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How Long Should an Open Source Project Support Users? 272

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the no-implied-support dept.
Ubuntu Kitten writes "Since October the community-generated database of cards known to work with Ndiswrapper has been down. This is apparently due to an on-going site redesign, but right now the usual URL simply directs to a stock Sourceforge page. Without the database, the software's usability is severely diminished but this raises an interesting question: Is an open source project obliged to provide support for its users? If so, for how long should the support last? Web servers cost money, especially for popular sites. While developers can sometimes find sponsorship, is it possible to get sponsorship simply for infrastructure and user services?"
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How Long Should an Open Source Project Support Users?

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:25AM (#25746229) Journal
    Disclaimer: These are my experiences & opinions only.

    It seems you are looking for a list of cards supported by Ndiswrapper, nothing else? Is the software development not keeping up with cards or something? I'm more concerned that I can no longer access their wiki. I'm not sure how the lack of a database of cards it works with would cause its functionality to "diminish" but you are right that this raises an interesting question.

    Without the database, the software's usability is severely diminished but this raises an interesting question: Is an open source project obliged to provide support for its users? If so, for how long should the support last?

    No. Although from time to time I notice that Maven2's repo1 [maven.org] is sometimes down which irks me a bit when I'm using new packages. And that's why I have a local repository on my list--in case the bandwidth I steal from Jason van Zyl of Codehaus [domaintools.com] ever dries up. And if it should, I realize there's not a lot I can do about it ... although I can always keep downloading packages (or even building them myself) and installing them on my local network albeit tedious. I am lucky though as Maven2 is well thought out in this respect, always defaulting through a whole list of repos (indeed if repo1 went down, there are others).

    I appreciate Mr. van Zyl's work and efforts but he and I have signed no prior contract guaranteeing the length of time his service should be available to me. And I, of course, expect nothing from him. He's doing me a great service at the moment but the service--though rarely spotty--doesn't have to last past this second.

    Say, where's your local repository of Ndiswrapper's database?

    Web servers cost money, especially for popular sites.

    This is correct. And by that logic, it may benefit you to send the sourceforge developers a simple message asking them if a modest donation of funds could ail this predicament? Every so often I anonymously throw $10-$20 at a project that I use heavily, I really wish others would do the same.

    While developers can sometimes find sponsorship, is it possible to get sponsorship simply for infrastructure and user services?

    I'm really not sure although I do realize that if Ndiswrapper is talking to this database on the backend, there's probably no eyeballs looking at ads to the left and right of this database. Which makes it kind of hard for magical ad revenue to come in (similar to the codehaus repo1 scenario listed above). I think you'd be better off appealing to some distribution that may hinge heavily on Ndiswrapper but I'm pretty sure the developers would have exhausted these resources before letting this site lapse into oblivion.

    • by westlake (615356)
      Every so often I anonymously throw $10-$20 at a project that I use heavily, I really wish others would do the same.

      I don't know how anything this informal and erratic can be made to work long-term.

      • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:29AM (#25747067)

        Every so often I anonymously throw $10-$20 at a project that I use heavily, I really wish others would do the same.

        I don't know how anything this informal and erratic can be made to work long-term.

        Snowfall is informal and erratic. Chaotic and unplanned. And yet every year I manage to wake at least once to an entire world covered in snow.

        Random simply means you need a large number of participants.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Yep, then it melts and you go nine months without being able to use it. I think the analogy is perfect.
          • by Chyeld (713439)

            That would happen regardless of the nature of the falling snow.

            Just as donations for a project can dry up regardless of whether or not they are done randomly or via a regular schedule.

            But to stretch the analogy, order requires effort. Therefore, which do you think would end first? Something that happens naturally on it's own accord or something that someone has to organize first?

          • by gnick (1211984)

            Yep, then it melts and you go nine months without being able to use it. I think the analogy is perfect.

            And yet people still build ski lodges/lifts because they believe (often correctly) that the informal, erratic, chaotic, unplanned snow will be sufficient to make it worth-while in spite of the dry-spells.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by beav007 (746004)

          Snowfall is informal and erratic. Chaotic and unplanned. And yet every year I manage to wake at least once to an entire world covered in snow.

          I think you may be mistaken.

          -beav007, Australia (part of the world)

      • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:48AM (#25747357)

        Even if you did, sending money in no way puts the author into your debt such that he needs to offer support. You do it as a reward, not a binding contract.

