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Open Source, Closed Documentation? 605

Posted by Cliff
from the now-this-is-just-plain-odd dept.
sunset asks: "Recently I was motivated to look at WebGUI which looks like a pretty cool open source project. However I was having trouble making it work with Red Hat 8.0 which includes Apache 2.0. This seems like a reasonable thing to want, as Red Hat 8 has been out since September and Apache 2 has been publicly released for close to a year. Checking the WebGUI community discussion forum, I found that someone else had already inquired about this. Following the rest of the thread, you learn that the product's vendor considers this information to be proprietary, and that you must pay $50 to join their Support Forum to get the information. It gets better. The associated Membership Agreement for the Support Forum includes the clause 'You shall not to share [sic] the information contained herein with any other party.' So if I join up, I am locked out of sharing valuable information with the open source community about how to install this open source product. In the end I found out what I needed to know without giving up my rights or my hard-earned bucks, but frankly this attitude from the vendor pisses me off. Am I alone in this? What do you think?"
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Open Source, Closed Documentation?

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  • Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by unterderbrucke (628741) <unterderbrucke@yahoo.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:17PM (#4968783)
    considering the only way for them to make money is to charge for support, this makes sense to me
    • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by billDCat (448249) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:23PM (#4968843) Homepage
      I disagree here. It is their choice whether or not they charge for support, and I agree that they need to make money somehow. That said, to prevent the information on how to fix the issue from being further disseminated is against the open source spirit, and will just lead to increased user frustration and will reduce the number of people who will use the product as they give up in frustration.
      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Jahf (21968) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:58PM (#4969115) Journal
        Except that you paid them for that service. If I'm a contractor and someone pays me to come in and install/troubleshoot/fix software and/or document for them how to do it again, I am certainly going to expect that they will not then release all of my work publicly (and I'll write the contract to that effect).

        The only difference here is that:

        * The support provider is the -author-, so they definitely know their stuff (not always a given).

        * The package doesn't get free support from the author beyond bug fixes (which if you look at the number of open source packages out there, is definitely not a unique condition). ...

        It's an Open Source package ... your version of open source spirit/ethics/morals is different than everyone elses. This person's version is more capitalist, yours is more socialist. Neither is right or wrong.

        If it's covered by one of the standard Open licenses (the site was /.ed so I couldn't check) then nothing is stopping everyone else from grabbing it and starting a separate free support site. Hell, depending on the license you can fork it off and start fixing things, too.

        I'm not saying I like the methodology, but hey, if everyone dislikes it who is using it, it won't be hard to start a new support forum or develop something else to replace it.

        -that's- Open Source spirit (to me).
        • by digital photo (635872) on Friday December 27, 2002 @07:46PM (#4969722) Homepage Journal

          I would have to definitely agree with the charging of the fee for support.

          That company has made the source freely available to those who would use it. They work on it and improve it, fixing bugs as necessary. But the support itself costs money. If they were just another open source coder, then I'm sure they'd more than happily help you for free and maybe a thanks. But they are a company and they are charging support fees.

          This is definitely within their right to do so in both the spirit and letter of open source. Though whether or not it agrees with different peoples' versions and understandings of open source is another matter.

          As for documentation, what kind of documentation is being referred to? A help file? A Howto? Or a custom tailored document to help the user?

          As for the having people basically sign a NDA to not disclose how they were shown to perform the install, that is something which is beyond the scope of "open source".

          The reasoning is that open source covers the accessibility of the source code by the masses in a way which the masses can understand. If the code is beyond the means of the masses to understand, assuming it has not been obfuscated, then they require support to assist them with getting the code/app to work with their system. This help is billable and could very well be restricted information. Not from a security standpoint, but from a commodity standpoint. Ie, it is the model upon which their business is based.

          One can think of it as buying software which comes with basic instructions which works for some, but doesn't for others. You can always pay more to obtain support and/or documents to better assist you, but you are not allowed to copy that document since it is copyrighted and is essentially the incentive for people to purchase support.

          So I would agree with your assessment with the contractor example.

          Some might point out that RedHat/etc are charging for support as well in a similar manner. Though I do not know if they are having people NDA'd.

          Take with big whopping grains of salt for IANAL.

        • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MsWillow (17812)
          If I'm a contractor and someone pays me to come in and install/troubleshoot/fix software and/or document for them how to do it again, I am certainly going to expect that they will not then release all of my work publicly (and I'll write the contract to that effect).


          Ummmm, excuse me, but if you're a contractor, and I hire you to write something, that's a work for hire. Unless we both agree that I cannot disseminate the stuff that I paid for, it's *mine*.


          Yes, you put that bit in your contract, and that's ok. It means that we both agreed to it. However, *I* would never hire *you*, with that in the contract. I wish you well - and when I see you on the corner, holding a piece of cardboard looking for spare change, I'll just smile and walk on. If *I* hire somebody to do something for me, I sure as heck will own it afterwards, and I'll be able to do with it what I want.


          As for the "free software, paid documentation", I'd suggest actually *reading* the source code, and writing your own documentation for it. Then you can freely disseminate *that*, and laugh at trhe silly people who are trying to shake users down for the documentation. But then, that's just me, being obnoxious :)

          • That's an excellent use of time - spend your own time redoing stuff someone else did for the sole purpose of giving it away to be able to laugh at people stupid enough to try to charge for support for a product they're already giving the source code away for.

            You must place absolutely no value on your own time.
          • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

            by bwt (68845) on Saturday December 28, 2002 @12:18AM (#4970722) Homepage
            Ummmm, excuse me, but if you're a contractor, and I hire you to write something, that's a work for hire.

