The aftermath of "No, 'Open Source' does not mean 'Includes Free Support'"
Got some hilarious reactions. Gotta share.
Well, my last post hit it big. Poor blog had a couple social media death hugs on that day. Gosh, people were fuming about me (supposedly) stating that I would not accept their hand-laced, gold-edged, rose scented bug reports without prior payment. How dare I?! Well, I simply do.
The statement was actually that I ignore support requests from non-customers, especially when they come disguised as bugreports in order to avoid my service fee. I don’t deliberately delete bug reports from my inbox, I simply risk loosing genuine ones because they are drowned out.
But hey, social media. Fast paced universe. Gotta comment while it’s hot, no time to (properly) read the original article (or read it at all). Some people hold some hilarious opinions, though!
What people wrote (paraphrased)
Bugs must be fixed!
No, they don’t. Have you read the license agreement? Search for the phrase “AS IS”. Every OSI approved license contains it (usually in caps). It means, I am under no obligation to provide any further work and you are not entitled to it.
Of course, there’s a simple way to make me owe you a service (and I’m even offering it): pay me.
The bug was your fault in the first place!
So? Oh wait. Is this going to be one of those conspiracy theories where I deliberately put bugs into my code in order to make you pay for removing them? Nice idea, but…
- That plan does not scale. There are only so many bugs I could plant.
- Fixing bugs is the most time consuming form of support. I’d be making a loss on that (in particular when considering the time required to design a good bug that someone might want to pay for to get rid of).
- I gave you the source, that takes the leverage out of my hands.
The choice to use my software was yours. The disclaimer that it might not work is in the license agreement. I did not put myself in the position of being your only option to solve the issue.
My bug reports are a work of art, you prick! I spent MY TIME on helping YOU to improve YOUR software!
Your bug doesn’t bother me (or my paying users). If it did, I’d have fixed it myself. When submitting a bug report, you are not working for me, you are working for yourself and the user community. The same way I was, when making the original software available free of charge (whether or not you want to do it is entirely your choice, I’m not asking you to). Does your bug report include a patch? If yes, then the problem’s solved for you, if not, then you are expecting me to come up with a fix. That’s a work order, here’s my bill.
Ignoring bug reports is stupid!
Why? If I look at the mail, I’ll be tempted to act on it, giving someone a free ride. That’s unfair to those who paid for it.
But I’ll have to pay and get no guarantee that my bug will be fixed.
No, but you are guaranteed, that I will be listening to you and give you a definitive answer in a timely manner. That’s something you don’t get from public bugtrackers. See the problem here? You base your risk assessment on your experience with developers you don’t pay and who therefore have no incentive to help you. When I take your money, you are a customer.
Every other open source project accepts free bug reports
I don’t care.
- If some other developer wants to self exploit and thinks his time is only worth cheers, that’s his choice.
- If the project(s) you are talking about are mission critical (and are otherwise funded), then yes, running a community support forum is a sensible choice.
Whatever the reason, I don’t tend to jump off bridges, just because someone else does it.
You hypocrite! You advertise your software as a solution to MY problem on your website
Part of letting you use my solution is letting you know what problem I solve (by the way, that’s a service, saving you from reading the code in order to figure out what it does - you’re welcome). The conclusion that we both have the same problem was yours to draw. And yes, my software has long since grown beyond my own needs. But guess what, that still doesn’t compel me to work for you for free.
But you made it sound like your software would solve my problem, so if it doesn’t and you don’t provide free support, you will have wasted my time. Therefore you owe me.
Guess what, I value your time as much as you value mine. If you think mine’s worth nothing…
Your download page doesn’t mention that there’s no free support!
It also doesn’t say that you’d get a free pony and a foot massage. What’s your point?
You can avoid hosting costs by publishing on platform X
Hey, remember SourceForge? Used to be the hosting platform for open source projects. Got sold. New owners added shady monetization practices. Developers had a choice: leave and lose your backlinks or stay and have your reputation tarnished.
Hey, remember Github? Used to be the hosting platform for open source projects. Got sold. New owner is Microsoft! The queen of vendor lock-in and shady monetization practices. Developers had a choice: leave and lose your backlinks or stay and see what Microsoft will pull out of their hat in the coming years.
