Open source vs commercial – support

by daniel on November 9, 2008

In reply to this post on the quality of open source software, I received comments from a colleague that although the reasoning on software quality is valid, the main difference lays in the user perception of the software.

According to him, users perceive open source software of lower quality and commercial software of higher quality due to single factor – support. The reason most people will favor commercial software is the fact that there is a point for asking support and having a “back” for any kind of problem that might arise. Although I’m not the usual user, I can understand the presented argument but I disagree.

People use programs they are accustomed to, unless there is a reason for change. So most users will keep using whatever software they started to use up to the point where there is the possibility of change. Change can occur due to several factors:

  • Change in the company one is employed
  • Cost considerations
  • Experience in other open source software
  • Curiosity

Each one of those changes can occur in separate or combined. For example a company can switch to OpenOffice due to cost factors, and the employees can switch at home knowing the software and trying to reduce costs as well. So the perception of software is not limited to support, but also of actual exposure to the possible options.

Regarding support of commercial software vs. open source, there are commercial support solutions as well, like the consultants directory for OpenOffice. So having support is possible, its just a bit more complicated.

As you can see, there are several hurdles for open source software, but support isn’t the major one.

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