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How OSS Models Put Vendor Support on Solid Ground 45

Jane Walker writes "How can vendors offer free enterprise software and be financially strong enough to provide commercial support? It's all about hybrids, says expert Julie Hanna Farris. Find out how to determine if a commercial open source vendor has the chops to support products in the long term."
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How OSS Models Put Vendor Support on Solid Ground

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  • It works (Score:3, Insightful)

    by poeidon1 ( 767457 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @06:52AM (#14865453) Homepage
    if the product is good i.e. it does what it is supposed to do and the services are prompt and reliable. Product costs only once, service charges last till the the death of the product.
    • Not quite... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DogDude ( 805747 )
      Not really.... if the software is good, then little to no service is needed. The "service" model is bogus. It already assumes that broken or difficult to implement software is being sold, and that you're goping to have to pony up to fix it/figure out how to use it later. That doesn't instill very myuch confidence in me. I try to buy software that requires as little support as possible.
      • Re:Not quite... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Daytona955i ( 448665 ) <flynnguy24@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @08:19AM (#14865665)
        Or your IT group is composed of a bunch of half-wits who can barely tell the difference between an ethernet jack and a phone jack. I hate to say it but it happens. I work for a small company who goes and installs a custom software package that is built on top of an Oracle Database. Now some of our clients will have the database all setup and everything ready to go. Other clients we go, install Oracle, install our software and then spend a lot of time teaching them simple things like how to backup the database. Also some of our clients we can just e-mail them a SQL script for an update and they run it and life is good.... others, we have to go there and install it for them.

        So while a support contract may not be for you, there are a lot of companies out there who need one.
        • In a company I worked for, phone and network uses RJ45 cables.
          It was a pain in the ass to determine if you have to plug your network cable in the socket with label D123-S2, D123-S3, or D123-S4 (for your company laptop). The only way to know for sure that was to go in the basement to check if the cable was physically plug into a switch or a pbx ( or often nowhere )
          • I am the draconian net admin asshole for a lab at my company.
            All ports are labelled in my lab, isolated, production, phone. Color coded too (isolated is a yellow label). When I leave my lab and need connectivity (and can't get the campus WiFi) I sometimes have to take the approach:
            1) jack in and look for link
            2) dhcp request / view config / determine if the network is a corp. or lab connection
            3) go back to 1 till I find a corp drop.

            really pisses me off...
            -nB
          • It should not be too hard to label the ports according to what is on them. D123-P2: Phone line. D123-N2: Network line. As far as figuring out which ones get which label, you may be able to go on pin-outs, but that means unscrewing the plate, I would just plug a phone up to it and check for tone. That you could trust to your tech lackey.
            • In the beginning there were easy rules like : this block of socket is for phone this other if for network, ... but the needs of the company "evolved" .. unlike the cabling and some of the plugs were reused for a new set of test machine, some of them to hook a computer in the dmz, or before/after some firewall/leased line, or some phone plug had other "purpose" (like direct outside line for modem out) ... after 5 years of moving desks / machines / phones around the situation was a mess.

              Off course physically
      • Re:Not quite... (Score:2, Insightful)

        I suppose it depends on how complicated the product is, and what audience it is aimed at.

        Whilst I haven't had experience of Open Office and the like, I have used tools like JBoss, and I've found that these tools (with their complicated XML file configuration) can be just as difficult to set up and use as the non-open ones (WebLogic for example).

        My point, I suppose, is that no product is ever 100% foolproof, and if some people can make a viable go at providing services for OSS then good for them

      • Interestingly enough, your not exactly understanding the issue with paid support and service contracts. Most companies won't buy or use software unless there is some sort of service contract availible with it. This isn't because they expect the product to be junk rather they expect the product to be running when needed and want the quickest way to keep it running if somethign happens. Most of the time, it will be human error or somethign outside the norm that does it too. Power failures corupting datastores
      • You are missing a two factors here.

        First, any software that is complex enough to be useful is going to have bugs. Design bugs, functional bugs, security bugs, whatever. Anyone who says different (even Donald Knuth) is ignoring reality or selling snake oil.

        Second, a program may be perfectly usable as released, and do everything that the developers could imagine. However, there are going to be some customers who want things that the developers could not imagine, precisely because they do not know th

    • IMHO good software shouldn't need too much support. As a customer, I won't like a business model which promotes making software which will need even more paid support.

      I would rather want them to be in a situation where support is a compulsory added cost to the vendor (maybe them charging for it slightly less than what it costs them), so that they are more hard pressed to improve the software.

      Open Source is good. Support is good. But, an Open Source vendor with support as the *only* revenue stream? Not quite
  • Viability (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ihuntrocks ( 870257 ) <ihuntrocks AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @06:58AM (#14865461)
    At one point or another, all companies and or services and products were new. Every company has faced this at their inception. Any hesitation on this matter is nothing new, it's just open source now. With the lower overhead of open source software and many proven examples of viability thereof (see the external article for more details on how this model is working) I think it should make a very enticing offer for many companies. As the owner of a small IT services startup, I advocate a mixture of closed and open source software to my clients based on their budget and needs and it has worked beautifully so far.
    • As the owner of a small IT services startup, I advocate a mixture of closed and open source software to my clients based on their budget and needs and it has worked beautifully so far.

