Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why you need paid software

After my recent run-in with Ubuntu, I feel a lot like this guy. A lot of times when you look at open source software, you wonder why they seem so asinine.
  1. There are god knows how many office suites and not one decent one between them - KOffice, OpenOffice, what not. Why not work together and make a decent software that everyone can use?
  2. The graphics drivers never work properly - I didnt have much of a good experience with Ubuntu graphics on my home computer's NVidia cards either. I finally got things working only after downloading "restricted" drivers (supplied by NVidia themselved), and even then Ubuntu whined like a propaganda machine
  3. Recently Pidgin developers removed the option to set the number of input lines shown in the chat window by default. Users were angry enough to fork Pidgin, finally the option was returned: instead of dragging the divider to increase the input size, you had to counterintuitively enter it as a setting in a text field
  4. Again, recently Pidgin people decided that the icons in the chat window to insert an emoticon and format text were "a waste(?)" and "improved" the UI by putting ALL the icons into a single dropdown... After users howled, it was returned as an option in the next release.
  5. KDE 4 - Gods... I cant even begin to describe what a nightmare that is...
In many of these cases, the responsible open source devs (particularly the Pidgin people and some of the KDE people too) simply said one of two things:
  1. They developed the software for their own use/as a hobby and they didnt give a damn if there were 10 users for their software or 10,000
  2. Most of the people complaining were those who just used software and had never contributed back any code to the open source community
These are very disturbing statements. I am a developer also, and often we find ourselves fixing bugs in releases 3 releases before the current one. Even besides that, removal of a feature, particularly a popular one in the commercial world is a definite no-no. A product manager with an attitude like the one above will soon find himself looking for a job. And radical, unnecessary UI changes lead to costly user retraining in a corporate environment. If I was a person working in IS who had stuck his neck out to deploy Pidgin in a company, I would certainly learn a hard lesson the moment someone made a statement like the ones above. And its not as if people in corporate environments cannot innovate - look at MS Office 2007's ribbon...

In the end caveat emptor applies - you get what you pay for. If you ask for free stuff, dont expect to be treated like a customer either. The best open source projects are ones which are run by forprofit companies - consider JBoss, MySQL, Alfresco to name a few. The presence of customers and by extension, a profit motive keeps stability and customer satisfaction high on the list of priorities, which is important for any user - whether technical or non-technical.

There are real good points about open source projects - usually their ability to decide which features to develop based purey on merit (coolness/utility) rather than profit leads to the existence of cool stuff (like Pidgin :)) which would never have been available otherwise. Its only when things turn ugly and devs start ignoring users that you get to see the ugly side of things. Fortunately, that doesnt happen very often :) but still, human nature being human nature, (and egos being egos) I dont see an end to paid software any time soon!
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