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Why is OSS Commercial Software So Expensive? 718

Posted by Cliff
from the not-cost-competitive dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "Our startup honestly wanted to use OSS products. We do not want to spend time for any OSS bug fixing so our main requirement was -official support for all OSS products-. We thought were prepared to pay the price for OSS products, but then we got a price sticker shock. Now behold: QT is $3300 per seat. We have dropped the development and rewrote everything to C# (MSVS 2005 is ~$700). Embedded Linux from a reputable RT vendor is $25,000 per 5 seats per year. We needed only 3 seats. We had to buy 5 nevertheless. The support was bad. We will go for VxWorks or WinCE in our next product. Red Hat Linux WS is $299. An OEM version of Windows XP Pro is ~$140. A Cygwin commercial license will cost tens of thousands of dollars and is only available for large shops. We need 5 seats. Windows Unix services are free. After all, we have decided that the survival of our business is more important for us then 'do-good' ideas. Except for that embedded Linux (slated for WinCE or VxWorks substitution), we are not OSS shop anymore." Why are commercial ports of OSS software so expensive, and what would need to happen before they could be competitive in the future?
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Why is OSS Commercial Software So Expensive?

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:06PM (#16313653) Journal
    Why is OSS Commercial Software So Expensive?
    Possibly because it's not a good business model for enterprise consumers--and therefore must up its charges.

    I mean, you want to sell a product that a community developed. Which means its quality could be variable. On top of that, you want to support it. The depends on excellent documentation which isn't enforced in the open source community. There's probably a lot of dead OSS projects for every one successful OSS project. You'll notice that the software itself is very very free ... what the summary is complaining about is 'seats' (training or support).

    This particular user seems to be looking for portable technologies. The commercial versions of these technologies are still in their infancy which does not bode well for the OSS alternatives. I would suggest that you're paying the early adopter fees on a few of these things. Afterall, Google uses a stripped down version of Red Hat. My company of tens of thousands employees uses Red Hat company wide. They find the free cost to be quite lucrative--just buying support whenever it's needed.

    The OSS business model works well for the individual user who isn't looking for support because the free end product is out there for them and they use it if it works. The enterprise consumers looking for support year after year must pay quite a bit.

    The software itself is not expensive, nor is it necessarily harder to support--it's just very difficult to create this support out of nothing.

    In my opinion, you're going about OSS all wrong. You should stick with what is working and slowly move to a new OSS tool one at a time. You will encounter learning curves. But there is a lot of information online and, worse comes to worse, you can look at the source/documentation yourself.

    I imagine there's something about the product you aren't telling us about that is quite constraining ....
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:40PM (#16314145)
      I mean, you want to sell a product that a community developed. Which means its quality could be variable. On top of that, you want to support it. The depends on excellent documentation which isn't enforced in the open source community. There's probably a lot of dead OSS projects for every one successful OSS project. You'll notice that the software itself is very very free ... what the summary is complaining about is 'seats' (training or support).

      How is anything you just said unique to F/OSS? The quality of proprietary software is variable, and so is the support. The quality of documentation for proprietary software is likewise spotty. Proprietary software projects die on the vine all the time; at least F/OSS projects can be easily picked up again, if there is any interest.

      As for the article's premise, that commercially supported F/OSS software is expensive - how is that any different than proprietary software? There's a reason that Paul Allen and Larry Ellison are in a boat building competition. I really with the Slashdot editors would spend a least an iota of energy attempting to filter out the trolls; but maybe they just enjoy the flamefests.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Korin43 (881732)
        With commercial software, if you want support, you can get it directly from the company that makes the software. If you want Linux support, you get a company that takes a product made by someone else and only slightly changed by the company to give you support. It's not quite the same.
        • by Znork (31774) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @02:33AM (#16317593)
          "you can get it directly from the company that makes the software."

          Unless they're out of business. Or have discontinued the product. Or most of the development team has quit.

          The difference between opensource and proprietary software is that with proprietary software only one company is legally allowed to fix any bugs.
    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:57PM (#16314409) Homepage

      What I find surprising is that, in the few responses I've skimmed (including yours), I haven't seen anyone mention that these companies need to pay programmers. There's this tremendous myth that OSS is all written by good Samaritans in their spare time, and companies that sell it commercially simply rebrand it, box it, and ship it.

      It's like people think that Linux is free, so why can't Redhat distribute it for almost nothing? Redhat and Novel employ programmers, too. In fact, the paid programmers make a tremendous contribution to all of this FOSS we benefit from. That's right, sometimes it's the big companies' work that makes the FOSS version so good, so the commercial companies aren't getting all that work for free.

      I don't mean to insult anyone here, and I don't want to quibble about the ratio of good Samaritan contributions vs. paid contributions. Still, you can't discount that there are Redhat-employed programmers working on Redhat, and sometimes Redhat's work ends up in the free stuff.

      So what I'm saying is, businesses selling commercial OSS have the same costs as a closed shop, even though they receive some free help. And for all the free help they get, these savings are offset by the fact that people don't have to buy their software. So let's say they cut their programming costs in 50% (just a number I'm plucking out of the air), their revenue is also cut by 75% (another made up number) by people who would buy it, but decided instead to download for free.

      And this doesn't even take into account the whole dynamic of competition in commercial OSS. In short, for whatever Redhat spends in development, Novel also gets that work for free, and vice versa. Now maybe Novel doesn't want to use that work, and maybe Redhat is benefitting from Novel in just the same ways, but it sure does complicate the business model.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Skreems (598317)
        I don't really buy that argument, though... lots of people download closed source software without paying. The ones that need support, or want to support the company for whatever reason, are the ones that pay. At this point, OSS just doesn't have the user base it needs to make cheaper prices profitable, but that's not because of people who download it for free. It's because the ones who need support for it aren't very plentiful at the moment. Hopefully as it catches on more, that will change.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by nine-times (778537)

          Lots of people pay for software without specifically wanting support. First, you have consumers who don't really know how to pirate or get around activation schemes. Also, there are businesses for whom the cost of a license is cheaper than a visit from the BSA. Gosh, there are even people for whom paying for the software they use is a moral issue.

