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Why Should You Buy Support for Open-Source Software?

Why Should You Buy Support for Open-Source Software?

It’s a question we’re asked all the time and, on the face of it, it seems like a fair comment to make. After all, the whole point of open-source software is that it’s free to everybody so you can effectively do whatever you want with it – you can deploy it ‘as is’, you can sell it, you can chop it around, you could even rebrand it as your own, if the specific open source license permits. And because Spicule’s director Tom Barber is a member of the Apache software foundation – a non-profit organisation dedicated to producing high quality software which advances the future of open development – you can be reassured that the open-source software we use is entirely business friendly. So, let’s get back to the question: if open-source software is free, why should you pay to support it?

Let’s look at it this way…

If you’re a small business and just one employee is using the open-source software on your own little test bed – working through data or creating graphs etc. – that’s not really a problem. But most of the time a business will deploy the software internally on a much larger scale. What happens when 50, 100 or 200 people are using the software and bugs or security flaws suddenly bring everything screeching to a halt? Or if the software doesn’t work as quickly as you want because you’ve deployed it at a scale it wasn’t originally designed for? Who’s going to fix it? Most open-source software is built by volunteers in their spare time so you probably won’t be able to ask them for help, and unless you’ve got an in-house systems administrator who understands how the software works it’s unlikely that anyone inside the business will be able to resolve your crisis, at least not quickly enough to prevent it from becoming an expensive and time-consuming problem. Also, don’t forget that employing an in-house systems administrator will almost certainly cost you a lot more money than calling on external support from time to time.

That’s one of the reasons open-source support is well worth paying for, because reliable expert support will provide you with a quicker fix and save you time, resources and potentially a lot of money. But it’s not the only reason.

As we just mentioned, most open-source software packages are written by volunteers who give up vast amounts of spare time so that businesses like yours will have free tools to make your life easier. But many companies, especially a lot of major companies, aren’t so altruistic. They take the free open-source software, fix it or adapt it to make it better, and then they don’t share it with anybody else. Their selfishness is creating a big problem, and here’s why:

1: When a company patches open-source software and doesn’t push the patch back upstream so that everybody else can benefit, they’re ultimately creating a headache for themselves when the time comes to upgrade. That’s because, when the new upgrade is released, they’ll have to take the patch they made on their ‘fixed’ version and then fix it onto the upgrade so that the software keeps doing what they want it to. It’s a lot of hassle. Either that, or they won’t bother to upgrade at all and then they’ll miss out on all the useful new features and fixes the new upgrade provides. All that trouble could easily have been avoided if they hadn’t kept the fix to themselves.

2: If businesses withhold the fixes they’ve made it could eventually kill the whole concept of open-source software entirely. If that happens, everybody will lose out - even the major conglomerates – because open-source is much more cost-effective, secure and dependable than developing entirely new software in-house, and it’s obviously a much cheaper solution and responsive solution than proprietarily licensing commercial software and then waiting for the owner to (maybe) provide the changes and fixes you need sometime in the distant future.

3: If every company fixed the same piece of open-source software but didn’t upstream their changes there could theoretically be thousands of copies of the same software in circulation, all tweaked in slightly different ways, with no-one able to benefit from all the invaluable changes that have been made because the original version hasn’t been updated. Everybody loses out.

So, to return to the original question, why should you pay a company like Spicule to support your open-source software? Simply because, if you have a technical issue with any of the open-source software we support (there’s a list at the end of this blog), our expert team will always be available by phone or email to fix the problem. We’ll diagnose it, resolve it, update it, and have the software working for you again as quickly as possible, leaving you free to concentrate on running your business, not wasting your valuable time and money trying to correct whatever critical flaw you discovered in your system. Please note that we’re talking about technical problems here. We won’t show you how the software works (hopefully you already learned that when you installed it!) but when the software stops working, or you need it to work better, we’ll get you of trouble.

Of course, as Tom is member of the Apache software foundation we also passionately believe that being part of the open-source community and adhering to its ethics is vitally important. That means we’ll always push the fix we’ve made back upstream so that everyone else who uses the software will be able to take advantage of the improvement. But hopefully, now that you’ve read this blog, you’ll agree that that’s the right thing to do. And don’t forget that we volunteer our time to develop open-source software too, so when you pay us to fix your system you’re also tangentially investing in keeping open-source software alive. More than that, what we learned because you experienced this problem is going to help a lot of other people just like you… you know what they say about good karma and “paying it forward”!

Here’s the list of open-source software we support. If the software you use is on here, give us a call on 01603 327762 or email info@spicule.co.uk to discuss the open-source advantages we can offer your business. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.


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