What have Open Source Software and Cars in Common?

During the recent months I had to deal with several open source implementations like Log4J, Jacorb or Tomcat. While I was happy that it is free in terms of licence cost I was unhappy about some other issues that campe up when using it in an productive environment.

To make things clearer it sometimes helps to use an analogy.
In many aspects the use of software is similar to using like for instance a car or a hifi-system.

So what would you expect when buying a car? (at least I’m expecting that)
A .It should bring you from A to B in a secure and fast way.
B. It should be reliable and error free.
C. If an error comes up the garage should fix it as fast as possible.
D. The price/quality ratio should be reasonable.

Does it really matter, how the car works under the hood or that you can fix it on your own?
I think for 99% of drivers the answer is no.

The same applies to open source software. The fact that a software is open, semi open or closed source is not really a feature of a software (except of rare mainly academic cases).
The important thing is that the price/quality ratio is good so that it’s worth using it.
In brief the advantage of the features must be higher than the disadvantage of the cost.
I think this it true of all kinds of software.

My advice is as follows:

Use open source software when:
A. You can replace it easily without a lot of effort
B. The price/quality ratio is good in terms of total cost of ownership (TCO – be honest)
C. You are a geek and love it to do everything on your own
D. There is no other solution around

Don’t use open source software when:
A. You need a solution for infrastructure or mission critical applications except you can replace it easily
B. You need professional and guaranteed support
C. The open source software module can break the entire application
D. You have no choice due to your corporate policies

I know that this issue is very controversial – so what do you think?

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