chance that an important issue would be ignored for a long time are really slim.

And if one 'story' is not enough, check this thread for example: groups.google.com/.../f3976006136de434

ChrisTalsness wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 9:33 AM

Well said Tim. My dislike for non-opensource software support is that not only do I have to pay a premium for the software itself, but then if I want support for it that often comes as an additional cost.  With Open Source, I usually have the option of not paying a dime up front, but if the system becomes mission critical, I can get a support contract and be covered.

jdn wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 11:05 AM

@Krzysztof

I think you're missing the point.  Ayende has said much the same thing about 'commercial support' for NHibernate by offering his services.  You're both damn good, but neither of you is scalable (and I am aware of Castle).

Now, Microsoft offering support for JQuery, that's scalable.

Tim Barcz wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 11:14 AM

@jdn,

Microsoft offering support for jQuery was redundant at best and a marketing ploy at worst.  The support around jQuery is some of the best out there.

So if you call and pay Microsoft to get an answer they're probably just trolling Google and the user groups looking for an answer.

Hardly comforting...

Krzysztof Kozmic wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 12:23 PM

@jdn

I think I know what you're hinting at.

Say, Microsoft and JQuery deal - you're about to make a commitment to a framework, so the fact that a big, respected (in some circles at least) company like Microsoft supports that framework, the *perception* of the quality is no doubt superior to some other framework with no such big company behind it.

The big company has a nice colorful website with kind words assuring you that whatever will happen - they got you covered, just don't be late with the money.

On the other hand the OSS projects offer you instead a link to their discussion forum.

Surely the first option must be much more appealing to the heights of CEO/CTO chair.

However I have dealt with such payed support from various companies, and from down to earth here,  it's a waste of money, for both the  company's product and its support.

Seriousely, while I admit there are companies out there that have enormously helpful support people who can help you deal with problems in a matter of minutes, the're rare - and generally speaking I can say that I can see no big difference between commercial support for a commercial software, and vibrant community around OSS project.

If we're talking about scaling - well, if there's a need, there soon will someone to satisfy that need. Hey, Ruby on Rails was a small inhouse framework once too! Now it's used widely and you can get support for it from a lot of companies/people.

Same here - if there is interest in a framework, it means it has big community around it ergo - lot of people who can help you with your problem (either directly, or indirectly by building body of knowledge in blogs, books, and history of already solved problems).

Robz wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 3:55 PM

+1 for OSS!

I've pulled down numerous OSS sources and changed code or fixed code (mostly to suit my needs).  I've contributed back with patches where it made sense.

When you can do that at a late hour or on the weekend, it's totally awesome!

jdn wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 06-30-2009 6:45 PM

@Tim

I'm not sure that Scott Gu would say it was redundant at best and a marketing ploy at worst (I'm pretty sure he was a driving force behind it), but having Microsoft offer support solves the very real problem (which I've unfortunately experienced) of not being able to use JQuery in a large development environment because it was perceived as being 'non-supported.'

@Krzysztof

I certainly agree with you that sometimes the quality of support you get from the expensive support contract isn't quite as one would like (Compaq Silver Support, anybody?), and to be clear, I'm not dissing the quality that one can get through OSS communities.

But, to use again the example I mentioned, there are many reasons why Linux has expanded into the corporate environment, and two of them are named RedHat and IBM.

Whether that is a good thing or not is another question, of course.

Krzysztof Kozmic wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 07-01-2009 4:06 AM

@jdn

Two keywords: 'perception of risk' and the actual risk. You agreed with me that although you knew that the actual risk of using JQuery (in your case) was slim, whereas it's the false perception the decision makers had that it's otherwise influenced the final decision.

And I think that is the point of Tim's post - the perception is usually false.

jdn wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 07-01-2009 6:09 PM

@Krzysztof

Yes, but I question whether Tim's post would do anything to change that perception of the decision maker.s

Tim Barcz wrote re: The "Risk" of Open Source Software Support
on 07-01-2009 6:22 PM

@jdn,

Maybe not immediately but I think in general you're seeing a softening stance towards open source software.

Also keep in mind that today's developer is tomorrows manager/lead/architect.

My father is more accepting of "Rock N' Roll" than my grandfather because my father grew up with Rock N' Roll, my grandfather did not.

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