            No, that is 100% wrong. Copyright in a work done by an independent contractor is by default owned by the contractor. The contract may assign copyright ownership if the agreement is explicit, but even then it is not usually a "work for hire", but rather a transfer of copyright ownership. A contractor's work can only be a work for hire by agreement in 9 specifically enumerated cases that do not include software.

            There was a Supreme Court case in the 1980's on the copyright differentiation between the independent contractor vs. work for hire.
        • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bruce Perens (3872)
          hey, if everyone dislikes it who is using it, it won't be hard to start a new support forum or develop something else to replace it

          I would state that more assertively. It's exactly what should be done, and the folks operating the alternate support site should be the ones to get the $50.

          Bruce

          • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by LinuxGeek (6139)
            Normally I agree with Bruce, but not this time. You are suggesting that someone not related with the development of this application come up with their own documentation and choke the revenue stream of the company that does develop and give away the software. The whole mechanism of making a viable opensource business revolves around making money off the support of said package.

            If you don't agree with their license terms for the documentation, then suggest an alternative method for the license that still allows them to keep a revenue stream. Don't just advocate the disruption by someone that most probably has nothing to do with development and makes no contribution to the maintenence of the source. That sounds completely hypocritical and goes against the most suggested opensource business model I have heard of over the last 8 years ( give away the source and make money on the support).
      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dillon_rinker (17944) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:12PM (#4969213) Homepage
        The SOURCE CODE IS AVAILABLE! If you have a problem, USE THE SOURCE! If you can't read the source code, do you feel the spirit of open source software is that a programmer somewhere must interpret it for you? Because that's what I hear you saying..."I can't read the source so they have to provide documentation for free."

        • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

          "The SOURCE CODE IS AVAILABLE! If you have a problem, USE THE SOURCE! If you can't read the source code, do you feel the spirit of open source software is that a programmer somewhere must interpret it for you? Because that's what I hear you saying..."I can't read the source so they have to provide documentation for free."

          Hi. I'm an artist. I want to use Gimp. I can't read its source code. Your attitude sucks.

          It's one thing to sell information on technique, it's another to render it unusable until the documentation is purchased. It's counter-productive if the people who use it can't or won't improve it if they lose interest.
          • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Malcontent (40834) on Friday December 27, 2002 @07:46PM (#4969721)
            No it's your attitude that sucks. Nobody owes you anyting. Somebody gave you an awsome piece of software like gimp for nothing and all you can do bitch and moan and complain. Get off your ass and write some documentation, help other people like the Gimp authors helped you. Give something back instead of whining about you not getting enough stuff for free.

          • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by dillon_rinker (17944) on Friday December 27, 2002 @07:51PM (#4969749) Homepage
            Hi. I'm an artist.
            OK. Give me all your art for free. You must also provide step-by-step instructions on how you created the art. You must also provide information on what the art did for you and what the art should do for me. If you ever have a show in an art gallery, I should be able to video tape it and give away the videos, even if you charged for admission. Anything that you I can conceive of that you can produce, you MUST provide for free.

            THAT attitude sucks. It's tantamount to slavery - that's kind of a loaded word in the USA, but I don't know what else to call it when you want to mandate what someone produces and you don't want to pay them.

            If you can't read source code, I'll bet you can pay someone else to read it for you. Or perhaps they'd take some custom art in exchange. That's the cool thing about a market economy.

            • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

              "OK. Give me all your art for free. You must also provide step-by-step instructions on how you created the art. "

              That's already what I do. I create art for people to view free, and then I critique their work so that they can improve their skills. If somebody asks me how I did something, I tell them, even provide a tut as necessary.

              But if I were to produce artwork for this community and then be close lipped about how I went about making it, I'd be a real ass. I wouldn't be providing a service to anybody. "Here's something neat, but you can't get any use of it. Sorry. I'll tell you which codec you need to watch that .AVI if you pay me $5."

              Sorry, but if you're going to contribute to a community, you have certain obligations to fill. It's one thing to sell information on techinque, it's another to charge for basic use of the product. That is not ethical and it's counter productive to the community. If everybody makes an obscure interface for their app just so they can make a few bucks on a manual, then who's going to adopt it? What'll happen is you'll reach a point where paying for the documentation isn't the issue, but rather how useful is it if nobody can make sense of it?

              • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

                by Blenderkitty (622104) on Friday December 27, 2002 @11:33PM (#4970588)
                Sorry, but if you're going to contribute to a community, you have certain obligations to fill

                No. You don't. It's FREE software. "Free" means that it doesn't take rights away from the user, and it doesn't impose additional rights on the developer. What else would you think "free" meant?

                If everybody makes an obscure interface for their app just so they can make a few bucks on a manual, then who's going to adopt it?
                THEN USE SOMETHING ELSE!!!!!!!

            • Re:Well... (Score:4, Interesting)

              by NanoGator (522640) on Friday December 27, 2002 @08:29PM (#4969930) Homepage Journal
              "OK. Give me all your art for free. You must also provide step-by-step instructions on how you created the art."

              Go to CGTalk.com. People do that today. They create artwork, then they share their technique with other people so they can learn. It would harm the community if everybody was to say "I'll tell you how I did it, but first go to paypal.com..." It would probably stall to the point that the community dies out.

              Free Software is in a similar position. You all want the government to replace proprietary software with the Open Source stuff, but if lack of documentation gets in the way then you're leaving a door open for somebody like Microsoft to come in and do it right.

              I don't think this is a matter of obligations like that other guy does, but there is a matter of maintaining intergity. If Open Source is an unprofitable model, then that will forever be a sticky note in the goal of replacing proprietary software.