Hey, do you know Gitlab? It is the hosting platform for open source projects! Until it will get sold!
Do you see the pattern here?
You made yourself the sole address for support. At least provide a community support forum!
Outsource self-exploitation while eating up the infrastructure cost? Sounds like a plan. NOT! Get your ass out of your echo chamber. The idea of community support is one of the big criticisms against open source. When people have a problem, they want someone to talk to and they want their problem fixed in a timely manner. They don’t want to sign up for forum accounts and they don’t want to monitor them for weeks in the hopes that some community member might eventually come up with an answer.
When it comes to my software, I’m the most competent person to talk to. So whether I like to or not, people will (try to) contact me. For a developer, that puts a choice on the table:
- Stop your spare time from being eaten up with tech support by pulling the software from public.
- Start accepting payment and realize that you are now running a business, which means having to pay the overhead cost of dealing with the taxman.
Yes, I made myself the sole address for support. That is the only logical conclusion. If I’m running a business, why should I let it be cannibalized by running a public support forum / bug tracker? That’s just adding infrastructure cost to choke revenue.
Offering free support helps your project to grow!
Math wiz ey? Ever tried applying a scaling factor to a project where the expenses exceed the revenue?
Open Source projects MUST have a public bugtracker!
No they don’t. Demanding otherwise is just saying: “Yes, I read the license agreement and understand that you are not legally obligated to fix my problems for free, therefore I’m trying to shame you into maintaining the infrastructure for accepting them, so you will do it anyway”.
I don’t want support, I just want to file bug reports!
Your strange urges are none of my concern. If you really don’t expect your bug reports to read, you could just save them to /dev/null and be done with it. Otherwise it’s a support request. Support requests are handled on the paid tier.
But I really just want to file bug report because it might help other users!
You mean, you want to sneak around a service contract by a) passive aggressively badmouthing the project with open issues, b) hoping to attract “me too” replies, in order to c) use peer pressure to get your bug fixed for free because anything else makes me look bad? Nice try, but no.
You have an ethical obligation to fix bugs!
By using my software, you enter a contract. The terms of which are laid out in the license agreement and can be summarized as: “You get to use the software for free, beyond that we owe each other nothing”. Coming up with some “ethical obligation”, I supposedly have is just a sneaky attempt to amend the contract unilaterally. There is no need to do that. I’m perfectly willing to offer a paid support tier on top of the license agreement. If you don’t want to pay for services rendered, then I’m afraid, it is you who has the ethical problem.
BUT WHAT IF THERE’S A SECURITY ISSUE, I CAN’T TELL YOU ABOUT THAT WILL ENDANGER EVERYONE?
Ah yes, guilt tripping me with the hypothetical security issue lurking in every piece of software. Love that one. Fortunately, I have found a very simple solution for the problem. It goes like this: you finding this mythical beast in my code is preconditioned on a) you actually using the software and b) being capable of fixing it yourself (your whole premise kinda rides on knowing what you are looking for). Me ignoring you for lack of payment, forces you to make the patch yourself (if you want to continue to use the software safely) and, since you care so much about other users, fork the project for their benefit. At that point, I’ll just merge your patch into my branch and make a new release. There, everyone is saved, free of charge. We got around the payment thing, simply by sticking to the terms of the license agreement and you got to make your point about the virtues of working for free, by doing it yourself.
If you don’t provide free support, then I will never use your software / switch to a competitor!
Good bye and good riddance. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
Seriously, you are the kind of user, I love to lose to the competition.
You should have a donation button instead!
Great idea! How often do you click those?
Seriously, I’m not a registered charity and only those may accept donations. For everyone else it’s just mislabelled, but still taxable income. The moment you put up a “donation” button, you are running a business, which automatically generates overhead costs. Getting five bucks once every blue moon with the implication of having to kiss the generous donor’s feet is simply not sustainable.
I’m not running a charity and I don’t want your “support”. I want, same as you, being paid for the work I do. I find it utterly dishonest to put my work under an open source license, then spend a ridiculous amount of extra work on guilt tripping my users in order to collect alms.
If the license says, “the software is free to use”, then that’s the deal. You get exactly that. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else is extra and billable.