        Fundamentally, open source is centered around the design, not support. In the long run, you will need to pay for support from one of many people capable of doing so. If you see a program so many people use, which lacks the support you think you need, I hear business opportunity knocking at your door.

    • by pbhj (607776) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @12:54PM (#25748317) Homepage Journal

      DSay, where's your local repository of Ndiswrapper's database?

      Web servers cost money, especially for popular sites.

      This is correct. And by that logic, it may benefit you to send the sourceforge developers a simple message asking them if a modest donation of funds could ail this predicament?

      Web servers do cost money but the only real cost of hosting at sourceforge for the project is the domain name (if they feel it's needed). SF.net hosting is free to projects though of course you can donate to OSTG Inc. (a for profit business) who provide the service. SF.net even provide a MySQL database ( http://alexandria.wiki.sourceforge.net/Service+Listing [sourceforge.net] ) so I really can't see any reason why a project couldn't leave up their website and database (at no cost to the project) at "example.sf.net"??

      If you can't raise the £9/$9 a year for the domain name (eg Amazon ads, Google ads, donations - ask for donations if none come!) then few want your project that much and you should drop the domain and just use Google Code, Freshmeat or SourceForge, IMHO.

  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:29AM (#25746271) Homepage Journal
    As long as its users support it, duh.
    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:39AM (#25746423) Homepage Journal

      Exactly. If you want support from an open source project, you need to help that project out. Whether that's in the form of development work, testing, documentation writing, helping uses in the forums or lists out, or good old fashioned cash depends on what the project needs. Most projects are more than happy to list what they need, and if they don't, e-mail the project's lead(s) or e-mail their support list -- they'll be very happy to hear from you.

      You get out of it what you put into it. Like anything else in life.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by grizdog (1224414)

        I don't agree. I think there is an obligation to do something, but not necessarily for that project. If you are putting in 30 hours a week, or more, to one widely used open source project, there is no need for you to support other ones, no matter how much you use them

        Some people would go further and say if you are donating your time to any worthy cause, it absolves you of the responsibility to provide any support to F/OSS. That water is a little murky for my taste, especially when deciding what causes ar

    • Open source projects don't support users... they are the users.

      If the main groups no longer wishes to participate in the project then other users need to step up.
      This is one of the greatest things about OSS.

      Software for the Users, by the Users!

      • This may be true of very large long running projects like the Linux kernel, but typically OSS is developed by a very small number of developers and used by a much larger number of users.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:31AM (#25746305)

    No, an open source project is not obliged to provide support for its users. They're giving you the software (and sometimes documentation) for free. They weren't even required to do that (even if you use GPL components you can keep your modifications to yourself as long as you don't go handing out binaries to the rest of the world).

    The people responsible for the project have absolutely zero obligation to help you with anything. If they want to help, good for them (and you). If not, you have the source - read through that to figure out what it does. Or pay somebody else to do that for you.

    There are companies that provide support for open source software, but unless you're paying them for it, they have no obligation to help you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No, an open source project is not obliged to provide support for its users. They're giving you the software (and sometimes documentation) for free.

      It depends on what you mean by obligated. Certainly, legally they are under no obligation. But if you want a userbase (again, the something that other people develop with their time), testing, and relevency outside a small circle of people willing to do their own debugging, then yes, they do.

      OSS cannot just take that libertarian attitude and be expected to be

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        if something is useful enough, distro maintainers and other companies can provide "support". OSS is not one unified entity, and there are plenty of one or three person projects that are in all the major Linux distros and the project itself is providing zero support. some popular IRC and newsreading clients come to mind

  • by RulerOf (975607) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:31AM (#25746309)
    When your beer is free, someone still paid for it.

    The difference between purchasing software and choosing whether or not to donate to a F/OSS organization is that you choose how much the software (or service) is worth to you, should you actually decide to pay for it.

    Disclaimer: I'm a huge advocate of F/OSS, just not Linux... I honestly wish my interests aligned with reality :P
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)

      If I need the software, and I don't plan on selling it, then giving away copies costs me nothing. If I give away the code too, then it may help you and if you send me patches then it might benefit me too. Supporting your use of my code, however, does not benefit me in anyway, and does cost me in terms of time. If you want me to do this, then you should provide something in return, whether it's code, beer, or even bug reports or documentation.

