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?

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  1. J.F.Sebastian on August 18, 2006 at 12:54 am


    Maybe instead of whining in your personal blog about how you failed to use an open source software right before finish line you should have contacted the PHPSurveyor support by IRC or Forum.

    I had several contacts with them and was very satisified. They are nice helpful people who are almost always online and who will even directly look at your installation if needed. And after a successul help maybe you had spent only $10 as a donation to the PHPSurveyor project. (and maybe a new bug was found and fixed for future users)

    You’re expecting people things to do sperfectly in their spare time. Spare time you are not willing to give? Open source is not for propeller heads but for open minds and people who are having fun to share and to work in teams. It seems that this description does not fit everybody.

    A satisified non-propellerheaded Open Source User

  2. Steve Borsch on August 18, 2006 at 9:34 am

    Hi J.F.,

    It seems as though you missed the point of my missive. It wasn’t whining and wasn’t an indictment of PHPSurveyor, the community surrounding it or anything like that. Perhaps you noticed that I started out saying the part about me being a huge fan of open source?

    Let me clarify my point.

    Of all the packages I’ve used, been involved with in some fashion (not as a coder but a provider of positive feedback and actually using them) or recommended, one thing has been clear to the team and to me, the user: an open source project — and all the effort and energy invested in creating and maintaining it — doesn’t matter unless actual humans adopt and use it.

    So it’s not just the development ecosystem that matters….it’s also the user ecosystem. So ease of use, design, solidity and other user-centric aspects of a package matter…alot. If the point of a project is to deliver, say, 80% of what is needed and even that 80% needs to be futzed with since it doesn’t actually perform without getting under the hood and wrenching for awhile, it will slow adoption and thus negatively impact the viability of the project.


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