              If that's not your goal, then that's fine. But if you're going to release undocumented software, don't expect a flood of people to come in and start using it. Do expect somebody else to come along and do it better.
    • Re:Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Desano (611071)
      if they charge for support on individual systems, thats fine, but if your having problems installing, they should at LEAST send you a few basic things to check, because im sure they've checked it under redhat and have it working. I know i wont pay 50$ before i have the product installed unless i know it works, or that i can get a refund if it dosent.
      • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dillon_rinker (17944)
        So...they give you software for FREE, and then you feel they are morally obligated to support it? Hmmm? Is that what you're saying? Where's the logic in that, apart from "What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine, so gimme Gimme GIMME!" ?
    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BigBlockMopar (191202) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:38PM (#4968967) Homepage

      considering the only way for them to make money is to charge for support, this makes sense to me

      Even so, a lot of open-source stuff has *really* sucky documentation.

      Case in point: cdrdao. Burning an audio CD over the holidays became a horrible and frustrating exercise. Fired up KonCD. Wouldn't do an audio CD because I didn't have cdrdao. Downloaded and installed cdrdao, then tried again: "Error: could not map /dev/scd0 to an SG device."

      To this day, that error message remains a mystery, and the cdrdao website [sourceforge.net] provides a reference section somewhat less useful than trying to run KDE on a Pentium II. cdrecord finds the CD-RW drive and burns to it happily, there are no problems with the hardware configuration. Couldn't find any explanations of the possible causes of that problem on an otherwise happy system.

      Installed arson. Well, arson didn't work at all, because it was passing "--device" to cdrdao, instead of the correct "--device 0,0,0".

      Finally, late at night on the 24th and planning on slapping a couple of custom CDs of old family memories under the Christmas tree, I burned the CD manually using cdrdao and a toc file which I wrote myself. It's all well and good that I can do that, but most users would never be able to, nor should it be expected.

      Moral of the story: The only thing which sucks more than the documentation is the graphical front-ends.

      Hence my continued conjecture that Linux isn't ready for the desktop [glowingplate.com].

      • Re:Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Friday December 27, 2002 @08:18PM (#4969870)
        a lot of open-source stuff has *really* sucky documentation.

        Case in point: cdrdao. Burning an audio CD over the holidays became a horrible and frustrating exercise. Fired up KonCD. Wouldn't do an audio CD because I didn't have cdrdao. Downloaded and installed cdrdao, then tried again: "Error: could not map /dev/scd0 to an SG device."


        You're not a coder right? (Wild guess.) Then join the project, volunteer to work on the docs, since you have freshly in your mind a clear picture of exactly what's wrong with them and how they should be fixed. Or, if you simply can't figure it out, you can ask on the development list and add the answers to the new docs you're writing.

        Too many people get the idea that open source is written by a bunch of fairy godmothers who just like giving things away. Wrong. Open source programmers do it for their own benefit, satisfaction or whatever, or they do it for money. Instead of whining, try offering some of the latter, there are plenty of good people who would be willing to give you excellent value for it.
        • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by BigBlockMopar (191202)

          You're not a coder right? (Wild guess.)

          Well, I can make Hello World in about 20 languages, ranging from TI BASIC to TMS9900 and 680x0 assembly. But no, my coding style is so much brute force and ignorance that Microsoft keeps on trying to hire me to work on the Outlook Security Team. (Okay, just kidding... I think.)

          Then join the project, volunteer to work on the docs, since you have freshly in your mind a clear picture of exactly what's wrong with them and how they should be fixed. Or, if you simply can't figure it out, you can ask on the development list and add the answers to the new docs you're writing.

          I agree. My problem is that I don't know enough about any one project to be able to contribute meaningful docs, though as my Slashdot activity will attest, I do love writing, and I like to think that I'm good at it.

          I've been paid good money to write highly technical radar video system manuals, but since I also designed the system, it was fairly easy to write!

          So the problem becomes the typical chicken-or-egg circle. Where to begin? Know the source code of something inside and out so that you can detail all its features and potential failures? Or post every ten minutes to a mailing list, asking for info? I've tried the latter, and was met with resistance. And without knowing the source code, it's pretty hard to detail something thoroughly. It's not like there's a centralized overseeing body which dictates what every little tool should do, designs standard interfaces, etc. While it's a blessing to anyone who is interested enough in learning about the system enough to use it effectively, it's also a curse to a writer or, more critically, a desktop user.

          I have also to point out that while I love computers and operating systems fascinate me, my desktop machine is a tool. My spare machines and backup servers are toys. The tool has to work, the experimentation can occur on the toys. I don't think that need is too different from most other people who are trying to use Linux as a desktop but who aren't developers.

          Too many people get the idea that open source is written by a bunch of fairy godmothers who just like giving things away. Wrong. Open source programmers do it for their own benefit, satisfaction or whatever, or they do it for money. Instead of whining, try offering some of the latter, there are plenty of good people who would be willing to give you excellent value for it.

          At this point, I've come to the conclusion that the best thing I can offer is constructive criticism. I love Linux; its capabilities as a server or text-only system are paralleled only by the more conservative Free BSDs (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD). I see KDE as the most viable bridge to bring Windows users to Linux.

          The core operating system is fantastic. The networking support, loadable kernel modules, filesystems - all these most difficult aspects are perfect. But it's like we need a marketing department in the open-source movement to actually take it into the field and get user feedback on this, that, or the other thing.

          Why a marketing department? We're not trying to sell this for money. We're trying to sell this for our freedom. And a marketing department will give feedback to UI designers, apps programmers, etc. with what things need work for the basic out-of-the-box Joe-Dumbass user experience. We *need* that to be good to move him from Windows. Based on the hundreds of e-mails I've received about www.glowingplate.com/dissent [glowingplate.com], many Linux users and developers agree with me.

          The role I've had in the back of my mind is User Experience Critique. (Those who can, do. Those who can't, critique.)

