Communicating freely

Archive for the ‘support’ Category

Be nice to developers

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Adriaan from KDE – the man I personally blame for all bugs ever encountered in programs written in the C++ language [1] – has written a blog post suggesting that it’s a good idea not to send abusive emails to Free Software developers who don’t offer professional support services at zero cost for their code.

He has got a point. While the low barriers of access and hierarchy in Free Software often provide easy access to the developer in question, the developer’s personal provision of support is likely to receive a far lower priority than development work. This is hardly surprising.

Few people expect to speak directly with the developer of a proprietary application when the application misbehaves. Support is instead provided by a department inside the production company or an accredited partner. Free Software takes this abstraction a little further. One of the key innovations in this paradigm is that third parties can provide professional top tier support regardless of their relationship with the original developer of the application.

It is important to remember that the word "Free" in Free Software does not refer to the software having zero cost either in production or in adoption. It refers solely to the freedoms the software offers everyone who receives a copy.

There is a cost of production, delivery and support with Free Software. This cost may include personnel hours, hardware and electricity on the production side and it may include training, integration and maintenance on the support side. Such cost calculations do not disappear because Free Software offers more freedom than proprietary software.

Free Software is often developed by people and organisations who offset their cost of production because they get something else in return. What they receive may be kudos, the ability to play with other people’s innovations or a solution delivered to users. The situation and cost benefit analysis differs for each individual or organisation.

In the post delivery of a solution different dynamics are at play. A developer who creates a technology with a cost offset might not wish to also offer service level agreements to users. It might just not fit into their reason for making the software or it might have too high a cost.

Everyone can get the code, everyone can distribute it, everyone can offer support for it. It’s more flexible and encourages more competition over delivery of solutions. Those solutions can be technical, integrative or support based.

Many developers are happy to answer some questions and even respond to requests for features, but it’s not reasonable to expect that they are obliged to do so. We should be nice and bear in mind that we have no entitlement when it comes to obtaining support unless the creator has promised such support explicitly.

[1] KDE is written in C++. There is a connection.