The Open Source Case for Customers
Beyond all the reliability and quality gains we've discussed elsewhere, the open-source model has one overwhelming advantage for the software customer: you aren't a prisoner.
Because you can get access to source, you can survive the collapse of
your vendor. You're no longer totally at the mercy of unfixed bugs.
You're not shackled to every strategic decision your vendor makes.
And if your vendor's support fees become exorbitant, you can
buy support from elsewhere.
For this reason alone, every software customer should
absolutely demand open source and refuse to deal with
software vendors who close and shroud their code. It's a matter of
controlling your own destiny.
(And yes, we'll say the M-word ... don't you want to be out from
under Microsoft's thumb?)
This customer case for open source may apply even if the software
you're concerned about was developed internally and
never for sale on the open market.
We hear of one case, for example, in which a few employees at a large
Internet-equipment manufacturer developed a distributed printing
spooler that is very important for company use, but
completely unrelated to the company's normal
expertise or line of business. Now ... what happens when those
Under the closed model, this large company would be
stuck ... with decaying software or an expensive
But now imagine that the company released the spooler as open source
and helped it find an interest community on the
Internet. Now, when the developers leave, someone else might step
in at no monetary cost to take over the software.
At the very least, there's a known pool of people with an interest
from which the company might hire replacements.
Open source empowers the customer, even when the producer and customer
are part of the same firm.
Freedom from Legal Entanglements
Using most commercial software involves software licenses, and
tracking software copies and usage. This demands record keeping, and
legal exposure. Both raise costs. Thus, juggling software licenses and
copies is a source of costs to businesses, and legal risk to
businesses and individuals.
In many (most? all?) businesses, such tracking is imperfect, sometimes
intentionally, usually not. Any such imperfection exposes the guilty
party to legal actions (fines, litigation, arrest) due to breaking
laws and violating copyrights; an intellectual property quagmire.
Most/all open source software can be freely copied and used. There are
no licenses to track and thus no related costs, or legal risks.
There are a couple of standard customer objections to the
open-source model that deserve to be exploded. We cover these on the
Frequently Asked Questions list.
You probably also want to look at the business case for open source for discussion
of the reliability gains from this model.