Jon Williams, CTO at Kaplan Test Prep co-founder of the New York CTO club, and InfoWorld blogger, wrote something very interesting:

“….Matt Asay, OSBC organizer and also an open source vendor. He asked me the following:- “If an open source platform is stable and my team experienced with it, would I continue to pay annual support fees?”. Unfortunately for the vendors, the answer was “no”. It truly is a contradiction because if customers don’t pay a vendor, they’ll go out of business and their products will not be further developed. Frankly, I don’t have a better answer. But that said, IMO, open source is a model that is here to stay. Vendors are diving into it and making money, although nowhere near Microsoft’s current profit margins.”

I spoke to several customers at EclipseCON about their use of open source, and specifically the support around the OSS products in use. The contradiction that Jon points out is something that I heard in spades. Namely, “I will buy support for the first year while my developers get comfortable with the product. But after a year, at most two, we’ll know enough to be able to support ourselves.” One person implementing an OSS content management product said: “We don’t need on-going support, we need installation support and someone to call in the first 2 months while we implement the product, but after that, I don’t see a need for support beyond what we’ll get from Google searches”.

I had discounted these comments, especially about only requiring help during the installation process as they mostly came from very small companies (<100 employees?). Maybe I need to re-think this. If these views are/become widespread, they reinforce my view that a support only business isn’t the path forward for OSS. Red Hat was way ahead of us all in recognizing this and offering gated access to their products.