Free software. What’s the catch?

I have always been a bit supporter of free, open source products. There is something about working with a community based product that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside.

One of my favourite free products is the phpBB forum software. It is in direct competition with the likes of vBulletin and Invisionboard and I must say it stands up strong.

The problem comes when you run into issues. Something stops working and you need to get it resolved. The paid for products have a support system in place where you can log a call and one of their staff will look at it for you. This is not the case with free software, and nor would you expect it to be.

Free offerings tend to have their support structure provided via the community forum. People help each other out and the developers often participate to resolve issues. It is a little bit random and sometimes there seems to be a shouting match going on. This is fine if your forum is a hobby, but if it is a business and the problem is serious, you really need to get it resolved pretty damn quick.

I am loathed to pay out for software that does pretty much what the free version does, but I am starting to see the value in the added support you get when parting with your hard earned cash. I have a query on the phpBB site at the moment and it has slowly slipped down the list, as others post new questions. Will it get seen? Will it get resolved? Who knows. All I do know is there is no guarantee it will, and there is nobody to complain to for a refund (refund what, it’s free?!)

It’s sod’s law (and some say I *AM* sod) that if you fork out for the paid version based on the support, you will likely not need it, but if your client comes to you saying the forum is not behaving, you will likely be glad you have the official support channels to fall back on.

4 replies
  1. Paul
    Paul says:

    The good thing about open source software like phpBB is that they usually have a pretty large support base. Even if the site’s forums themselves haven’t responded, your issue may have been answered elsewhere, depending on what the issue is and how obscure it is.

    And, of course, you can always bump your topic 🙂

  2. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Paul: Good point, and I have yet to have an issue that was not resolved through the forum, but it does worry me a bit about using it as a commercial solution. Same goes with shopping cart software.

  3. Rarst
    Rarst says:

    Ehm, I think it’s more than common for business-grade free software to have paid support available. Ubuntu is Linux, free, etc but developer company provides paid support if you need it. Some projects that don’t have their own support list recommended companies, experienced in product and offering that support for a price.

    Well, my trouble is that I am usually solving my issues faster than support can. 🙂 Breaks my trust in them.


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