      I think that's a great approach and tends to maximize customer value. The one thing that wasn't pointed to in the article which I think bears mentioning with respect to OSS solutions is that one should keep in mind the viability of the development/support community OUTSIDE of the vendor that's selling the solution.

      In t
  • Question. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AnonymousPrick ( 956548 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:00AM (#14865467)
    FTFA: If vendors don't have tangible proof points available and customer references then they're not giving you enough information.

    What do you do if you're just starting out?

    There's been a couple of times when I've mentioned F/OSS to business owner as a potential addition or replacement to his IT infrastructure (MySQL, Open Office) and as soon as they hear "free" they get this funny glaze over their eyes. Small businesses LOVE the word "free", but I think they equate "free" with junk - "you get what you pay for" attitude. I think they're also afraid of things not working, which equals no revenue coming in. This is a hurdle that I can't seem to get over.

    Yeah, I'm a shitty sales guy.

    • Re:Question. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by poeidon1 ( 767457 )
      Ofcourse you get what you pay for. Free software does not mean free, there is a service based business model based on it, and what you pay, the service you get. But you atleast can evaluate its usefulness without having to shell out a lot of money for something which is not very useful.
    • Re:Question. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by replicant108 ( 690832 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:27AM (#14865531) Journal
      as soon as they hear "free" they get this funny glaze over their eyes

      Then avoid using the word 'free' until after they're familiar with the product. Talk about 'open source', 'reduced risks/costs', 'avoiding lock-in', etc.

      Save the philosophy till later.
      • This is very difficult to use the word Free in a company. Because actually nothing is free for a company.

        If you take a guy that is costing you 1000 $/day and you replace his desktop. If you need to replace his desktop by Windows or Linux, the cost of the license itself will be pretty insignificant compared to what you loose when the guy is learning the new product ( be it a new version of windows or a linux desktop )

        Free software or not, the cost of migration is != 0 The fact that the license to use the sof
    • Re:Question. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by salec ( 791463 )
      Maybe FOSS products should ALWAYS have a defined nonzero price (or several, for different levels of support). To us in the know it should be apparent that licence permits unimited copying once you've got a copy of it, but at least this would put the "ALIEN ALERT!" sign off of PHB's radar screen. I mean, there is virtually no difference in alleged "you get" part of the truism, thanks to ubiquituous disclaimers, no matter how bosses feel about it (warm, fuzzy, "we payed honest, serious, gentelmans' money for
    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )
      So sell it to them at around the same price as competing products...
      And when they complain about the cost and come asking for discounts, give them huge discounts :)
    • Re:Question. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by brunes69 ( 86786 )
      Then don't tell them it's free, and take their license fee they pay you as their consultant and send it off to the project maintainers / support group / FSF / Whoever.
    • they equate "free" with junk

      Wicked: just charge them a heap of money - then they will know how good it is!

  • +5 interview (Score:5, Interesting)

    by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:03AM (#14865480)
    This is a very insightful interview. This company trudges past the fud and explains solid business models based on open source. They basically are saying that open source isn't an end all in itself. If you have a failing product, simply making it open source isn't going to make you a successful company. Seems obvious, but a lot of people don't understand it. They also go on to say a lot of people open source things because it's hip or cool.

    She goes on to state that you must have a solid revenue stream based off the open source product somehow (then goes on to list various ways such as support, open sourcing parts of the program and closed source for the innovative part).

    It sounds like this company has a good head on its shoulders and will be around awhile. Sure, there are those of us who open source for the freedom part (and this will always continue in universities, government, private individuals), but this company has figured out how to add value to a solid core business model using open source.
  • Key point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:17AM (#14865504) Homepage
    Businesses believe they need to pay something to ensure that there's a viable organization behind it.

    I think this is pretty important. It's not just a simple "if its expensive, it must be good" kind of misattribution that some advocates argue. In part it's a "if everybody does it" kind of argument that actually works: "If we find it worth it to pay for this, then so do other businesses. Which means these people have a real, sustainable income stream, and a real future."

    But for OSS vendors, I think the most important aspect is that the client gets a horse in the race, so to speak. As a paying client, they get a seat at the table, even if by proxy, and have a voice in what will happen with the product. They become Somebody. True, paying a developer to participate is another way - and even more influential - but if your business isn't software in the first place that is just not feasible. Paying a company to, in effect, pay developers by proxy is the next best thing.

    • Re:Key point (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:24AM (#14865528) Homepage
      But for OSS vendors, I think the most important aspect is that the client gets a horse in the race, so to speak. As a paying client, they get a seat at the table, even if by proxy, and have a voice in what will happen with the product. They become Somebody. True, paying a developer to participate is another way - and even more influential - but if your business isn't software in the first place that is just not feasible. Paying a company to, in effect, pay developers by proxy is the next best thing.