          If my rants inspire a couple of far more capable programmers than I to sit down and really make something work elegantly, then that's another improvement to the user experience. That's another nail in the Windows coffin.

          The other thing I do like to do is help out newbies where I can - "How do I get my network running?", "I give up, I can't see my new Linux server in Windows Network Neighborhood!". And in that role, I've personally helped hundreds.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:40PM (#4968981)
      At WebGUI.nl [webgui.nl] you can find support for how to install on RedHat 8.0 for free.
    • Re:Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Uncle Warthog (311922)
      considering the only way for them to make money is to charge for support, this makes sense to me

      I don't have a problem with them charging for support as such but I think they're going a little too far. It seems to me that if they want $$$ for support, it would be in their best interest to have their software installed on as many systems as possible. Charging for simple installation support is a good way to keep that from happening. It sounds like they're shooting themselves in the feet with their policy.

      Most vendors will at least give simple installation assistance or allow it to be given by someone else. I'd be happy with seeing a list of "here's how to install it on _______" instructions and having to pay for anything more involved than that.
    • by zipwow (1695) <zipwow AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:51PM (#4969440) Homepage Journal
      To me, the really odious part is the license that the documentation comes under.

      Rather than going with the standard copyright protection (you can't distribute the docs yourself), they've gone with a much more restrictive NDA-like approach of "you can't talk about the things in the document"

      In almost every other case involving this kind of agreement, I've felt that this has a chilling effect on the community, and is nearly unenforceable. How much did I know before I bought the manual? How far I can I go telling my current employer (esp. if I'm contractor) about the configuration?

      This grey area tends to set up an area for "selective enforcement", also known as abuse.

      I'm not saying these particular folks will do that, just that that's what these kind of agreements lead towards.

      $.02

      -Zipwow
    • You miss the point. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @09:22PM (#4970165) Homepage Journal
      Charging for support is fine, but attaching an NDA to the support information is reprehensible - once a support problem is known, it belongs in the FAQ and the vendor and customers should go on to the next problem. There's an alternate support site that you should send that $50 to - WebGUI.nl [webgui.nl] . They won't make you sign an NDA.

      Bruce

  • by corebreech (469871) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:18PM (#4968785) Journal
    No discounts, not even to /.
  • Spoiled much? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Smallest (26153) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:20PM (#4968801)
    I thought this was how open source companies were supposed to make their money? You get the software for free, but you have to pay for support.

    -c
    • Re:Spoiled much? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well, yeah, but the good companies charge for support as in, "Here, let me help you with that personally", not as in "Here is a manual. Teach yourself."
    • Sure, but support is something more than basic documentation and installation instructions. After the documentation there's often enough left: examples, tutorials, intergration with other products, implementation services, helpdesk, to get things running on exotic hardware etc.

      Of course this doesn't go for every piece of software, but still..
    • Re:Spoiled much? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sjames (1099)

      Paying for support is fine. Paying for a manual is fine (even in electronic form). But, having to sign away your rights to share your knowledge with other users is an entirely different matter.

  • by c0wh (445032) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:20PM (#4968802)
    I think it's completely asinine that a company thinks it can charge a fee for a product or service they provide.

    Greedy bastards!
  • Sounds like the books O'Reilly publishes - the Missing Manual series. Software released with minimal "help" documentation, so someone comes along and actually makes a book about it.

    Or try to learn Checkpoint FW-1 NG with documentation they provide. You have to go to a multi-thousand dollar week long training just to get a decent, helpful manual.
  • Write a HOWTO (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ninewands (105734) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:21PM (#4968812)
    Well, now that you've found out, write a HOWTO and contribute it to the LDP. This will undercut their revenue stream and teach them that trade secrets won't protect them in a world where they publish the source ... wait ... I MAY have made an unwarranted assumption that there are people who will READ a HOWTO ...
    • Yes! This is an excellent way to handle the situation. The way to address this sort of problem is to leverage the power of the community to make trade-secrets economicaly infeasable. If you feel strongly enough, open a self-support mailing list, too.

      Bruce

  • Good going.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by reaper20 (23396) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:22PM (#4968825) Homepage
    Inline WYSIWYG content editors. Built in editor (IE Only), and integrated support for Real Objects Edit-On Pro.

    Wow, IE-specific features. Good to see that stupidity crosses all license barriers.
    • What,s so stupid about that? It's not as if non-IE users are locked out, since they can probably use an external editor quite easily.

      If IE provides a native feature that will enhance the product for those users without hurting other users, it'd be stupider not to enable it. Would you say it's stupid for someone to design a website that works either way, but only gives advanced layout features to browsers that support SVG? If there's any stupidity, it only starts when you lock people out.

  • Silly goose (Score:3, Interesting)

    by unterderbrucke (628741) <unterderbrucke@yahoo.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:22PM (#4968826)
    "and you must pay $50 to join their Support Forum to get the information. It gets better. The associated Membership Agreement for the Support Forum includes the clause 'You shall not to share [sic] the information contained herein with any other party.' So if I join up, am I locked out of sharing valuable information with the open source community about how to install this open source product? "

    No, you're just limited from spreading information around for free that they own.
    If you wrote a book, would you want people copying it and giving it away for free outside Barnes + Noble?
  • Open docs? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Soulfader (527299) <sig.sigspace@net> on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:23PM (#4968839) Journal
    I'm not entirely familiar with the terms of the GPL, but would it be possible for someone else to read the source, document the system independently, and then provide that documentation for free?

    Not a solution for the original poster, obviously, unless they have a lot more time than I do. Still, it could save the next guy's bacon, and discourage what seems to me a rather underhanded letter-not-the-spirit implementation.

    I love doing documentation. Too bad I can't program my way out of a batch file.

