RE: Documenting open source software in product?

Subject: RE: Documenting open source software in product?
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2002 11:02:51 -0400

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Bill Swallow [mailto:wswallow -at- nycap -dot- rr -dot- com]

> If it ain't yours, it ain't yours. Documenting someone else's product
> that is used in your product can lead to assumed
> responsibility on your
> company's part to support that third-party software for your clients,
> which you don't want to have on your shoulders. Even though it's
> open-source, refer your users to that product's documentation.

I agree with Bill that, by writing your own
documentation for Open Source third-party software
that you include with your product, you are taking
on a responsibility for something that somebody
else will be changing, and that has pitfalls.

However, if the Open Source tools are really
being included in your company's offering,
then your company is controlling which VERSIONS
are being used. We all do similar stuff when
we specify the package dependencies in software
packages, so this is just another example of a
dependency. If the customer insists on having
the latest and bleeding-edgiest of each package,
when your product requires earlier, proven
versions, then that's their problem.

For example, we sell product that requires only
certain kernel versions of Linux or certain
versions of Solaris and not others. If you want
to try to force the issue, you don't get our
support -- unless you are a huge potential
customer and are working with us to qualify
our product with the OS version that you use
in your shops... but I digress.

You can include a proviso that you support version
such-n-such, and if the customer prefers to use a
newer/alternate version, then they must make-do
with the documentation that comes with that other
version. Or they must deal with the areas where
your document differs from the new OpenSource

There are arguments for both sides, and I agree
with most of 'em. Just total up the benefits and
the problems with each approach and make up your
own mind. We're just here to suggest what some
of the benefits and problems might be. You get to
assign weight to them, according to your own

> If you're including 3rd party software within your own and
> shipping it,
> you generally have to first get rights to do so (not sure how
> this works
> with open source apps though) and then usually you have the
> app and docs
> for that product private-labeled for your company's use (that is, the
> product assumes your company's brand and not it's own). You
> still don't
> support it 100%, but you do provide the documentation under your
> deliverable's "umbrella".

That works, only if the docs that come with the OpenSource
stuff are sufficient to the task... where the task may be
not only to get the customer going with the product, but
also to present the proper, unified marketing image, etc.


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