      Users of software are not automatically entitled to free sup

  • Uh...No. (Score:3, Funny)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .yppupcinataS.> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:32AM (#25746323) Journal

    One of the hazards of the trade is that some software may cease to be supported. This goes double for OSS, where the developers are often unpaid.

    The source is available. If you have to have it, pick it up yourself and keep the project going.

    • Re:Uh...No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mlwmohawk (801821) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:40AM (#25746439)

      One of the hazards of the trade is that some software may cease to be supported. This goes double for OSS, where the developers are often unpaid.

      I think your premise is faulty. It has been my experience that commercial products become unsupported far faster than open source projects. Of course, with all aggregate generalizations there are specific instances that counter the general trend, but I think it is safe to say that you are safer banking on open source support than you are commercial support for a few reasons:

      (1) As mentioned, generally speaking, support is longer term with open source.
      (2) Unlike proprietary solutions, the code is generally available, it is less likely that a useful project will ever *really* become unsupported.
      (3) If it is a marginal project, you have the source, you can pay someone to support you.

      • by Chyeld (713439)

        To add support for your premise, albiet in a limited niche, I've yet to see a commercially produced closed source game outside of Valve's products and MMO's that was supported more than a year from it's inital release date.

        Again though, that's a limited niche.

        • ID Software, Epic Games, and Blizzard Entertainment also support their games for several years beyond release. I think that Valve may still hold the record, but the last StarCraft patch was in September, a good decade after the game's release.

      • It may be the case that support is generally longer term(I haven't looked at in depth personally) with open source. The problem is there is no guarantee, and outside of a few vendors like Red Hat or IBM, the developers don't have the resources to credibly commit to a guarantee even if they wanted to.

        It goes like this.

        Software A is an open source project from a reputable developer with a likely term of support of 5 years.

        Software B is a commercial project from a reputable vendor with a guaranteed term of su

  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:33AM (#25746337)

    Ugh. People who take down the existing page because they're redesigning the site.

    Generally you only see this mistake from 14-year-old "web developers" whose qualifications all come from adding animated GIF background images to MySpace profiles. Of course, these "web developers" always severely doubt the amount of time it'll take to finish the page and put it back online, so "check back in a couple days" typically turns into months, years, or "kiss that page goodbye, sucker!" Saying the term "staging server" to these type of people will usually garner the response: "caging what? I was too busy picking my nose to listen."

    If you're lucky, it was actually a hostile admin pulling down the site and holding it hostage to the project for (pinky-in-mouth) one-hundred-billion-dollars! and they didn't just recruit an incompetent idiot to run it. In the former case, at least the pages will come back once the FBI breaks down his door and holds an assault rifle to his head, in the latter case they'll be "under construction" until the end of time.

    So, uh, yeah. The question here isn't "how should open source projects support users?" But more along the lines of, "should open source projects do intensely retarded things with their websites?" (The answer is no.)

    • by rgviza (1303161)

      You should offer up your mad skillz and extra servers/hosting capacity you have laying around to help them increase their site availability if it means that much to you.

      I know I would if I cared. As it is I don't use NDIS wrapper so apathy got the best of me.

      -Viz

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Most of the time you are stuck with Idiots for clients that force this.

      I have a current one that is complaining WHY I did not take their old one offline and then build the new one live on their website. I gave up answering and quoted him $1500.00 a day for online live editing.

      he shut up after that.

    • Should they? No.
      Are they free to? Yes.

      Their project, not yours. Their rules, not yours.

    • Generally you only see this mistake from 14-year-old "web developers" whose qualifications all come from adding animated GIF background images to MySpace profiles.

      They come in older varieties too. I wanted to play in a band that had a page of that sort... :(

      [hello, $NAME; I love your music, but please don't suck 100% of my cpu on rendering a background image that makes the page harder to read; while it looks great, a static background would also look great...]

  • Seems to me that there is no reason that a snapshot dump of the database can't be released, and subsequently "forked" into another web site. (The problem of synchronizing submissions once the original site does come up again is left as an exercise for the reader.) It doesn't matter that the live site scripts won't work as long as you share the database. The flatter the format, the better. It's the information, stupid.

    As for the original question, I would say "until they can't", which is a point that may ha

  • Answer: no (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcvos (645701) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:39AM (#25746421)

    Is an open source project obliged to provide support for its users?

    No.

