Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who Fixes Open Source Software?

One of the biggest concern for software users, especially businesses, is who fixes it when something breaks down. Proprietary software often comes with support. If MS Office breaks down, you can call up tech support and get help. But when you’re using open source software, who comes to your help?

This is a valid question and a genuine concern. However, it is a problem that has been artificially created by proprietary software companies.

When you buy a non-branded product, say a house, who fixes it when something breaks down. Say the plumbing in your house starts leaking. Who fixes it? Of course, a plumber. Why is a plumber able to fix it? He is able to fix it because plumbing is “free”. That is, a plumber is able to open the access panels to your plumbing. He is able to change and modify your plumbing as he sees fit. The way plumbing works is open knowledge and can be taught in vocational schools or even just by an experienced plumber to a novice. Plumbing equipment adheres to an industry wide standard meaning that you can buy spare parts at any hardware shops. All this has led to the development of an open, competitive market of plumbers where you can get someone to fix your problem for you.

Compare this to the closed source model of software. The source code is not available. Most companies do not adhere to industry standards. Users are legally not allowed to change or modify the software in any way. The very knowledge of the internal workings of the software is kept secret, protected by patents and copyrights. If all this did not exist, there would be a thriving market of software hackers ready to fix your software for you. Software giants go to great lengths to prevent the development of such a free and competitive market because it will bite into their monopoly and their profits.

Coming back to the original question – who fixes it if open source software breaks down. In the present world, the options are limited. Companies like Red Hat provide Linux support. Canonical and Ubuntu and upcoming in the same field and provide a different kind of support. So if you’re a business executive making a decision on what system to use at your office, you’re probably stuck with Microsoft or Apple. However, know that this is not because open source is inherently shabby, this is because these software giants have gone to great lengths to make sure this is the case.

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