Open source: “I don’t use open sorce software because I want support”

“I don’t use open sorce software because I want support. I want to pay for it, so I can have support if I need.” That’s what a lot of people say about free and open source software. But today I came to a really interesting situation that it’s interesting to share.

We were configuring a continuous integration server at my team for a new project and we decided to use Integrity – that is a very simple yet powerful and beautiful tool. Our goal was really really simple: run tests, deploy the application and run more (acceptance) tests. Then we came to a situation where the tests were not running and the reason was somewhat bizarre. Integrity was opening a subshell to execute our build (and that’s very fair), but the problem is that Python‘s sys.stdout was showing an Unicode error, because the test reports have a lot of accents. For some strange reason the very same code that was working in our shells was aborting with an Exception when executed in a subshell.

Given that complex situation, I decided to go to the website’s FAQ to see if somebody had this kind of problem before. I thought that maybe some configuration or environment variables setup could easily solve my problem. After some minutes of browsing I found instructions to configure Passenger user switching to overcome this problem, but I got no success.

Then, very frustrated, I decided to take a look in the documentation again and this time I saw a link to “support”, that pointed me to an IRC channel.

In five minutes I was talking to 2 commiters of the project and was having a high level discussion about the problem, the causes and the possible workarounds. The best part was that it took exactly 30 seconds for them to understand what I was talking about and they immediately started pointing me to solutions and asking me to try things… Thank to the guys’ tips (and Google) I could solve the problem in the end.

If you don’t like open source software because of the support, then I would like to ask you: in what reality do you live? Do you prefer to talk about “subshells” and “environment variables” with some call center attendant or do you want to talk to the people that can really help you solve your problem?

In other situation I was working at a company that used a VoIP telephony equipment that only worked on Windows. I wanted so much to use my preferred Linux distro, but that would mean that I couldn’t have a telephone. So, since we had a gold support plan (because we had a lot of PBXs with almost 200 branches), I decided to call the company and ask why they didn’t have a Linux version. I also tried to propose to or account manager: “we can implement that for you, just give us the Windows source code or protocol spec that we will implement everything for you and give you the source code and all the rights for free”. That was 6 years ago and they still don’t have a Linux version of the software….

Then I want to ask again: do you want to pray for your vendor to implement the solutions that are important to you or do you want to have the power to do it yourself when you need?

Think about these things. In the great majority of the times I asked for support in open source projects they were infinite times better than any paid support I’ve ever had!

10 replies on “Open source: “I don’t use open sorce software because I want support””


The solution was DAMN simple, you might be disappointed 🙂 Just replaced the default sys.stdout with a custom one that is always UTF-8 (no matter what happens):

sys.stdout = codecs.getwriter('utf-8')

My open source support record is 5 minutes from initial email to corrected code.

Several months ago we were having a problem with a Bugzilla upgrade. The Product Manager asked who could we get to support us “since it’s only open source.” I responded by opening my laptop, jumping on IRC and chatting with a committer within 5 minutes. 20 minutes later, problem solved.

The Product Manger was surprised! Just to rub it in, I asked what chance he had of EVER getting a Microsoft developer to help him fix an Excel problem, let alone talk to one within 5 minutes!


Read again. I said In the great majority of the times I asked for support in open source projects they were infinite times better than any paid support I’ve ever had!”, I didn’t say “all the times”. Besides that, one person’s experience can be COMPLETELY different from another’s, and this is MY experience. 🙂

Exactly, all this was your experience. Therefore readers should not think of open source simply as having “better” support. There’s no such thing. Readers should not choose open source hoping they will even most of the time have good support. The opposite may happen: you may fall into situations where FOSS is undesirable when it comes to support.

What you greatly point out is that (open source != suport) is a myth. This doesn’t imply tough that (open source == support), that’s what I mean.

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