FOSS Support and Differentiation

One of the old but recurring fears of those considering an open source try is that there’s nobody to call when they’ve got a problem. Yet, I’d say most FOSS companies are alive for that sake.

I recently read a well-put example of an open source support process from a Sun blogger. In the example, Tim Quinn discusses how a Sun customer went to an open source community for help with his problem and when a clear solution wasn’t forthcoming, opened the issue from the basis of a formal support agreement he had with Sun. That enabled Sun to put its resources into the issue and solve the customer’s problem. So even though there was community help readily available, there was another layer of paid support that the customer could rely to solve his problem.

When one looks at the different companies providing support services, one can see definite similarities. I’m saying that a hallmark of open source software companies is providing support services. What is becoming more interesting is the way in which these services will differ as different industries grow their own open source ecosystems. I expect the services will start appearing with unique characteristics and a comparison of these among industries may perpetuate changes across open source support providers. A Computer World article on open source health care applications makes an interesting point that I think speaks to the support issue. According to the article:

“With open-source technologies, development and adoption go hand in hand. The robust and growing HIT offerings did not emerge from vendors marketing to health care providers, but from HIT teams serving the providers themselves. Therefore, adoption has been organic, based on community ‘pull’ and not on commercial ‘push’.”

It is talking about the way in which open source applications have been adopted by health care providers. What I find interesting is that the development of the applications is driven by what those in the traditional customer role require while maintaining the distinction of a provider. What will those providers (like WebReach or Uversa) be doing down the road? They know there is a solid group requiring exactly what has been developed. Surely they will continue development but they’re also going to need to support all this development output. It looks like the “community pull” is generating more professional support services and thus I’d think those may mimic the pull model of development.

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