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The Tyranny of Open Source July 28, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software development, Software platforms, Software tools.
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If that title sounds strident, it quite possibly is. But hear me out.  I’ve been around the block once or twice.  I was a functioning adult when Richard Stallman wrote The GNU Manifesto, and have followed the Free Software Foundation, open source software licenses, and open source communities for perhaps longer than you have been alive (yes, I’m an older guy).

I like open source. I think it has radically changed the software industry, mostly for the better.

But. Yes, there is always a “but”.  I subscribe to many (too many) community forums, and almost daily I see someone with a query that begins “What is the best open source tool that will let me do <insert just about any technical task here>.”

When I see someone who asks such a question on a forum, I see someone who is flailing about, with no knowledge of the tools of their field, or even how to do a particular activity. That’s okay; we’ve all been in that position.  They are trying to get better.

We all have a job to do, and we want to do it as efficiently as possible. For any class of activity in the software development life cycle, there are a plethora of tools that make that task easier/manageable/possible.

If you tell me that it has to be an open source tool, you are telling me one of two things. First, your employer, who is presumably paying you a competitive (in other words, fairly substantial) salary, is unwilling to support you in getting your job done.  Second, you are afraid to ask if there is the prospect of paying for a commercial product.

And you need to know the reason before you ask the question in a forum.

There is a lot of great open source software out there that can help you do your job more efficiently. There is also a lot of really good commercial software out there that can help you do your job more efficiently.  If you are not casting a broad net across both, you are cheating both yourself and your employer.  If you cannot cast that broad net, then your employer is cheating you.

So for those of you who get onto community forums to ask about the best open source tool for a particular activity, I have a question in return. Are you afraid to ask for a budget, or have you been told in no uncertain terms that there is none?  You know, you might discover that you need help using your open source software, and have to buy support.  If you need help and can’t pay for it, then you have made an extremely poor decision.

So what am I trying to say? You should be looking for the best tool for your purpose.  If it is open source, you may have to be prepared to subscribe to support.  If it is commercial, you likely have to pay a fee up front.  If your sole purpose in asking for an open source product is to avoid payment, you need to run away from your work situation as quickly as possible.

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Comments»

1. outsourcedguru - July 31, 2016

I think globalization is mostly to blame for the current mindset. Businesses beginning around the year 2000 decided to outsource all projects abroad, the promise of “everything for almost nothing” was just too sexy to pass up.

Fast-foward to today’s typical U.S.-based corporation and they expect all code to be nearly free. At one time programmers made good money, often a six-figure salary. Until people are willing to pay for what they consume those days are a thing of the past.

Peter Varhol - July 31, 2016

You know, that occurred to me too. Just about every dev I know in the US makes six figures, but that isn’t likely the case in the rest of the world. So there may be a cost-benefit rationale, depending on where and how the work is being done.

Earlier in my career I worked for a US government contractor. The government was willing to pay industry rates for talent, but wouldn’t spring for capital investments. I wonder if that’s still the case.

outsourcedguru - February 11, 2017

Certainly at my own company, part of the problem is a total lack of budget mentality. I have no budget.

So yesterday, it would have been nice to have been able to have purchased an approximately $150 bit of (Pro-version) open source code in an attempt to solve a business need. But there’s a real hassle trying to get someone to wager $150 against a possible solution to a problem. They’re only interested in free attempts at solving a problem since there’s no risk involved.

It used to be: “it takes money to make money”. That was sound advice and probably still is. So where did we get this collection of people who don’t understand the basics of doing business? They’ve been wooed by the siren song of the free-ness of everything on the Internet.


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