          Redhat, on the other hand, has given moral and legal permission to use their software for free. I myself have purchased copies of Windows and Photoshop, but d

        • by skiflyer (716312) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @09:29PM (#16315365)
          I don't really buy that argument, though... lots of people download closed source software without paying. The ones that need support, or want to support the company for whatever reason, are the ones that pay. At this point, OSS just doesn't have the user base it needs to make cheaper prices profitable, but that's not because of people who download it for free. It's because the ones who need support for it aren't very plentiful at the moment.

          Not the kind of stuff this guy is talking about though. Personally I think the problem is he's comparing apples to oranges... I don't have numbers, and I'm not going to go get them, but let me point out a few of the obvious flaws in the summary IMO.
          • RHE to WinXP OEM: Uh, no... Ubuntu to WinXP OEM, RHE to Win2k3 Server
          • QT to MSVS2005: Why not go GTK+ vs. C# Express, both free
          • Embedded Linux ... that's about volume, if you're embedding linux you should be saving a small fortune per appliance vs. putting WinCE on each of them, but yeah, the development aint cheap.
          • Cygwin commercial vs. Windows Unix tools, I think you're mis-understanding what each of those can do.
          Right tool for the job, sometimes it's OSS, sometimes it's not... but the above post is like me complaining about the cost of steel vs. plastic because a caterpillar bulldozer is pricier than my nephew's sand bucket.
          • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @09:54PM (#16315599) Homepage
            RHE to WinXP OEM: Uh, no... Ubuntu to WinXP OEM, RHE to Win2k3 Server

            The RHE he was using for comparison was RHE WS, which is an apt comparison.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            It's also apples and oranges. RedHat server versions are comparable to Windows 2003, plus MS Office with the built-in OpenOffice, plus SNMP services, plus a print server, plus an industrial grade mail and webmail and IMAP server, plus a backup server with the built-in Amanda system, plus an industrial grade file server, plus industrial grade firewalls and security tools, plus good CD and DVD ripping sftware, and you don't have to buy additional client licenses if you have more than 25 clients. Moreover, alm
      • by d.3.l.t.r.3.3 (892347) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @03:09AM (#16317735) Homepage

        To my experience with commercial OSS solutions, commercial OSS with a project taken from the community is practically illicit competition. A company can live up with 2 or 3 integrators and sell software made by 10-20 people, manpower-wise. Sure they still have to pay for those 2 or 3 programmers, but it is way less than hiring, sustaining and training a whole staff.

        That's why I call it a scam. Starting up a project to be commercial OSS it's a nightmare: you get almost no support by the community till you have something working, especially if you aren't endorsed by one of the well-known OSS VIP who seems to be the only one that can say "I opened a new OSS project to improve my salary and climb the industry ladder" and get people working without salary for them. You are stuck with the same expenses and problems of closed source management, with the added value that a competitor can start integrate your solution once it works and make it better with 10-20% the money you invested in the project, assuming you are able to make it even with all the expenses to win the inertia of starting a business. Sure, given the time patches will start to come in (especially from early adopters, not necessarily by the extended community) but it too much risky to make it commercial open source from the start if you plan to start from scratch. Most of the successful OSS commercial solutions started up from hobby project or are simply integrations of other people work, they are not fair when they define themselves successful commercial enterprises, since they didn't deal with the startup costs and started with something of value by itself.

        In addition, for enterprise grade software, OSS makes no difference over proprietary solutions. I now work on a small corporation based on 7 different nations and everywhere, while the platforms used vary from full OSS (my preference) to totally Closed Source, the customer gets always the sources on software developed with full control over it. The added value of OSS for them is on the infrastructure (no money spent on anything is not strictly the software), not on the project itself. Wonder why corporations are moving to SOA? That's the reason, no more clients getting the source code to turn on the less paying maintainer, since they are getting only the services.

        Aside several enterprise projects, most of the OSS software reside in the realm of user-oriented utilities. Here, aside for being free, there's still too small interest on the source for the end users. I usually say to our managers that aside to fork a project to add a sterling point on your CV, nobody cares about sources on OSS software for personal use, since the selling points of these applications are cost (the less the better) and functionalities (the more the better). Sure OSS ensures these small projects will be alive even if original devs abandon it, but here more than anywhere its almost impossible to make money: if you want to get paid a bozo can start forking a free version again. If you get commercial someone can still relieve your software and make it better with less hassle, outselling you. There are a lot of commercial implementations of OSS software that are so much polished and user-captivating that outshadow community driven ones, most of them are on dog eat dog mode, continously cannibalizing other competitors in functionalities and sparky features (take a look at the jabber clients). So, if you are the one developing the software AND you are also in need to improve it to remain competitive, you are pretty much rising your internal costs and are more likely to be outsold by competitors that only integrates waiting on the road for code to come. Improvements have less impact than new features, but they are still costly. Planning new versions of your software while improving your current one to remain commercially competitive, if you aren't backed by a license that allows you to ask money from competition, pretty much kills you, otherwise your project will start to stagnate on itself (like many OSS do, to

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GIL_Dude (850471)
      Good points. I'd also point out that the summary doesn't include the cost of the Windows support contract. Not that I think it would outweigh what is listed for the OSS things, but it would be fair to have that too since you don't really get any support from MS for Windows unless you pay for support. The $140 listed doesn't include it.
      • by djcinsb (169909) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @08:05PM (#16314519) Homepage
        The $140 (for XP Pro) is the cost of the OS without other software. Red Hat comes with a compiler suite and a lot of other useful items, so the direct comparison of the costs of the packages is not really a valid measure.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by killjoe (766577)
          The price for redhat includes support the price for XP does not. Not only that but it also comes with databasess (plural), directory services, compilers, office suite, and thousands of other pieces of software.