    A project itself is not obliged to do anything. In the case of non-commercial volunteer projects (which not all open source projects are), the people working on the projects aren't obliged to do anything either. And by the very nature of Open Source, even the users of the project aren't obliged to do anything (except when it's GPL and they want to distribute their own changes to the project).

    Ofcourse successful Open Source projects are often very well supported. But that's because the people working on it want it to be big and not because they're under any kind of obligation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jeff Hornby (211519)

      But if that's the case, then OSS becomes worse than useless for businesses. If the software is a key component of my business it's got to continue to be available. Attitudes like "it's not my problem if my software no longer works" can only hamper the uptake of OSS. This attitude is fine if you believe that OSS should be relegated to hobbyists but the Slashdot community tends to trumpet OSS as a business solution. If there are people depending on your software, then you've made a commitment.

      • Re:Answer: no (Score:5, Insightful)

        by david.gilbert (605443) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:02AM (#25746733)

        If there are people depending on your software, then you've made a commitment.

        No. THEY'VE made a commitment.

      • by mcvos (645701)

        But if that's the case, then OSS becomes worse than useless for businesses.

        Not at all. If there's profit in supporting OSS, then usually someone will step up and do it. Lots of business OSS projects are supported by the very businesses that make use of it.

        If the software is a key component of my business it's got to continue to be available.

        Then pay someone to make sure it is. It's open source. As a business, you can do with it as you like, and it will continue to be available if you make sure it is.

        Attitudes like "it's not my problem if my software no longer works" can only hamper the uptake of OSS.

        If nobody cares that it's no longer working, then clearly nobody is using it for anything meaningful.

        This attitude is fine if you believe that OSS should be relegated to hobbyists but the Slashdot community tends to trumpet OSS as a business solution. If there are people depending on your software, then you've made a commitment.

        If they have a support contract, then yes.

        • Re:Answer: no (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Jeff Hornby (211519) <{ac.ocitapmys} {ta} {ybnrohtj}> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:17AM (#25746911) Homepage

          When an open source project is first released, there is rarely any talk of cost. In fact the reason businesses go with open source is because the cost is lower. Now you're saying that there is a cost, and potentially a huge one. The difference being that in open source you don't know the cost until after you've been using the software. I know we joke about "the first one is always free", but is that really the sort of business model that we want? The same business model used by drug dealers and payday loans?

          And before you bring out the tired old argument that the sopurce is available, you can just hire somebody, think about how much that costs. Maintaining software is expensive. Very expensive. Forking your own version of a major open source project would cost in the millions of a dollars per year. It's ludicrous to expect any commercial enterprise to do that.

          Given your and many other arguments regarding lack of support for OSS, I would have to say that OSS is still far too risky for any commercial uptake. Commercial software is still the better way to go. Enterprises that have critical systems depending on OSS really need to rethink their strategies if there is such a big risk that a key component of their systems will just evaporate overnight.

          • by mcvos (645701)

            When an open source project is first released, there is rarely any talk of cost. In fact the reason businesses go with open source is because the cost is lower.

            It often is, but the real advantage is in the freedom it provides.

            Now you're saying that there is a cost, and potentially a huge one. The difference being that in open source you don't know the cost until after you've been using the software.

            Depends on whether you negotiate your support contract up front or not.

            And let's fact it, with proprietary software there's just as much chance of the developer abandoning the product, or going in a different direction than you want. There, you've been paying money and suddenly you're out of luck. With OSS, you can support the software yourself, or pay someone else to support it for you.

            I know we joke about "the first one is always free", but is that really the sort of business model that we want? The same business model used by drug dealers and payday loans?

            I don't know what kind of business model you want, but I

          • by Lumpy (12016)

            The cost is still lower than Closed source. as all the drawbacks are the same for Open source as they are for closed source.

            Oh wait, if all my devices depend on linux and linux disappears I still have it and continue to ship the product.. yet if windows CE,QNX,etc goes away, I'm screwed.

            I'll stick with OSS, less risk, and a far lower TCO. the education and skill levels to support OSS compared to CLosed source is identical if you hire competent and properly trained personnel.

            If you cheap out and hire low w

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by VoidEngineer (633446)
            The difference being that in open source you don't know the cost until after you've been using the software. I know we joke about "the first one is always free", but is that really the sort of business model that we want? The same business model used by drug dealers and payday loans?

