Open Source Myths: Cost

I'm working with open-source software for quite a long time. Pretty much from the beginning of my student years. The open-source software can sometimes be quite better than the commercial one (see "The Fallacy of Commercial Software Support"). But ... it is not allways the case. I'm getting a feeling that some people overestimate the quality of open-source software. Therefore I've decided to describe common open-source myths and to shed some light on them. One by one.

Today's open-source myth: Open-source software costs nothing

That's wrong. Absolutly wrong. Yes, you usually do not pay to get the software, but how are you going to install it and run it? If you are computer geek than you probably can do lots of fine things yourselv. Even a beginner can install Ubuntu Linux on his workstation. But if he is not happy with few stupid tools and (quite good) OpenOffice suite, then he is probably lost.

I work with Linux for more than 10 years. I've got a simple problem: the microphone on my notebook computer does not work in Ubutnu. Even with all my experience that is not an easy problem. I cannot ask the guys that sold me my computer to fix that. Linux is just not supported in that way. What can I do? Ask Google, search forums ... that takes time. A lot of time. And after few hours I still cannot find the answer. I cannot call the usual hotline and ask for an answer for free. I cannot even get a (reasonably priced) paid support in our local language for that. I have to find a Linux professional and pay him to fix that. Or I have to find the answer myself, which will probably take whole day. ... and cosidering my daily rates that really cannot be called "free support".

The bottom line is that what you save some money by getting open-source software for free. But you will spend money (or time) while running the software. Open-source software in fact costs quite lot in a long run. (Remember the famous "TCO" buzz-acronym?) If you are a big company, the cost of open-source software support that you need to do in-house may be enormous - and quite unpredictable. And the risk also contributes to the cost.

The question is: What is cheaper? Open-source or commercial software? And that is the right question to ask. But I'm not going to answer it. The answer differs case by case ... it is well beyond the scope of this blog. I just wanted to point out that even open-source software will eat your money, just like commercial one.