          The author is cherry picking and presenting half truths in order to try to make a point. It's a weasily thing really.

          Anyway so QT costs a lot of money, why not use wxwindows, FOX, FLTK, or a dozen other perfectly fine open source toolkits.

          So "one company" charges you a lot of money for real time linux
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mysticgoat (582871) *

          Agreed; to be comparable, one would have to add to the price of Windows the prices of a variety of goodies that come bundled with Linux. And if one intended to stay in business, one would also have to add in the prices of antivirus, antispyware, firewall, and other necessities that Windows needs to be operational.

          But also the TFA is doing a lot of mixing of apples and oranges. Charges per seat for FOSS imply yearly support contracts, which makes sense, since by definition the license to the software itsel

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @09:09PM (#16315151) Journal
      The depends on excellent documentation which isn't enforced in the open source community.

      That depends on the project. In OpenBSD, for example, you are not allowed to commit any code without also committing a corresponding update to the documentation (and your code must be commented according to the OpenBSD KNF guidelines; see man style for more information). Other projects have less strict commit rules.

    • by MouseR (3264) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:28AM (#16316933) Homepage
      Why are commercial ports of OSS software so expensive [...] ?

      well, it's takes a lot of beer to get customers to buy free stuff.
  • by Southpaw018 (793465) * on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:06PM (#16313657) Journal
    Let's draw an extremely fine line here: commercial parts/versions of OSS products, and products built on OSS.

    Commercial versions of OSS products aren't worth it, anywhere, almost ever. Just look at the prices above. In almost every case, go with the closed soruce version, and you'll save yourself a hell of a lot of money.

    Now, look at two highly successful products built on open source: Fonality PBX (Asterisk) and Barracuda Spam firewall (Spamassassin). We use 'em both. I'm our entire IT department - just me. I already have too much on my plate, and when we were in the market for a new antispam solution, the natural pick was a Linux-Exim-Spamassassin/RBL frontend to our Exchange 2003 server. Powerful, effective, free (aside from hardware).
    Problem: I'm already working tons of overtime - do we pay a contractor $120/hour to come in and try to set a system up, then rely on me to support it when I already don't have time? Or, do we pay a company like Barracuda Networks $1300 for their itty bitty model of the spam firewall and get a system that's guaranteed, backed up by all the time they've spent developing their hardware and frontends, 24/7 support, automatic updates, and license-free monitoring and filtering? I don't have the numbers with me, but the cost in staff + contractor time + hardware vs. the Barracuda system (which is overkill for our little network) was something like 3:1.
  • Some Theories... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pen (7191) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:06PM (#16313659)

    Three reasons come to mind:

    • Quality and reliability: These products may cost you less in the long run. I couldn't begin to say how many hours I've wasted tracking down stupid issues in every Microsoft environment I've ever used, from Visual Basic 3 to today's Visual Studio.NET
    • Support: I would guess that most of these licenses come with some kind of support contract.
    • Relative obscurity: If you have hundreds of thousands of customers, you can afford to spread the load between them. When you only have a few thousands, you need more money per customer to support the same level of development.

    Of course, these are all hypothetical and general. YMMV.

    • Re:Some Theories... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dedazo (737510) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:24PM (#16313907) Journal
      If you have hundreds of thousands of customers, you can afford to spread the load between them. When you only have a few thousands, you need more money per customer to support the same level of development.

      Which would mean that all software begins life as insanely expensive and then comes down in price? My experience sez that's not the case.

      Quality and reliability

      Yeah, I've never had to track down stupid issues in open source software. Never!

      Support

      Since the common wisdom seems to be that Microsoft charges a lot of money for nothing and it's super-easy to replace "propietary" software with FLOSS equivalents (MySQL vs. Oracle, GiMP vs. Photoshop, etc) I'd say that's about the only thing you could conceivably be charging for, other than packaging and/or integration. So I suppose the issue here is really "why are support contracts so expensive?" rather than "why is the software so expensive?".

      Either way, my (relatively limited) experience with FLOSS vendors is that they tend to be a bit arrogant in the sense that they'll tell you that whatever you're using right now is "shit" and they have the solution to all of mankind's problems (including yours), and then they have absolutely no idea how to create things like tiered pricings and segment/volume discounts for different types of customers. That's something commercial software vendors do very well. The commercial ones will also tell you that they'll get you off the "shit", but then they can walk the walk. FLOSS vendors seem to be all talk.

      In our case we ended up going without a support contract (insanely expensive) and hired a guy that was an expert with the software. He did all the customization work we needed for about a year and he made a good $50K with virtually guaranteed future contract work. The "vendor" (if one can call them that) ended up losing out to the hacker kid in mom's basement - literally.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Support?!

        I submitted 3 Apache bugs (39940, 40146, and 40301) and they haven't even been assigned to anyone or commented on by anyone, never mind fixed!