    • I'm not entirely familiar with the terms of the GPL, but would it be possible for someone else to read the source, document the system independently, and then provide that documentation for free?

      Sure. And at that point, you probably have a better manual than the one that the company produces. And you can share the information. If I were a user, I'd buy that manual instead of the company's crappy proprietary support membership.

      If I were these guys, I'd remove the non-disclosure clause, pronto.

    • by synq (55040) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:57PM (#4969106) Homepage
      And that is exactly what we are working on at WebGUI.nl [webgui.nl].
  • by zaqattack911 (532040) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:23PM (#4968845) Journal
    Every company needs some sort of motivation for creating Open Source software.

    I'd hate to state the obvious, but if you want to make the opensource community attractive... there needs to be money involved somehow.

    RedHat charges for support, some charge for documentation. Aside from the hobbiests out there, you expect large companies to throw away time and money into opensource, and getting NOTHING in return by making everything 100% free?

    Did you really expect a free lunch? You know the saying I hope :)

    --Zuchini
    • Every company needs some sort of motivation for creating Open Source software.

      What kind a crap is that? Why does every comany need some motivation for doing open source? It sounds to me like this company would have been better off being closed source. Shit, that's like giving away the car and selling the keys for 20 grand. The guy just wanted some documentation, sounds resonable to me. And worst of all he's not allowed to share this documentation? That's freakin nuts! Is the document copyrighted? To me this goes against the idea of what "Open Source" means. It means free information.
  • by atgrim (103715) <vinrod.speakeasy@net> on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:24PM (#4968847) Homepage
    This is a way that companies are getting around the gpl, lgpl, et al... I am not surprised by this tactic at all. With the economy the way it is, IT spending is at a near all time low. Companies scrambling for survival are going to use any and every dirty trick in the book. A previous post at the right of it. Post a review with the 20% relevant info and dump the rest. Reverse it on them. They use the law to get around issues they don't like or that affect the bottom line (read Cable Companies), so why not us?

  • Bad bad bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LinuxInDallas (73952) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:24PM (#4968849)
    You know, charging for support is one thing. I can understand the need to generate revenue by having people pay for service.

    This however is a whole other issue. What they have in their license agreement is "You shall not to share the information contained herein with any other party."

    Sounds to me that if they help you resolve a technical issue in the forums then you can not share that resolution with any other person. Not on IRC, not with a person in the cube next to you, not in USENET...nowhere!
  • by Xzzy (111297) <sether AT tru7h DOT org> on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:24PM (#4968851) Homepage
    These guys do have a reasonable expectation to be able to profit off their inventions. Many linux distros encourage you to pay for support, how is this any different from them requiring you to pay for the manual?

    Since it is open source, one could argue that all the documentation you could possibly need is already available to you.. just read the source. ;)

    Is it a little underhanded, yes. But there's nothing terribly unethical about it.

    Depending on the license of the software (site is already too hosed for me to find it myself), there's nothing stopping you from forking your own branch of the source, documenting that, and continue on your merry way.
  • JBoss as well. (Score:3, Informative)

    by digerata (516939) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:27PM (#4968879) Homepage
    JBoss [jboss.org] follows this same idea. The software is open source but the documentation must be paid for. I don't disagree with this because its a business model supporting open source that may work. To JBoss's credit, they do offer a basic manual for free.
  • Well I went to read the site and guess what? It don't work...

    I wonder if pointing the ./ effect at site could be considered a terrorist attack?

    (A :) for the humor impaired)

    BWP
  • They don't get it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MAXOMENOS (9802) <maxomai@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:29PM (#4968902) Homepage
    It's plain to me that they don't get it.

    Quoting Sarah from the list:

    I also think it is a bit unfair for you to assert that we are violating the spirit of open source by selling said manual.

    Of course, selling the manual is a completely different matter. What they're doing isn't selling the manual; they're selling the manual and then telling you that you can't share the information.

    These guys are shooting themselves in the foot. The main strength of open-source software is that open source empowers the user community. By segmenting the user community into those who pay vs. those who don't, one hobbles a large segment of the user community. It doesn't help, either, that someone publicized their behavior on Slashdot.

    I certainly hope they "get it," sharpish.

    • by Kenja (541830)
      If by "get it" you mean that they will come to learn how users of Open Source software refuse to pay for anything then yea, I bet the'll "get it".
    • But the main weakness of open-source software is lack of profit. Maybe someone forgot to write a business plan where they actually make money.

      :P

      • by MAXOMENOS (9802) <maxomai@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:07PM (#4969167) Homepage

        Well, since you asked:

        1. You can charge for documentation. O'Reilly does this for Perl, and you may notice, they don't include NDAs saying that you can't teach the information in those books to other people.
        2. You can charge for priority support (phone calls returned within an hour -- or 15 minutes or 10 minutes).
        3. You can charge for access to a high-speed, high-bandwidth update server, like Ximian does.
        4. You can charge for training.
        5. You can charge for certification.
        6. You can charge for the right to include your product in closed-source products, like Trolltech or MySQL AB do.
        7. You can charge to add new features.
        8. You can charge for someone to come over there and install it.
        9. Hell, you can even charge for the software itself .. Red Hat's advanced server product is GPL, all the components are available online, and companies STILL pay several thousand dollars for the product.
        10. Finally, you can charge money for the hardware, like IBM does with its Linux-using mainframes and microframes.
  • by Lxy (80823)
    I thought the open source model was "give your software away, charge for support". Am I wrong? Why is this really a problem?

    Here's what I really don't get. If it's OSS, why not start digging into the code and start finding answers for yourself? Start a forum, find some other hackers who want to help out, and tear apart the source to find answers/solutions. If it's truly OSS, there's nothing saying you can't start writing your own docs.

