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Ask Slashdot: Troubling Trend For Open Source Company 451

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the freeloading-hippies dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I'm one of the original founders of an open source company which offers a popular open source product (millions of downloads) targeted primarily to small businesses. We have been doing this for 10 years now and we fund the development of the open source product with the usual paid support services, custom development and addons, but over the last few years, we've noticed a troubling trend. Companies that have downloaded our product from one of the many free download sites have a question they want answered, so they call our support line. Once we politely explain the situation and that telephone support has a reasonable fee associated with it, more and more of them are becoming seriously irate, to the point of yelling, accusing us of fraud and/or scamming them. For some reason, they think a free product should have free telephone support as well, and if we don't offer free telephone support then it's not really a free product. These same people are then resorting to social media in an attempt to 'spread the word' with the same false accusations, which is starting to take its toll on our reviews, ratings, and in turn our bottom line. Does the Slashdot community have any suggestions on how we can reverse this trend? How do other open source companies handle similar situations?"
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Ask Slashdot: Troubling Trend For Open Source Company

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @07:39PM (#42100413)

    We are not an open source company, but we had a very similar problem. We ended up plain removing free/normal cost phone numbers, only the expensive support phone numbers remained. Problem solved itself.

  • by bhlowe (1803290) on Monday November 26, 2012 @07:56PM (#42100615)
    Very few software companies can give away their software with all the features without selling the product or having a subscription/advertising income. You're software may in fact be better than all the commercial alternatives, but I doubt it. So by attracting cheap-scape "customers", you're missing out on the most important part of developing a real client/customer relationship, namely, a customer who pays you money.

    The best part about writing software is that you can SELL virtually unlimited copies for the price of developing it once. Support and add-ons is the exact opposite-- you can only do so much and everything you do requires expensive humans to do the work. So.. if you can't start charging for it, time to cut bait and change your model.
  • Re:Split it. (Score:4, Informative)

    by steveg (55825) on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:06PM (#42101269)

    As long as there *are* support forums.

    I recall a package that was open source, but the documentation was not. If you wanted the manual, you had to pay for it.

    That didn't strike me as in the spirit of Open Source.

    If you do have support forums where users can help users, then I think there would be less backlash against fee-based support.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 26, 2012 @09:59PM (#42101611)

    As the one who originally submitted this question, you are correct. We don't have complete control over the download experience since it can be downloaded from thousands of websites, and the vast majority of the time the IT person for the company downloads the product, installs it, then hands it off to someone else in the company to set it up. So any explanation/click through/splash screens displayed during the install process is unlikely to reach the person who eventually ends up trying to call us.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday November 26, 2012 @10:12PM (#42101721)

    Publicise a 900 number support line, and note that a normal number is provided to those who sign up for paid services.

    Another option is to use an automatic phone answering system that requires them to key in a valid account number before they are forwarded to a human. If they don't have an account number, they can key in a credit card number to get one.

    There are a couple problems with 900 numbers. First, they are blocked by many companies. Second, the phone companies charge exorbitant rates for 900 numbers. I checked into them a few years ago, and the phone company took something like 30% off the top.

  • Re:What company (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @12:46AM (#42102635)

    I'm the person who originally posted the story. Unfortunately when dealing with software targeted to businesses the IT person or the consultant is the one who installs the product, rarely the one who ends up calling support , so any "I agree" check boxes during the installation are unlikely to get the message to the people who really need it.

    In fact most of the time the person calling has no idea they are using a free product, despite it being clearly displayed on every screen, and no idea if they have paid for support.

  • by grahamm (8844) <gmurray@webwayone.co.uk> on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @05:30AM (#42103707) Homepage

    The problem with 900, and other premium rate, numbers is that they cannot be called internationally so are only good for callers in the same country as the 900 number.

  • Re:What company (Score:5, Informative)

    by mabhatter654 (561290) on Tuesday November 27, 2012 @07:42AM (#42104255)

    This is why a lot of OSS products still have a place for a "key". Then the support information is "greyed out" and people know its not paid for.

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