  • Profit! (Score:3, Informative)

    by riversky (732353) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:13PM (#16313753)
    Hire people to make the software (even open source) = Wages to pay

    Hire people to make the software but not pay them = slavery

    Charge more for the product than the wages you pay = PROFIT

    Ok that was way too simple but the bottom line is no one ever said OSS was non-profit or even small profit. In fact by driving down costs these providers can get richer than with proprietary software. The model is buy low and sell high. Economics 101
  • Support (Score:5, Informative)

    by radish (98371) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:14PM (#16313775) Homepage
    But you say you want support, that's why you're paying. Hate to break it to you, but an OEM license of XP doesn't buy you any useful support. Neither does a $700 VS license. Microsoft, like everyone else, charges for support contracts.
    • Actually, ya it does (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:42PM (#16314181)
      What a Windows license buys you in terms of support is two major things:

      1) Patches. MS releases patches for Windows and everything associated with it, and tests those patches to make sure they work. If an incompatibility is found (it's rare one survives the initial testing) it gets fixed. Now of course there is OSS that does that, but there's no guarantee. With MS it's not really a question of if the software will be patched during it's supported life. Same deal with supported OSS software like RHEL. Sure, Fedora also does patches, but they aren't tested like the RHEL ones are, and if the developers of the component don't release a patch, they aren't likely to patch it for them.

      2) The knowledge base. MS has a massive knowledge base that is really very good. I use it all the time at work. When a Windows system bluescreens do I start a debugger? Hell no, I'm not a programmer. I write down the details and look it up in the knowledge base. The answers tend to be just want I needed. If some weird problems comes up, again I go looking in the knowledge base. It is a central, easy to search, repository of solutions tested by MS themselves. You don't get that with a no-charge OSS product. Sure there are news group posts, and IRC logs and such out there but man, tracking down the answer can be hell, if anyone has found an answer at all.

      3) Vendor support. When a vendor sells you a system with Windows, they are guaranteeing hardware support (at least if they aren't shady). When Gateway sells me a rackmount server with Windows installed, I know that it will be working, and I know that it will have drivers for all it's hardware. However when I try and install FC4 on it, maybe it doesn't work. In fact what does happen is it kernel panics on install (we still have never figured out why). Should it not work, I can call them and get it fixed, if it's a Windows problem they'll call MS and get it fixed. You can get the same thing with Linux, but only buying a system with a supported Linux distro on it, which is usually an enterprise Linux.

      Those are not at all worthless support resources. Support doesn't necessarily mean holding your hand through configuration, it just means ensuring that all the resources you need are available. You get that with commercial solutions, be they OSS based or not. It's not the same as a support contract, but often is what people need.
      • The same with OSS (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Travoltus (110240)
        You can get plenty of OSS products for free, and then go to similar knowledge bases online for free support.

        Patches? Far faster than MicroSoft.

        ESPECIALLY RedHat.

        I am quite intimately aware of this particular fact.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by misleb (129952)

        1) Patches. MS releases patches for Windows and everything associated with it, and tests those patches to make sure they work. If an incompatibility is found (it's rare one survives the initial testing) it gets fixed. Now of course there is OSS that does that, but there's no guarantee. With MS it's not really a question of if the software will be patched during it's supported life. Same deal with supported OSS software like RHEL. Sure, Fedora also does patches, but they aren't tested like the RHEL ones are,

      • For those who have the $ for it, my experience is that an MSDN subscription will pay for itself in all sorts of ways.

        Part of the MSDN support contract is unlimited newsgroup support in addition to formal support incidents. Meaning, that you can post to USENET, and Microsoft guarantees that someone will answer your question in (I think) 24 hours. Microsoft hires engineers and other folks to patrol for questions from MSDN subscribers, and the answers that they tend to give you are exceptional. I've received

      • by killmenow (184444) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:04AM (#16317139)
        MS releases patches for Windows and everything associated with it, and tests those patches to make sure they work.
        For varying definitions of the word "work".

        I'm not joking and I'm not sure what you're smoking. Rarely, if ever, are production boxes patched with Microsoft patches without some due diligence. Best practices dictate patching test boxes first to see what the patches break before patching production boxes...because -- consistently -- Microsoft patches break existing software. I cannot stress this enough: Microsoft patches break shit all the time. Right now, I'm dealing with a situation where the latest 2003 service pack wreaks havoc on Terminal Services and causes some of the wierdest crap I've ever seen happen on a system (completely hosing opening shortcuts to URLs in IE [their own software, I might add])...and Microsoft's answer? "Uninstall that last service pack." Yeah, they test their patches to make sure they work, as in, they fix the bug they were patching. But they do a shit job of testing what the patches break.
        • Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sycraft-fu (314770)
          Then maybe you should be removed form Windows support and reassigned or let go. Sorry but if you have these problems "all the time" then you are doing something wrong. Where I work we've got about 500 windows computers, give or take. Those run on a rather eclectic mix of hardware, some as old as P2s, some as new as Core 2 Duos. Servers, workstations, you name it. We run a pretty eclectic mix of software too. Off the top of my head some examples would be Matlab, HFSS, Photoshop, Office, Vegas, Visual Studio,
  • by SarekOfVulcan (133772) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:15PM (#16313787)
    How much support do you get from Red Hat [redhat.com] for your $299?

    How much from Microsoft [microsoft.com] for your $140?
  • by ahg (134088) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:15PM (#16313789)
    Red Hat Linux WS is $299. An OEM version of Windows XP Pro is ~$140.

    And the OEM version of Windows XP Pro is supported by whom?

    I don't know what support Red Hat provides with the $299 version but I know supposrt is primarily what you're paying for or everyone would be using Fedora Core.. Please compare apples to apples - last I heard OEM versions including zero vendor support.
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:16PM (#16313803) Journal
    The expensive items are because you want "commercial" versions - e.g. you want to create a closed product. (e.g. you cite how expensive it is to use Cygwin and Qt - commercially).

    You might want to consider your business model - can your product be FOSS too, and then YOU charge the big bucks for support, etc.?