    What? That's too much trouble? pay the $50 or use something else then.
    • nit pic

      the open source model is about sharing code and information.

      If someone wants to start a company to support OSS, then fine, but hat is not what OSS is about.

      There agreement prohibits you from sharing information. what is worse then that is someone is going to do there own documentation, give it away, then when this company fails they will say the OSS is no good. in reality, it is there business model that is no good.
  • How is this new? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Omega (1602) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:31PM (#4968917) Homepage
    That's how lots of companies do business with OSS. They write the code, give the program away for free and charge for tech support. I'm failing to see the outrage here. If you don't want to support the company by purchasing the documentation you can always read the source code.

    Perl works on a similar model. Larry Wall gets paid by O'Reilly & Assoc. to maintain perl. He adds new features, releases the code for free, and everyone's happy. The only stipulation is that O'Reilly gets first crack at the new documentation for their Perl books. I own several O'Reilly books and they're worth their weight in gold. I'm also happy to know that by purchasing these books, I'm supporting OSS coders.

    • by Sloppy (14984) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:22PM (#4969264) Homepage Journal
      I don't think that paying for access to the forum and the supporters' time, is the submitter's objection.

      Certainly you're not allowed to make photocopies of O'Reilly books and hand those out to others, but you aren't prohibited from sharing the information within. The expression is protected, the information is not. If I ask you a perl question, you're allowed to look up the answer in your O'Reilly book and answer me. If you ask me the plot of a movie I've seen, I'm allowed to tell you even if you haven't paid to see the movie.

      In this case, the

      You shall not to share [sic] the information contained herein with any other party.
      sounds pretty far out, almost NDA-like.

      An NDA for information about an "open source" project, is something I haven't heard of before.

  • by 0x0d0a (568518) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:35PM (#4968946) Journal
    Frankly, this article, as well as almost all of the Ask Slashdots in recent memory, are no longer questions. They've become "I had a bad experience with (my employer, a company, a developer, you name it) and I want to build a little bad PR to get back at them". Ask Slashdots have become just a place to bitch, not a place to ask questions.

    This really is a shame, because the idea of Ask Slashdot is very valuable. Editors simply should not let articles that are not *questions* through. Articles that contain one long string of complaints about someone followed by a random "question" tacked on the end to make it fit the format do not count.

    • Proper format would be:

      Ask Slashdot: Have you noticed that all Ask Slashdot articles lately have only been bitchy whines about the crappy content on this site and how everyone that reads /. these days is just a tourist? Am I the only person who has noticed it and how do you think we can reverse this growing trend in the community?

  • In fact, that's the biggest problem with Open Source. This concept that people are owed something.

    "I downloaded this code and therefore you are obligated to donate your time to me."
    Sorry. This is my billable time, and if I support your family, then I don't support mine. And that's a problem.

    You can have the source as freely as I can, but you can't have my time. Sorry. Back to our example, why should they work through the issue with you for free so that you can "sell" it to others? If you want to provide support for WebGUI, then you should start from scratch, just like they did.

    -Brent
  • Oh please (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anixamander (448308) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:39PM (#4968976) Journal
    I fully agree...if a company won't give me the product for free and then support it for free, then I'm not going to not give them any more of my money.

    Seriously, if open source is going to thrive (not merely survive) then corporations will have to take it up and that will require making money off of it somehow. If the only way this company sees to make money off this product is by selling the documentation, then they need to make sure they don't just sell one copy. If you have a problem with this, then to me that is an indictment of the feasibility of the open source model...not an indictment of the company that just wants to make a profit (or at least break even).
  • by FattMattP (86246) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:39PM (#4968978) Homepage
    Stallman has been talking about this for some time [gnu.org]. Although he's talking about free software and not open source software, the idea is the same.
  • Write your own docs! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BitwizeGHC (145393) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:44PM (#4969008) Homepage
    Agree to nothing. Study the source, write your own documentation, and release it under GNU FDL.

    The beauty of open source is, you can't get away with keeping secrets for very long.
  • Help! The big mean company who spent thousands of dollars on programming and just gave me the results for free won't give me the documentation they spent thousands of dollars paying a writer to create. That does it! I'm never spending another cent with them again! They'll regret losing me as a customer! That'll show 'em!

    Oh wait...I never did spend any money with them.

  • The problem is... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheZapman (627044) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:46PM (#4969025) Homepage
    Sorry if this sounds strong. I had to deal with people with a real entitlement attitude for a year, so it hits a nerve

    ...giving up your hard earned *RIGHTS* is a bad joke. You have no right to the documentation. None whatsoever. The authors wrote it and can do with it what they wish. Print it out, roll it in duct tape and cram it up their candy ass, whatever. However, you have no right to do anything with it, because you didn't write it. The bill of rights has no clause saying "I can take other peoples work and give it to everyone I know".

    The biggest problem with open source as I see it is an entitlement mentality that just because someone wrote something cool, I should be able to use it for free. Being a developer that owns my own company, I have found this amazing realization that I need food. It's really a good thing. And to get food, I need money. Therefore I exercise my rights under the laws of this country to charge people to use my hard work to make their lives easier, and send me money so I can eat dinner. It's really quite a convinent arragement that has worked for quite a while.

    I find that these guys have struck on something ingeneous, and have actually been reading the reports on the practical problems of Open Source software in the marketplace. The biggest problem is support. You need to have a team of experts on staff to deal with it, because M$ won't come out and fix it for you. This is really expensive from a resource point of view, because you then have to cover the HR costs of these people even when they're sitting idle, because you will need them in a pinch. Dumb arrangement. Therefore charging for support is absolutely ingeneous, and is a great model, I think. INCLUDING the documentation. We happen to give away ours for free, and charge for licensing in commercial products. We are looking at a QT type dual-license model so that we can stay in buisness. For all their detractors, I want everyone to notice that they are still in buisness. And important point since if you're laying cable with a bunch of Mexicans, you find yourself too tired to program.

