November 14, 2020

No, "Open Source" does not mean "Includes Free Support"

We need to talk.

Here’s a paraphrased conversation I’m having way to often, costing me way too much time, keeping me from doing things that are way more important:

User: Hi, I'd like to report a bug in your application.
Me:   Great! Please open a support ticket, then.
User: But, it looks like I need to pay for that?
Me:   So?
User: I just want to tell you that your app is broken, so you can fix it.
Me:   Yes, that's a support request, please open a ticket.
User: ...
From there it typically derails into a whiny tirade about me being a crappy two bit developer who doesn’t give a shit about his code (which is ridiculous, since, professional pride aside, I have every incentive to fix bugs, to prevent my inbox from getting flooded) and just wants to rip off his users.

In the past, I sometimes gave in (when it sounded like something might be wrong). I looked at the issue and almost always found that nothing was broken, just didn’t work as expected (which is actually to be expected for every reasonably complex piece of software). The user just didn’t bother reading the docs and tried to bypass the fee by masquerading the support request as a bug report. So, nowadays my policy simply is: no support ticket, no service. Any such request goes straight to the trash folder without even being looked at.

Why am I such an asshole?

Here’s the thing: I write open source software to solve my problem. I let you use my solutions because that comes at zero cost for me (well, almost, I still have to pay for the website, you are downloading from. You are welcome, by the way). I also provide the source code, so you can fix things yourself, should my solution turn out to be unsuitable. However, once you come to me with a “bugreport” that doesn’t also include a patch (or at least very precisely pinpoints the problem), then you are basically asking me to look at your problem. At this point, it is no longer zero cost for me and that’s the reason for why I am charging you money: you are asking me to spent time on your behalf. That is commonly called work. And surprisingly enough, work is what people expect to be paid for.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to help. Selling support is what keeps the lights on here (did I mention the cost of running a webserver?). But coming to me under false pretense and/or expecting that I must provide free service on top of a software I gave away without charge is not going to win you any favours.

It stops being free, when it starts costing me! My time is valuable. If you want a piece of it, I want money in return. Period.

UPDATE: Seems like this post has struck a nerve and caused a few misunderstandings. Clarification on my position here.