  • by Foofoobar (318279) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:17PM (#16313819)
    We run Jboss, Tomcat, Apache, MySQL, Asterisk, etc. Do we pay for support? Hell no. We have a knowledgable and competent staff. You only need to pay for support and commercial products if you DON"T have a knowledgable and competent staff. You are basically paying someone else to be that staff. That's why you are paying the high price. That and the re-assurance that someone is responsible for the product you are paying for so that you have someone to bitch and whine to when it breaks. With an unsupported open source product, you are the only person responsible for maintaining everything. These are the reasons why you pay the high price. But you always have the option NOT to pay and just support it yourself. Plus you are comparing HIGH END support contracts and their are low end support contracts that are a LOT less. It all depends on what you want.
    • by paitre (32242) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:26PM (#16313933) Journal
      In a past life working at a (still profitable) dot-com we didn't pay for support either.
      Tomcat, RedHat, Apache, etc.

      However, there's a BIG difference between a webhosting-type services company that MIGHT promise 2 9's and a transaction processing company who promises 4 9's and where downtime costs/losses are measured in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per hour.
      Any business where reliable systems are a critical component are going to be willing to pay for that reliability, be it in HA hardware solutions, HA software solutions, or more likely, a combination of the two.

      Sometimes, you really don't have a choice - you need high end support because you need someone to blame when the shit hits the fan. You need someone who will dedicate development time to alter their product to meet your specific needs. Out of the box w/basic configuration? Sure, pay the least you can. Throw in semi-exotic hardware and the need to meet high-end reliability targets, and support costs are literally the least of your concerns.

      It's not what you want. It's what you need to properly cover your ass and support the business.
    • Software systems are more complex than the components that they just run upon that it is usually cheaper to buy support than to staff up for every potential issue you may run across.

      You obviously haven't worked for large environments that support 10s of thousands of internal customers before it even reaches the millions or billions of external customers. There is no way you could staff yet alone augment your knowledge base by hirring a bunch of know it alls. You need process, you need documentation, you ne
  • Why pay anything (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iambarry (134796) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:17PM (#16313821) Homepage
    Seems to me like you are searching out the most expensive commercial OSS on the planet, then asking why wouldn't you just buy the MS product instead.

    Why would you want the $10,000 version of Cygwin when you can download and use it for free? Likewise, there are plenty of reputable free Linux distributions out there, many suitable for use in embedded systems.

    If you want a commercial Linux, why not look at Redhat? Its comparable in price to Windows. There are plenty of embedded applications.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Wavicle (181176)
      Why would you want the $10,000 version of Cygwin when you can download and use it for free?

      Because they don't want to release their software as GPL, and the free version of cygwin requires it.

      If you want a commercial Linux, why not look at Redhat?

      Because they want a real-time embeddable OS and that's not what RH is selling.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CodeBuster (516420)
        Because they don't want to release their software as GPL, and the free version of cygwin requires it.

        Then they cannot use the GPL for the free version either, otherwise you could could just download the free version and use it commercially anyway and that would be perfectly legal under the GPL. This is why SleepyCat uses their own OSI and FSF approved license for BerkeleyDB, so that they can legally distinguish between the free version and the pay version while still maintainting control over end use an
  • by RLiegh (247921) * on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:18PM (#16313827) Homepage Journal
    Someone's gotta pay the bill for all those torrents. Speaking of which, my fedora dl is almost done. Thanks, d00d!
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:30PM (#16314015)
    Pretty clearly. That bit's available for free.

    You're paying for official support and services. Presumably 24/7 telephone, onsite if necessary. You're paying for people and their expertise not software.

    However, there is a good point. Support is expensive, there's a market out there for lower cost support services.

     
  • Broken Logic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrsbrisby (60242) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:35PM (#16314097) Homepage
    Why are commercial ports of OSS software so expensive,
    That assumes they are, which they arent. As you say, Red Hat Linux WS is $299. An OEM version of Windows XP Pro is ~$140. The problem is that support for Windows is $35 per call, per email, or per online chat. Of course, this only includes end-user support. Developer support is 250$ per call.

    You can compare QT to GDI+ all you like, but GDI+ works on one platform, and QT works on many. Expect to pay more for an increased feature set. Law of the land, open versus closed never has and likely never will have any effect on that.

    and what would need to happen before they could be competitive in the future?
    They already are. You can tell because Microsoft shills like yourself are pretending to have questions about them not being competitive on slashdot.
  • Apples to oranges (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:40PM (#16314161) Homepage

    You say you want official support. Then you proceed to compare an officially-supported copy of RedHat Enterprise Linux to an OEM copy of Windows XP. Well, I hate to break it to you, but that OEM copy of XP comes with no support. If you read the agreement, it says you as the system builder are responsible for supporting that copy once installed. You don't even get the installation support that comes with the $300 retail XP box. All you get is Windows Update, and the opportunity to hear the Microsoft rep tell you to call the company you bought your computer from. The same with Visual Studio. The commercial software isn't cheaper as far as support goes, they just aren't quoting you the real price until after you're committed.

  • by Noryungi (70322) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:50PM (#16314293) Homepage Journal
    To wit:

    We do not want to spend time for any OSS bug fixing so our main requirement was -official support for all OSS products-


    Simple solutions:
    1. Make sure your programmers know OSS (Linux or otherwise) inside and out.
    2. Do not buy that support, since your programmers already know how to support themselves, fix bugs and/or know enough to select stable versions of OSS tools, instead of relying on the latest-and-greatest (and buggy) tools from a vendor.


    The same thing happened to me in my last job, a mixed Sun/Linux shop: people complaining about the price of Linux. Why? Because (a) only SuSE Linux was approved for a certain tool, and that tool was considered as critical by the company and (b) because company's policies and bean counters demanded official support from a reputable vendor for everything that was bought. The result? Thousands of Euros spent on buying expensive, gold-plated, 24/7 support contracts. That were almost never used, since both the programming and sysadmin teams had plenty of experience using Linux servers.