    Software is inherently expensive to produce. Open source has been subsidised through tax dollars via the university system (student loans, grants, etc). Before you bitch about people having to pay for software, why don't you think about the fact that people who don't have crap to do with Linux, etc, had to pay for it's construction...

  • by stienman (51024) <adavisNO@SPAMubasics.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:58PM (#4969111) Homepage Journal
    Of course, as we all know, bringing the issue to the attention of thousands of bored geeks, smoking their server, topping their bandwidth, and causing their pagers to go off all day is a good way to demonstrate the error of their ways.

    Even now they're slapping their forheads saying, "Well duh, of course we should be giving this information away. Boy are we way stupid." while slashdotters smile smugly.

    -Adam

    "You want me to describe it to you... or shall I get you a box?"
  • Come on (Score:3, Insightful)

    by glenstar (569572) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:02PM (#4969134)
    An Open Letter To All Free Software Zealots:

    Not everything can be free... if you think it can, then write it all yourself. And, no, writing a text editor in PHP/MySQL (apparently the preferred combination for *any* programming project on Slashdot) will not work. (Before you flame, I am certain that such a beast exists, although it does seem a bit ridiculous to me). Do you realize that corporations are doing you a *favor* when they release products under an OSS model? Do you realize the huge amounts of money it takes for a commercial entity to create quality software? Do you realize what a fight it is to get something open sourced in a corporation?

    Please don't take all of this for granted. Corporations are there to make money (hell, *people* are here to make money) and they have a right to do so.

  • by Winterblink (575267) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:03PM (#4969137) Homepage
    Since when does being open source mean that everything's free? Or that you're entitled to get everything for free? Redhat has commercial services they charge for, same with MySQL. What's the difference? Sure charging for documentation may not be the most warm and fuzzy thing in the world, but that's their decision and right. You don't have to use their software, and I'm sure there's a lot of other places to go for support (Google and Google Groups, as examples).
    • isn't so much charging for support per se, or even charging for the documentation ( and one could argue that one could read the source for that), it's the attaching of an NDA to the documentation that irks.

      Frankly, I agree.

      This is like O'Reilly saying, " You can't divulge any of the information in this book."

      I'm sorry, but as my granny used to say, " Fuck that shit!"

      Give a man a fish and you feed him for day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. Teach him to fish but make him sign an NDA first and, well, you're a shit head.

      As it happens I've taught people to fish, for money. I assume some of those people have taught other people to fish, perhaps for money. Well, I *got* my money for what *I did.* They are getting money for what *they* did. The idea that I could forbid them from doing this is ludicrous.

      What if a university did this? "Yeah, we'll teach you Java, but don't you dare think that means you can make money by teaching it yourself afterwards."

      KFG
  • spade (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jafac (1449) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:06PM (#4969159) Homepage
    The assertion of the Open Source movement has always been that software companies should not charge for software, but that they should make money by "selling support".

    Well, it's not support they should be selling, but convenience. Because what is support? The manuals. Access to people who know how to use the product, etc. But if "information is free" then the manuals should be freely copyable and distributable. And you can always go to usenet for access to people who know the product. But paid-for support doesn't get you access to unique information (an oxymoron), it gets you more convenient, quicker, access to the expertise. So in effect, you're paying for convenience. Just like people pay for the convenience (or status?) of having 20 ounces of water in a plastic bottle (rather than having to walk to the nearest drinking fountain for free).

    This company needs to realize that they're not selling information. They're selling convenience. If they want to go the "selling information" route, they may as well become closed-source and proprietary.
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:18PM (#4969245) Homepage
    Some projects on SourceForge (OpenCV [sourceforge.net] comes to mind) use Yahoo Groups for their discussions, which is annoying. Yahoo is making its "customers" sign more and more restrictive agreements, they spam, and they put ads in the middle of the forums of others. It's time to move such discussions to SourceForge's own forum system, or to Netnews, rather than using Yahoo, with their "interruption-based advertising".
  • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rmohr02 (208447) <mohr.42@osuOPENBSD.edu minus bsd> on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:23PM (#4969270)
    You shall not to share [sic] the information contained herein with any other party.
    So if I buy the manual in order to learn how to install it, then stop using it, and I find how to do something else on my own that happens to be in the manual, can I share that information?
  • by Lucas Membrane (524640) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:27PM (#4969287)
    The support forum agreement could turn into a moneymaker for the lawyers if it was ever battled out in court. They can protect trade secrets. But how can information about how to make software work be a trade secret when every detail of the software's operation is already published in source form under an open source license? That won't walk. They can copyright their presentation of the information, but they can't prevent you from telling others how to make the software work. If they could, you would bet that, for example, MS would have a similar clause in their license that made the whole Windows for Bozos book industry illegal.
  • Blender did that... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerry (6400) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:32PM (#4969328)
    but it didn't work.


    You could download a binary copy of Blender for free, but if you wanted their manual it was $57 US. I bought the manual (VERY beautifully done, but smelled funny), not because I needed it, but more to support them. Apparently enough downloaders didn't buy the manual. Now, however, Blender is OpenSource. I haven't checked to see what kind of documentation the OpenSource version of Blender supplies.

  • by Lucas Membrane (524640) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:33PM (#4969330)
    Consider what the IEEE does with standards like POSIX. Lots of the GNU tools allegedly follow the POSIX standard (eg sort). Want to report a bug? Show how it doesn't follow the standard. Where do you find the standard? Go to the bank and make a loan, then send the money to IEEE. What good is a secret standard?
  • Use the source, Luke (Score:3, Interesting)

    by izto (56957) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:41PM (#4969382) Homepage
    Considering the vast amount of open source software out there that include NO documentation and for which NO documentation even EXISTS, I wouldn't be so upset.