            Actually, University of Chicago economics have done systematic analysis of the financial records of on-the-street drug dealers in the US, and have used the empirical evidence to fairly conclusively prove that drug dealers use
          • I follow your reasoning, but I think there's a flaw.

            I think you may be comparing "enterprise class software" - i.e. software products supported by big business, like Windows or IIS or SQL Server or Oracle and so on -- with "small open source projects".

            Clearly the big commercial products have viable long term support because they're backed by big companies, but more importantly because these products are very popular. There's a lot of people using them and a lot of incentive for the company to keep supportin

      • Re:Answer: no (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mea37 (1201159) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:21AM (#25746975)

        No, other people deciding to depend on my software does not create a commitment on my part.

        It would be more correct to say, if someone decides to depend on my software without first securing a commitment from me (or from a third party capable of providing support based on the source code), that someone probably isn't a very good business-person.

        So, if an individual project wants to be commercially viable, that project would be wise to think about a support model that offers its business users some assurances; but the answer to the general question "is an OSS project obligated to provide support" is still no.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Oh jeebus. if your OSS program becomes a key component to your business and you dont have an in house expert on it that can run with just the source then you dont know what you are doing and you need to get away from computers right now.

        I know of 2 companies that rely heavy on a couple of abandoned OSS projects. they were smart enough to mirror all the information and grabbed copies of all the repositories weekly. Oops the Devs got pissy and deleted everything in the CVS and closed up shop, we still have

      • by jvkjvk (102057)

        If there are people depending on your software, then you've made a commitment.

        Well, to be fair, my commitment is past tense in this case. I made the project available.

        But if that's the case, then OSS becomes worse than useless for businesses. If the software is a key component of my business it's got to continue to be available.

        Then perhaps you should make your OWN commitment to the software? A support contract goes a long way towards having an actual commitment from the author about the software.

        This attitude is fine if you believe that OSS should be relegated to hobbyists but the Slashdot community tends to trumpet OSS as a business solution.

        And the attitude that something is free therefore you expect everything else to be free is ridiculous, especially for a business! YOU are the one in business. I may not be. If you want support, updates, or for the code to even still be available

    • Ofcourse successful Open Source projects are often very well supported. But that's because the people working on it want it to be big and not because they're under any kind of obligation.

      Exactly. An open source project that has no support either from the maintainers or the users, fails. Just because I have the source doesn't mean I have the skills or the time to learn it and maintain it. Asserting that "I have the source, go fix it yourself" is a limited view that doesn't mesh with reality. I donate my
  • No support is needed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LingNoi (1066278) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:44AM (#25746483)

    You should read any open source license, a project does not have to support you at all and I think that it's kind of selfish that you expect it.

    there is no warranty for the program, to the extent permitted by applicable law. except when otherwise stated in writing the copyright holders and/or other parties provide the program âoeas isâ without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. the entire risk as to the quality and performance of the program is with you. should the program prove defective, you assume the cost of all necessary servicing, repair or correction.

  • Maybe they should just post the .sql dump of the database for anyone to download...

    Sounds silly, but the best proof that an OSS project is worth keeping alive is the willingness of someone else to pick up where the original maintainer leaves off.

    Besides, ask yourself this - how does the submitter's question differ WRT closed-source projects? Of course there's the money angle, but vendors are equally willing to dump proprietary projects once the income no longer equals the resources put towards distributing

  • Open Source Support (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mlwmohawk (801821) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:48AM (#25746527)

    As an open source author, this is a difficult question. I can't "support" people who don't pay me. Period.

    If I had a bigger project that had some sponsors, maybe I could. As it is, I can't even work on my projects on a regular basis. Currently, I just make what I need for my own purposes, and make it generally available to others. The community support we hope for is almost non-existent on most of the open source projects.

    Sure, the Apache, PostgreSQL, MySQL, et. al. get lots of attention and some funding, but the vast majority of projects are just one or two guys (gals?) writing what they need and sharing.

    Support for open source? No. However, I see no reason to take down an existing site to create a new one. Even if you have only one machine, you can still handle two sites.

  • by qoncept (599709) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:49AM (#25746537) Homepage
    "Is an open source project obliged to provide support for its users?"

    Of course not. If I give you a car, are you going to expect me to change the oil in it every time its due? Sure, people that spend their time developing software for free may be inclined to help you out to an extent, but they don't owe you anything.