    Which makes perfect sense really: Sun support is sometimes cheaper than some Linux vendors, because Sun understands that software support also means hardware lock-in. Microsoft can be cheaper than Linux because, let's face it, all the OEM Windows installed on brand-new computers subsidize the dev tools (C# and Visual what-have-you) while support is essential to the survival of many Linux distributions. Heck, giving the software away for free and selling support contracts is the entire business plan of many Linux distributors! Also, Microsoft understands that, if you, as a developer, buy Visual Thingamajig 2006, you are locked into their platforms, and so are your clients. And that means more money, in the long run, for Microsoft. Why do you think they have recently started to offer programming tools for free? Not out of the goodness of their hearts, that's for sure.

    So, Linux, cheaper? Only if you solid in-house experience. I have also seen companies replacing hundreds of Sun and Windows 2000 R&D workstations by Linux/AMD machines. Why? The official reason was: "Linux is cheaper and good enough to provide the 90% functionalities we need, AMD is cheaper AND more powerful than SPARC CPUs, and everyone here likes (and knows) UNIX systems better anyway"... And that was the VP of R&D speaking.

    So, back to the point above: Linux is cheaper... as long as you have enough experience in-house not to need expensive support contracts.
  • Apples vs Oranges (Score:5, Informative)

    by swillden (191260) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:52PM (#16314337) Homepage Journal

    I think a big part of the problem is that you're comparing different things and wondering why they have different prices.

    Qt vs C#: Sure, C# is cheaper, but the price you quoted for Qt is for triple-platform licenses, and C# doesn't get you that much cross-platform support. Yes, Mono gives you support for other platforms, but it differs in many respects from the Windows version, whereas Qt is very consistent across all of them. Documentation and support for Qt is vastly better than the comparable C# support for non-Windows environments, (and somewhat better than for Windows as well).

    Red Hat vs XP: Red Hat contains far more functionality than XP. Depending on exactly what you're doing, you very likely have to buy additional software for XP. Also, how much support does that $140 XP license get you? Assistance with installation, and that's about it. Red Hat provides a lot more, and it costs a lot more. If you don't think you'll need the extra support, then don't buy it, and Red Hat will be a lot cheaper than XP.

    RT Linux vs WinCE/VxWorks: I can't argue here, not at the prices you quoted, and since you said you got lousy support from the Linux vendor (who was it, BTW?). Perhaps you just needed a different vendor? How about Wind River (makers of VxWorks, for those who don't know).

    Cygwin vs Windows Services for Unix: Depending on what you need, SFU may be fine. As long as you're just using the stuff provided by Microsoft, SFU is pretty good. If you want to be able to download any random Linux/Unix package off the net and have good odds that it will build and run, though, forget it, SFU is completely inadequate while Cygwin will do a good job. Note also that SFU comes with no support, unlike that commercial Cygwin.

    In nearly all cases, I think the core issue is that the prices quoted for OSS support (a) buy you better support than what you'll get in the closed-source case, (b) give you more in functionality, flexibility, or both and (c) are really intended for bigger companies who are less strapped for cash and who have a bigger need of the security blanket the support contracts provide.

    Your company would probably have been better off skipping the support contracts, using the software for no cost, and putting the cash aside to pay an independent consultant or two in case you get in a jam. You can get extremely high-quality support for most OSS for small consulting fees, just by hopping onto the project mailing list, identifying a handful of heavy contributors who know the area you're concerned with, and then privately offering them money for their time.

    Of course, if your management is too uptight to take that approach, and too tight to buy the OSS support, you should go with the closed-source offerings -- and then keep your fingers crossed that you don't have to rely on Microsoft's support. Wind River's support is good, in my experience, but the rest of the stuff you mentioned is from Microsoft.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cylix (55374)
      Regarding the RedHat support...

      Just to site an example (one I've said many times before).

      A friend of mine was in a similar boat. Needed support contracts across the board for major software and licenses across the board for everything else. (ie, Winzip, office, etc).

      Anyhow, so he picks up RedHat support and day one actually needs it.

      Fairly quickly, the issue is resolved and they e-mail him a new binary and source for lilo to get his system to boot. (Newer chipset at the time). Later, the patch would be adde
    • by RelliK (4466) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @09:27PM (#16315335)
      I would go further and say that this article is a troll submitted (*cough* *cough*) anonymous coward and posted, no doubt, to inflate page hits.

      The article starts out with a ridiculous premise that you need a "license" to use open source products. Wrong. The only time you need a license is if you want to *distribute* them. So yes, if you are using QT in a proprietary product, you need to pay Trolltech for proprietary license, but you do not need to pay anyone to run Cygwin on your machine!

      The second ridiculous premise is equating support contracts for open source products to OEM costs of proprietary software. Uhhm hello? The only thing you get with OEM proprietary software is installation support, and not a good one at that. For anything else, you have to pay per incident and expect to get this [bizwarcho.com] response.

      Of all the products the AC listed, the only one you have to pay for is QT. Is it worth $3300 when you can get VS.net for $700? Well, QT is an excellent widget library that runs on Windows, OSX, and all flavours of Unix. How many platforms does C# run on? That's right, *one* (no, mono is not a viable alternative). How much money will this save you in the long run? Besides, there are alternatives to QT (GTK, Swing, etc.) so you can use something else if you don't want to pay.

