Open Source and Commercial Software

open-neonsignSince I am a huge fan of open source and always look first for an open source package before paying for a commercial one, I had sort of a troubling adventure this afternoon with the open source PHPSurveyor and ended up going with the commercial SurveyMonkey.

Needing to send out a survey to a client’s customers, I originally used a hosted CRM offering which had too many bugs to be useful. 36,000 emails went to one recipient, for example, and it’s still a sore subject so don’t ask. Next I chose PHPSurveyor since I could install, configure and run it myself.

I can put this stuff together pretty fast, so from install to config to survey creation to use was about two and a half hours. The emails being sent out hiccup’ed and stopped after the first batch. After goofing around for another hour I decided — with my client’s blessing — to just use a paid commercial survey offering since time is of the essence.

In the past I’ve used several $400-$1,000 per year survey and polling services and had a buddy who’d used SurveyMonkey to great result. I signed up, built the survey and was ready to send it out in less than an hour.

Though PHPSurveyor is free and SurveyMonkey is $19.95 per month, it doesn’t take much of a math quant to figure out that the extra 1.5 hours I wasted with PHPSurveyor was worth more than $19.95 (and I’m certain another 1-2 hours would’ve been invested to achieve a successful survey send).

Unfortunately, there seems to be an expectation in the open source community that only propellerheads are willing to install and use packages and climb the learning curves to figure them out and workaround the unfinished or buggy pieces. Sometimes guys like me — with only small propellers on their beanies — want to take advantage of what’s available without getting under the hood and wrenching on the engine when you just want to drive over to the store for a gallon of milk.

Right now, there are about 15 packages I’m interested in using and recommending to colleagues and clients but find that there is little support available, a dearth of talent to implement them for clients and deploy them, and do-it-yourself installation and deployment is, well, challenging.

How can the supply of open source meet the demands of users? What’s needed to make packages more seamless and easy?