    So they want to charge you for support? They can do it. They already gave you the source which is the important part.

    You want premium support and a nicely printed manual? Pay for it. You don't want to pay? Read the source and figure out how it works. It really is that simple and you already do that for a lot of other open source projects, like I said before.
  • Fork It (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:44PM (#4969404) Homepage
    You said it's Open Source. If you don't like their policies fork the project.
  • by matt_fk (626813) on Friday December 27, 2002 @07:45PM (#4969715)
    Free = Free. Want support? Pay the man. What about mySQL? If you have a problem that's not solvable on a community level, I don't see how you should *expect* someone to spend their time on your support, unless you compensate for it. They could be doing better things, such as, making more software.
  • by talks_to_birds (2488) on Friday December 27, 2002 @07:52PM (#4969752) Homepage Journal
    This is another one of those /. trolls-for-posts articles.

    It has been widely discussed, for years, that paying for support is completely in tune with the stated and unstated philosophy of the GNU Public License.

    End of discussion.

    t_t_b

  • Good Lord (Score:5, Informative)

    by finkployd (12902) on Friday December 27, 2002 @07:58PM (#4969777) Homepage
    I've never seen so many people so horribly confused.

    For everyone who is running off at the mouth saying "You greedy open source people, this is how they are supposed to make money, paying for support is fine, stop demanding everying for free, etc", wake up and actually read the article.

    Nobody is complaining that they are charging for documentation or support. The problem here is they are making their customers basically sign an NDA that prevents them for sharing any knowledge they gain from the documentation with others. This has nothing to do with copyrights, and it is nothing like photocopying a manual. This is about you promising to never help anyone you know who has the same software. Microsoft does not sue me if I tell you a Windows XP trick I read about in a book by Microsoft Press.

    Personally, I don't hold this against the webGUI people. It is their right if they want to do it, but damn, what a crappy business model. That will only provide them with a revenue stream until some code savvy customers write their own documentation from the source code (which from other posts looks like it has already happened)

    So really there is nothing to see here folks. Just another company trying yet another flawed way to make money using open source software.

    As to the broader topic everyone seems to be bringing up about how this is a fatal flaw in open source (namely that companies cannot figure out how to make money off it), there is no problem. Nobody cares if companies can figure out how to make money off of every tiny little open source project out there. The larger ones have funding from companies that use them (IBM funds Apache and some others) and the rest are written by people in their spare time or as part of their job.

    I make money with open source software by using it to solve my company's (well, university's) problems. I also make enhancements to various packages we use and feed them back to the community. Everyone benefits and I still get paid.

    If you are a programmer who thinks you should be getting a six figure salary because you can write a little software utility, then cries when the open source community makes a better one for free, tough luck. Either evolve with the times or get left behind. The days when you can whip out a little program and charge for it are done. If it is truely a good program, you can bet someone else will be motivated to reimplement the concept as an open source project. It may not have happened yet (Gimp is not a complete replacement for Photoshop for example) but over time it will.

    Finkployd
  • by thogard (43403) on Friday December 27, 2002 @08:50PM (#4970029) Homepage
    This may or may not apply to the story but it applies to most of the discussion here.

    Its clear that there are a few holes in the GPL and I think it might be time to make changes. The GPL was intended so that developed software could be used by a wide group of people and compaines. Recent laws (such as DMCA) have restriced some of the rights that were implied when the current version of the software was written. One of thouse is the right to reverse engineer the code which accroding to my IP lawyers, is now illegal even if you have source code unless you get premission. Another hole is the NDA type agreements and those are related to some of the hiding behind trade secret laws. The GPL needs to address all of these and it needs to soon before some developer gets nailed. For example if I develop something for KDE and I steal the idea out of Gnome, its quite possible for the author of that part to sue (and win) under current US tradesecret or DMCA law even though Gnome is GPLed and its license was written with the intent of having its bits reused elsewhere.

    Let's say you've just bought a device. Say a NBX100 from 3com. Now how do you know if its running GNU software or not? If they hide the copyright message, you won't know will you? At least they left in one small text message that is very gnu tar specifc. A grep GNU on their exe image shows a positive match as does a grep on "You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License". So far attempts to get the source have not been productive but I did go to great lenghts to get explicit permission to reverse engineer the code from the persons whos name is on the copyright because any attempt to look at the binary code could be a DMCA violation under current law because the GPL doesn't grant that permission.

    The GPL needs a anti-NDA and a reverse engeering clause added to it at once.
  • So What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SomeOtherGuy (179082) on Friday December 27, 2002 @08:56PM (#4970057) Journal
    Hell, most open source software does not even have much documentation period....So having to pay for quality docs for free software sounds like just as (or more so) solid of an OS business plan as any of the other I have heard. If all else fails -- you can always look "under the hood" (at the source) to see what makes it tick -- how can it get any better than that?
  • by stinky wizzleteats (552063) on Friday December 27, 2002 @10:12PM (#4970348) Homepage Journal

    Oh. So that's why Debian is supposed to be so much cooler than Red Hat.

    I'm off to Debian's site to install it for the first time...

  • peer review (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TeddyR (4176) on Saturday December 28, 2002 @07:33AM (#4971693) Homepage Journal
    The way that I see it is that they are giving away the source so that others can see it and are sure that it is secure and reliable.

    Learning how to use that source is what they are charging for. Since it {the documentation} is distributed as a separate item, it can have whatever license/restriction that they want for it since they wrote it. SInce it is clearly stated, I have no real problem with that.

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