      So in summary, AC is comparing apples and oranges. Notice that he/she doesn't even ask for advice but simply states "we are not OSS shop anymore" as a matter of fact. What was the point of the article then? A rant by some AC who doesn't know what he is doing? Or a planted article by Microsoft shill? Hmmm....
  • by SSpade (549608) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:58PM (#16314417) Homepage
    Qt comes in a range of versions. They're mostly freely available for open source products. For closed source products, the most sophisticated single-platform version, incuding a years worth of support, is $1100 / seat for small business and startups for up to 3 seats. The original poster wanted 3 seats.

    The only reason he'd have to pay $3300 / seat would be if he had more than $200,000 cash on hand. Not as available credit, but cash in the bank. Or if he was already bringing in more than $200,000 a year in revenue.

    I don't have much sympathy for well-funded startups that decide to choose bad technology rather than good technology because it's a grand or two cheaper. I expect this one will burn through its VC and crash and burn fairly quickly.
  • by Skapare (16644) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @08:02PM (#16314467) Homepage
    We do not want to spend time for any OSS bug fixing so our main requirement was -official support for all OSS products-.

    It seems this business decision was actually wrong for you. It might not be for many others, but it seems it was for you. Businesses that are in the business of doing something other than computer related work (for example, a law firm), such a decision to outsource all the support would usually be a good one. But in your case, I think that is not so. The behaviour of the core system is actually a critical element of your business model, and by outsourcing that, you will be paying premium.

    Why not call a meeting together with both technical staff and business staff, and raise the issue of what you (your business) would have to charge if you (your business) were to offer support to other companies for the very thing you wanted to outsource. See if you can come up with a price. If that price is similar to what you've found in the market, then apparently you already understand why the price is that high. But if the pricing you come up with is significantly lower, then you have identified a new business model to expand into.

  • by Ephemeriis (315124) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @08:18PM (#16314671)
    You toss out a lot of prices in your post, but you don't really indicate what the price is for.

    One example you use is a comparison of RedHat Workstation for $299 versus Windows XP Professional for $140. That RedHat Workstation you're buying comes with a fairly nice support contract... According to the website [redhat.com] you get unlimited incidents and a 4 hour response time. That Windows price is just the license to use their software, no implied support contract at all...and Microsoft charges $245 per incident if you don't have a support contract...

    A more accurate comparison of prices might be Fedora Core for $0 (just the license to use the software, no implied support contract) versus $140 for Windows XP Professional. Or Redhat Workstation for $299 (with unlimited support) versus $8,299 [microsoft.com] for "up to 10 hours of proactive support assistance" from Microsoft.

    Software is cheap, support is expensive - and with OSS products you are generally buying support, since the software is usually available for free.

  • by tobe (62758) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @08:23PM (#16314717)
    After all this time there's still no OSS debugger that actually works even a tenth as well as the *other* one..

    Really.. all the guys who cashed out and have a couple of years gentle work to spare on making a real debugger to go with a real kdevelop or (better still) anjuta for penguins can still make another million each out of that.. it's such a golden apple of a project still after all these years..

    --
    t o b e .no sig
  • by alandd (243817) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @08:23PM (#16314723)
    "Our startup honestly wanted to use OSS products. We do not want to spend time for any OSS bug fixing so our main requirement was -official support for all OSS products-."

    Great. Good Idea.

    "MSVS 2005 is ~$700... VxWorks or WinCE in our next product... An OEM version of Windows XP Pro is ~$140... Windows Unix services are free."

    None of the above chosen solutions, at the prices cited, include "official support" None of them. I am an embedded developer and the one solution for which you don't cite a price, VxWorks or WinCE, will cost many thousands of dollars, per seat, if you want full, "official support."

    From this I conclude that you were requiring full "official support" for OSS solutions but do not require "official support" for closed source solutions. Why are you surprised at the significant price difference in that case?
  • VxWorks??? (Score:3, Informative)

    by AaronW (33736) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @09:05PM (#16315117) Homepage
    Having dealt with both VxWorks and a commercial embedded Linux I would recommend against VxWorks. My experience with their support is it's almost non-existant and it's missing a ton of functionality and has had a lot of bugs.

    For our new project we are using buildroot, which is free. It will automatically download all the various tools and libraries, build the cross compiler and everything else.

    If you need help setting this up, I suggest contacting one of the many consultants available to get you up and running. Once you're up and running, just go with a consultant when you're stuck. Our experience with a commercial embedded Linux vendor has been pretty bad with respect to support and I've heard similar complaints about other vendors as well.
  • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @10:01PM (#16315655)
    The reason for the price point of commercial open source software packages is basic microeconomics, and has nothing to do with the better/worse quality of the software.

    The supported product has a close substitute, in the form of an absolutely free (and Free/Open Source) but unsupported product. So the lower end user base, on the bottom portion of the demand curve, will generally opt for the free alternative. Hobbyist developers and shops building internal-use applications only, for example, will use the GPL version of Qt. Many of these users might have been buyers at 500 dollars if there were no free alternative, but with an essentially identical free alternative, the support, on the margin, isn't worth 500 dollars to them.

    Thus if you price at 500 dollars you get a smaller portion of the market. To make things worse, adverse selection effects are likely, just like with individual health care plans - the people who pay for the supported product are actually paying because they want to USE the support! With many or most commercial software products, people buy the product but only use the support very occasionally or never. As a result, the cost of support *per copy sold* is much lower and margins are generally going to be higher for the commercial (non-OSS) software company.

    I think this is why Red Hat ultimately dropped their lower priced products - they realized they shouldn't be trying to compete with their free products, and that too many sales of their "Enterprise" products were getting cannibalized by lower end paid, supported products. Even though they lost a large number of paying customers in this move, the people who actually need support are much more price-inelastic and are willing to pay the higher price for Enterprise support if the only other option is no support.
  • by twitter (104583) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @11:00PM (#16316215) Homepage Journal

    We do not want to spend time for any OSS bug fixing so our main requirement was -official support

    Is that cheaper closed source stuff is bug free or "supported"? I don't think so. The biggest benefit of free software is not having to worry about such costs. If you want to distribute non free software, you are back in the non free world and I'm not sure that's a viable place to be in any case. We can look at each of your issues, but it's impossible to go to far because we don't really know what your business model is or what you want to do other than have bug free software.