    Take the issue I found in Pidgin. It was crashing seemingly randomly, and debugging showed it had something to do with playing sounds. I opened a ticket, someone marked it as an actual defect, and 14 days later, since no one had looked at the ticket again, it automatically closed. Annoying, but I still have a Windows XP disc laying around somewhere (for which there are a number of IM clients that run just fine for me).
  • At least, they're not required to provide support as long as they don't care if no-one uses their project. After all, I, and many other people, are unlikely to use a piece of software when I don't know whether it will work with my hardware, or do anything that aids me in any way.

    Now, that doesn't say they should provide infinite support forever with no compensation, but they should, in my opinion, consider whether they want people to use the product before deciding to, say, remove the web page and all the

  • by abigsmurf (919188) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @10:51AM (#25746579)
    There is a view with OSS that "you should be greatful with what others have done otherwise code it yourself" Which to some extent is true. You should be thankful that these hubs and support sites are provided or supported by the authors.

    Unfortunately this can only run so far. If you're a business and you've spent 100 hours installing a piece of software across a network only to find updates and support drops a week later, that can work out to be very expensive.

    Likewise if you're a student and a paper is due but you can't complete it due to a bug/error and the support section for the program you've used no longer exists, it's a big issue.

    This is even more of a problem if there is a leading OSS solution that is so well known, no one wants to write competing software for it so when development and support stops, there's a gaping vaccuum in that area.

    Open Source has to compete with commercial software and usually commercial companies will give you support for the lifespan of a product or until it becomes obsolete (not always, companies go bust, get taken over etc.). It's no good software being free if lack of support means you waste a fortune on wages trying to fix issues.

    Two possible solutions: OSS developers give in and run ads on their sites (it's not hard to find unobstrusive ads with acceptable rates nowadays) or owners of sites are given incentives to hand over control of their sites to a central OSS archive where you can at least get snapshots of support forums and wikis, as well as the downloads and source.

    • by pembo13 (770295)
      Look. This is Slashdot, get it right. Open Source is not the opposite of Commercial.
    • by mcvos (645701)

      If you're a business and you've spent 100 hours installing a piece of software across a network only to find updates and support drops a week later, that can work out to be very expensive.

      If you're a business that spent 100 hours installing a piece of software without checking its reliability or support, then you're a lot better off using OSS instead of proprietary software, because there you can at least do your own support.

      And if you can't do your own support, then why the hell are you spending so much time on something that might not be of any use to you?

      Likewise if you're a student and a paper is due but you can't complete it due to a bug/error and the support section for the program you've used no longer exists, it's a big issue.

      But that's the same when you're using proprietary software.

      This is even more of a problem if there is a leading OSS solution that is so well known, no one wants to write competing software for it so when development and support stops, there's a gaping vaccuum in that area.

      If the market is so small that neither competition nor support are viable, th

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @01:07PM (#25748515)

      If this old guy who enjoys piloting his boat provides free ferry rides across the river, you can certainly ride the ferry for free.

      You could even take a job on the other side of the river and take out a mortgage on a new house based on that job, that is incidentally dependent on the old guy and his boat.

      If the old guy decides that he's going to take the month off and do some traveling in his boat, is it really his problem that you have become dependent upon his generosity? Or that you don't have the resources or skill to purchase and operate your own boat? Even if you chipped in for gas once in awhile, I don't think he really has an obligation to ferry you across the river twice a day, five days a week, just because he used to do it and you are incapable without him.

      I can see some judges attempting to press the old guy and his boat into service because he has become a vital component of the local economy, but true justice would be if the users of the service were made to pay the whole cost of providing the service, including providing the necessary labor.

      And... when the old guy dies, you truly are up the creek....

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      There is a view with proprietary software that "you can buy it and all your problems will be easily solved" Which to some extent is true. You should be thankful that these hubs and support sites are provided or supported by the software companies.

      Unfortunately this can only run so far. If you're a business and you've spent 100 hours installing a piece of software across a network only to find updates and support drops a week later, that can work out to be very expensive.

      Likewise if you're a student and a pa

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eil (82413)

      There is a view with OSS that "you should be greatful with what others have done otherwise code it yourself" Which to some extent is true. You should be thankful that these hubs and support sites are provided or supported by the authors.