      That only works with small products. If I'm paying genericJoeSupportGuy for Apache support, that doesn't mean that I get to influence Apache in any way. But you'd also get this with small products with closed source, as well. If you're one of only a few customers, they'll help tailor it to your wants and needs.
      • Well, if you give one of your developers part of his time to help hack on some Apache module that your business uses, that doesn't give you a lot of steerage either - it gives you a bit, to be sure, but so does being a smaller customer. Indeed, that is another parallel - the more you invest, directly or indirectly, the more say you will have.
      • That only works with small products. If I'm paying genericJoeSupportGuy for Apache support, that doesn't mean that I get to influence Apache in any way.

        In a way, you do: you create a market for Apache support. That influences the value of the product since it creates an incentive to offer Apache support. The support people form communities, they find out what problems they need to be solved, they let Apache know what should be worked on etc. Every little helps, as the old lady said.
    • I think this is pretty important. It's not just a simple "if its expensive, it must be good" kind of misattribution that some advocates argue. In part it's a "if everybody does it" kind of argument that actually works: "If we find it worth it to pay for this, then so do other businesses. Which means these people have a real, sustainable income stream, and a real future."

      I totally agree. We inherited a large number of really low revenue contracts that were locked in forever. We went to those clients and a

  • by penix1 ( 722987 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:22AM (#14865522) Homepage
    It's not about the program in OSS but the support / services to it that matter. It is just the opposite in closed source because of the need for continual upgrades. I offer into evidence Microsoft Windows 95. As soon as the "next gen" windows cam out (Windows XP) support for 95 halted. When that happened, the most common response to support answer wasn't "do this..." but "Upgrade!". There are OSS projects out there that are as old if not older than Windows 95 but yet I know that I can still get support from any number of sources.

    B.
    • As soon as the "next gen" windows cam out (Windows XP) support for 95 halted. When that happened, the most common response to support answer wasn't "do this..." but "Upgrade!"

      And I suspect that many many users, who didn't want to upgrade their hardware just to run the new OS and do the same activities as before gave Redmond the finger and said "Screw you!" These then went on to either upgrade to alternative operating systems, or just stayed with the 9x line and found their support from the 9x user communit

  • by Anonymous Coward
    If your business model relies on closed source, open source is not for you. get 'em hooked, make 'em upgrade...
  • quality of service (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Device666 ( 901563 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:54AM (#14865591)
    There is no guarantee or formula to predict how long a company / product will exist, closed or not.

    A business advantage is that even a halted open source project can be revived, it is always for you to use. And if some company thinks something is missing they can add it. So if you are a company dependant of open software, you want to have a thriving community behind the specific products you use in the first place, besides some support of some OSS-business.

    Support first
    Professionals don't neccesary care about "free" they want to have a certain level of support. So for OSS companies it's just how they can compete with the support of it's closed source rivals. I think this explains why a lot of business people still haven't really grasped the concept of open source.

    product second
    For a lot of people "open source" is a relatively new term. They have problems understanding it, let alone knowing what to do with it. Product / market share comparisons are a better basis to promote open software for someone who has never heard of it.

  • More often than not, I get quicker, and more helpful responses from the user communities of any piece of software I need...message forums, newsgroups, etc...wether open or closed...and in the world of supportive user communities, OSS wins hands down, some of those user communities run on a cultish level of support and cheerleading and it's very easy to get the answers I need.
    • Sadly, it's rarely about real-life examples like that. The decision-makers can't really present a case that "if it goes wrong, we'll look on Google and post on some forums to solve the problem" - it comes back to the old "No-one got fired for buying IBM."

      Never mind that you take the option with the dedicated support, and then find the internet better anyway; it's about having something to fall back on, that won't cost people their career. This is where the hybrid options help; by paying for some form of s
      • Yeah, thats a fair point, I guess not being in a management/decision making type position myself I don't think about it that way...fair point though, you pay for somewhere to pass the buck to...thats kinda sad, paying for a fallguy...
    • The problem (as mentioned in a previous OSS debate here) regarding community support is that if you have a problem and the community come up with a quick patch you are then responsible for testing the implications of applying it. OSS communities can definatly get fixes out quickly but they are often not the ones that have to deal with the repercussions of it breaking your business critical OSS system.

      his is of course not to say that closed source suppliers may not do the same - if have first hand experienc
      • "if have first hand experience of software vendors sending me patches which appear to be completey untested and break more than they fix" yeah, Oracle is a pretty good one for that in my experience...and thats likely up among the most costly of apps...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is just thinly veiled PR/plug for Scalix by their executives.

    I have no problem with proprietary or partially open source companies.
    However I can't stand companies that misrepresent themselves as open
    source companies, hybrid or otherwise. Scalix consistently tries to
    pass themselves off an as open source company. Yes their stuff runs
    on OSS platforms, yes they probably include some OSS software and/or
    libraries in their product, and sure they have an Evolution connector
    that is GPL. But *most* of their s
  • All nice, and everything... But TFA missed the point, as do almost all articles about FOSS comercial viability.

    With proprietary software, somebody goes out, writtes a piece of software, and try to license THEIR software to you. They need to have a good business plan if want to stay on the market. But with free software, the software is YOURS (comunitary). So, you get people to change your software to you.

    That point of view, that people seem to not grasp, puts an end on that need of sucessfull FOSS busines

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