    QT, $3,000 per seat vrs M$VC at $700. How many M$VC's can you get at no cost for free software distribution? Is the difference in price worth the platform you will have to force on your customers? No version of Windows has ever worked as well as any Linux distribution I've used.

    Embedded Linux from a reputable RT vendor is $25,000 per 5 seats per year. We needed only 3 seats. We had to buy 5 nevertheless. The support was bad. We will go for VxWorks or WinCE in our next product. Once again, why don't you just write free software and what do think your users will think of WinCE?

    Red Hat Linux WS is $299. An OEM version of Windows XP Pro is ~$140. But Debian costs nothing and I never run into bugs. Fedora and a host of others are also available at no cost, why would you ever pay $140 for a Windoze seat?

    A Cygwin commercial license will cost tens of thousands of dollars and is only available for large shops. We need 5 seats. Windows Unix services are free. Ugh, why not just sell your customer a box that is *nix, like GE and other big equipment makers are doing? Once again, consider your user's experience and the cost of "supporting" all of their calls back to you when M$ does something else nasty to Unix Services.

    The cheapest place to be is free. You are going to have "bugs" wherever you go but there are fewer in the free world and you might be able to fix them.

  • by guruevi (827432) <evi@NOSpam.smokingcube.be> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @11:48PM (#16316633) Homepage
    Your comparing two entirely different products with each other:

    Retail Windows XP Pro to a full-blown Workstation/Server Suite with e-mail and phone support. Try calling Microsoft with your Windows issue. You pay $55 for the initial call, they'll try to upsell you a support plan of course and then say that the issue is something to do with 3rd party software. You could compare SBS to RHWS please, pricing starts somewhere close to $1000 for 5 clients.

    Next up QT compared to C#. Here you are comparing a multi-platform GUI-toolkit to a general programming framework. Compare GCC to C# or that IBM software for programming to Visual Studio. Also take in comparison the portability you get.

    Cygwin to Unix services? Come on, you gotta be kidding me. They have nothing to do with each other.

    I think you have poor product planning in your company and maybe someone with a MCP in your ordering department. Next to that, if you would open-source your software and share it, all those suites wouldn't cost you a dime. If you are a small company, your programmers should be capable enough of maintaining their own environment without support (it's been years since I called Microsoft, Apple, IBM's or RedHat's support line and we do have contracts with them) and if you're a bit bigger you might consider hiring a dedicated support guy. I have dealt with Dell and other companies before and before they handle your case and management gives permission for the guy to mess with the workstations/servers you will be 3 days out of production except if you give them half your paycheck.

    This article looks more like a shameless plug for Microsoft FUD and a smart move by their marketing department towards their latest get-thee-f*cked campaign

  • by crucini (98210) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @02:04AM (#16317433)
    You haven't told us much about your startup. Are you tiny and poor? Do you have any employees?

    If you're tiny and poor, eating ramen and paying no salaries for now, then you don't need professional support for anything. You're better off saving that money and learning the skills needed to do it yourself.

    If you have at least one programmer on salary, the cost of tools, licenses, etc. is tiny compared to payroll. Are you seriously making a decision that affects your chance of success based on a few percent of your annual budget?

    Now behold: QT is $3300 per seat.

    Are you saying that you wrote the app to QT before checking the price? Seems to be implied by this "rewrote":
    We have dropped the development and rewrote everything to C# (MSVS 2005 is ~$700).

    (3300-700) * 5 = $13k. You completely ported your app to save $13k? This certainly tilts the balance towards "tiny and poor" and away from buying pricy "support". But how do you justify the choice of C#? Surely your 'behold' moment with QT taught you some caution?

    There are many factors in choosing a GUI toolkit. Price per development seat is a fairly minor one. The first question is, on what platforms must the GUI run? You haven't told us. You mentioned embedded Linux - is the GUI going to be part of the embedded product? Or running on PC's talking to the embedded product?
    If it's the former, do you realize that C#/Linux is a fairly risky path? Who will support you there? And how will you later hop to VxWorks, if needed?
    If it's the latter, have you asked an experienced Windows programmer about the tradeoffs between .NET and Win32 for client GUIs?

    I think a startup needs experienced team members to succeed. There is not much time for learning new skills, and not much money for buying support. When you talk about randomly hopping from embedded Linux to VxWorks to WinCE, I do not get the sense of a seasoned embedded developer. Each of these OS's brings its own set of tradeoffs, its own nightmarish traps, and its own steep learning curve. I'm far from an embedded expert, but I've looked over the shoulders of experts enough to make that observation.

    I think you need to work as a professional programmer for about 10 more years before you're ready for a startup.
  • by Builder (103701) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @04:41AM (#16318071)
    A lot of people here are commenting that with XP you don't get support, whereas with RHEL Workstation you do. This is true, to an extent.

    The real difference though is that Red Hat really do cost A LOT more for support, and you are FORCED to pay for that support year after year just to get bugfixes and security patches to the software you are using.

    With XP, you pay per incident for support, and that can add up quite quickly with just a few support calls. But at least you are eligible for every single patch for the lifetime of the product.

    With Red Hat, you pay for support for your first year and you get patches. But if you don't cough up in the second year, not only can't you phone in for support anymore (for all the good that's ever done me tbh), but more importantly you can't get patches any more. So the product you choose can lock you into annual fees to a vendor and if you don't pay them, your system is exposed. Not nice at all!

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