      This isn't "to some extent true," it's all the way true. This is the problem I have with people bashing Linux distributions and other open source software because they contain some bugs or don't have some ability that they think they need. I've said it before and I'll say i

  • I thought one of the strengths of the Open Source model was that it blurred the line between "user" and "project team."

    If your project has a crucial dependency on some Open Source software (Ndiswrapper, or whatever), and the original developers of that software can't keep up with your needs, you should help them out, take it over, fork the source, or whatever. The project team is as obligated to you just as much as you are required to use their stuff -- not at all. Because once you take it and use it, it

    • If your project has a crucial dependency on some Open Source software (Ndiswrapper, or whatever), and the original developers of that software can't keep up with your needs, you should help them out, take it over, fork the source, or whatever.

      Your view is far too software dev centered. Not everyone who uses a particular tool or application is, or has access to, a dev team. Legions of people, while they may use an OSS application, have absolutely no idea what the words 'source code' mean. Nor what to do wi
  • At first I thought you could have been an MS troll, but I see that most of your books are about 'beginning' something [ubuntukungfu.com].

    Welcome to the real world. Beginning is the easy part. The world of the typical consultant and author is for now, and implementation, and not for ongoing support - or to look back at what was said, and how you ended up in this mess.

    Maybe all those 'beginning' customers are coming back and wondering why they can't get support for, say ubuntu 7.10 (vs say 8.04)? Maybe you need to explain in yo

  • It's a serious question for you to consider... If you're not willing to support it yourself why go open source?
    • by pembo13 (770295)
      Self support isn't some implicit requirement of open source.
      • If you're not willing to support it yourself why chose open source? It's a legitimate question and you haven't answered it.
  • responsibility (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tom (822) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:09AM (#25746807) Homepage Journal

    I run a free online game. So I'm also on the "provider" side. My take is this:

    What I provide free of charge is a present and should be taken as such, i.e. no obligations. On the other hand, I'm a responsible person and my players can count on me not simply pulling the plug one day without prior announcement and saying "party's over, go home".

    So how do you answer the "how long" question? You can't. As long as I want to, the stuff I provide will be available, be it my game, my website with its papers, mirrors, etc. - and if I don't want to anymore, I'll be responsible in shutting it down with enough time and ahead warning.

    But if you as a user rely on a free service, then you must take into account that it could go away any minute. If your business or your happiness depends on it, make sure you can launch a local copy.

    I don't think any free (as in beer) project, Open Source or not, has any obligations to provide support at all, much less for any specific period of time. The people behind it, however, probably want a good reputation, and providing support and not going away suddenly is part of that.

    It's a lot of soft factors, and that's why all things considered, I'd say the question isn't adequate.

  • Didn't anyone back up this database so it could be put back up if something happened to the original hosters? Anyway, if they were planning on stopping support, it would have been nice for them to have made some notice of it beforehand so that someone else could take it up. Something as simple as a database should be easy enough for someone else to volunteer to host.
  • The only time I would feel an obligation of support is if I've had to put up with endless whining about the superiority of open source and how there's no possible reason I could want closed source software, until I caved.

  • by Rantastic (583764) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:34AM (#25747143) Journal

    This has nothing to do with Open Source. The question should be "Should projects that give software away for free be obligated to provide support?"

    There is plenty of closed source software that can be downloaded for free. There is plenty of open source software that can be purchased with support.

    The answer, by the way, is no. Just because software is free does not mean that the makes of it are obliged to give you support. Support costs money. Businesses who use software (open or closed source) pay for support, either through a support vendor or in house talent.

  • by JWSmythe (446288) * <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Thursday November 13, 2008 @11:44AM (#25747285) Homepage Journal

        Unfunded hobbiest resources have absolutely no "responsibility" to stay in operation.

        It would be nice if they made an effort for someone else to take over the project, but in the end, it's their pet project to do with (or kill off) as needed.

        It's the same as a commercial product, except when the company can't fund it any more, they can simply drop it and the users are really SOL. They don't necessarily open it up for the general users.

        Of course, when something happens, people complain. One of the things I do is run a news site. We ask for, and appreciate donations, which remove the ads from the page. We get a few (a very few). If/when things happen, people complain. If they don't get their nightly newsletter, they complain. If they can't get to the site, they complain. If something happens to the server, they complain. The revenue from ads and donations don't cover the most basic of costs. They wouldn't even cover the power consumption of the server, much less bandwidth, hardware upgrades, SSL cert renewal, domain renewals, etc, etc.

        The biggest reason that I keep running it is because it's parked on my personal web server. I have quite a few things tucked away on there, that I use frequently from wherever I may be sitting. If one day I decided to stop running the news, and put up a notice saying it's all gone, then that's the way it is. There is no "responsibility" to open source my code, redirect my domain to another source, or anything like that. Luckly, I run it because I like it. My thousands of readers like it. Maybe someday it will even support itself, but until then, if I decide to shut down the server tomorrow and never turn it back on, I have no obligation to do anything.

  • I'm a FOSS developer myself but I would never be rude enough to take an entire site off line for "maintenance", specially for important stuff like NDiswrapper. This is unacceptable. You make the new site and propagate the changes when you're done; shouldn't take more than ten minutes tops. People will take ugly-website over unavailable software any day.

  • Is an open source project obliged to provide support for its users? If so, for how long should the support last?

    Since many closed source suppliers who charge you money for their products typically include an EULA that purports to excuse them from any sort of responsibility whatsoever, criticizing "free beer" projects (open source or not is irrelevant) for failure to provide lifetime support seems a bit rich.

    I hope ndiswrapper isn't dead, though - or has the state of the art of native Linux wireless drivers now advanced to the point where it is no longer needed?

  • Open source developers have jobs, families, expenses, other hobbies. While long term support would be ideal, and I suspect most developers probably want to give it, it isn't always practical.

    If they've got the spare time and can afford the expense, I'd say providing support to a comparable duration of similar commercial products is ideal.

    If that isn't practical, or was but no longer is, dump all your support documentation into the tarball so people can find their own way or someone else can take up the sup

  • > Is an open source project obliged to provide support for its users?

    They are not obliged to do anything, including creating the project in the first place.

    > If so, for how long should the support last?

    For as long as the contract you paid for says it will. Software is free. Support is not.

    > Web servers cost money, especially for popular sites.

    Yes. How much is it costing you to mirror the site? You aren't doing so? Why not? Did you contact the project principals and ask them how much it it woul

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday November 13, 2008 @02:01PM (#25749393) Homepage

    The OP gives Ndiswrapper as a specific example, but asks a general question, and so far all the replies have been about the general question.

    What about the specific situation of Ndiswrapper? There's a saying that "bas cases make bad laws," and Ndiswrapper is sort of like that -- it isn't a typical example of OSS.

    Okay, first off let me say that I have two machines on my home network that have Ndiswrapper on them, and I'm grateful that it exists, because it saved me from having to drill holes through my hardwood floors and pull cables from the downstairs to the upstairs.

    However, I'd be surprised if anyone had ever been under the impression that Ndiswrapper was anything more than a horrible, nasty, dirty kludge with no future ahead of it. The basic problem is that the manufacturers of the wifi cards don't disclose the relevant technical information that would allow third parties to write drivers, and they also don't support operating systems other than Windows. Anything the OSS community does to try to work around that is bound to work badly and be unsatisfactory. I've already seen that any time I upgrade from one release of Ubuntu to the next, wifi breaks, and I have to go back through all the steps of installing the drivers again. There's also the problem that binary blobs make it difficult to debug kernel crashes.

    All of these problems show that ndiswrapper has always been nothing more than a band-aid, and nobody should have ever expected it to have a future.

    The only real solution for the future is to spread good information about what cards work with OSS (no binary blobs). The FSF has some info here: http://www.fsf.org/resources/hw/net/wireless/cards.html [fsf.org] . The trouble I always have with this kind of situation is that these online lists are always out of date and inaccurate, and they also tend to systematically overstate the quality of support, e.g., when you I the OSS driver, I can't get it to work at all, or if I do get it to work it crashes all the time, or the full functionality isn't supported.

    This is all qualitatively different from the situation where you just have an OSS project that doesn't have ongoing support. A more typical example of that kind of thing would be sox, which is a command-line utility for converting sound files between different formats, adding effects, and playing sounds. Its author hasn't been supporting it properly for a long time, so less and less of its functionality is working on, e.g., a fresh install of ubuntu. It's gotten to the point where, for me, it's basically useless. But that's no big problem, because other people have picked up the slack by writing similar software to replace it. The difference with Ndiswrapper is that the problem is more fundamental. The things that make Ndiswrapper a kludge are inherent to its purpose, which is to be a kludge.

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