re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered

Subject: re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered
From: Sean Hower <hokumhome -at- freehomepage -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 19 Aug 2005 07:20:56 -0700 (PDT)

bruce asked:
Watching various software questions being asked on this list, I keep
wondering why so few list members consider open source software when
evaluating tools?

Let me jump in a little late here. I use open source tools whenever I can, mostly because of their price. It's also easier to grab an open source tool for a quick job instead of getting a software purchase approved.

I didn't always use open source. I avoided it. Why? Well what follows are observations from various OS applications/communities/projects I've encountered. Your mileage will vary; this has been my experience.

- OS is in some ways still cliquish. It has its own language, its own way of doing things, and its own foibles. That makes "getting into it" (and its apps) a little daunting.

- Along with the cliquishness is an assumption that you know what programmers know and are using build tools and the Java language. Using an OS application sometimes requires you to compile the code yourself. If you ask for a Windows exe.....well, in some circles, you might as well just paint a big bullseye on your chest. And even in circles where you're not commiting social suicide for even thinking Windows, you still get poked at. This is just plain annoying when you have a job to do.

- While some communities are very helpful, others are less so. There is an assumption that you should simply experiment with the software to learn it. It seems that these communities don't understand that you can't spend hours or days figuring out a feature. They don't get that you have deadlines and time costs you money--at least that's how it seems.

- Windows installs are not always easy. John Posada made an excellent point with his GIMP example--though GIMP's install is relatively painless to some other experiences that I've had. In too many cases, I've had to get a program from here, then get another from over here, but first I have to install this one, then I have to edit my environment variables, then I have to grab another program, then I have to create some more environment variables and install another program, and finally, when that's all done, none of it works because program A doesn't like program B, but I can't change that because program D needs program B to work.....BLAH!

So, I guess, in sum, I think people avoid OS apps because support seems to be beligerent and installs are difficult (more so than other apps that is). This doesn't hold for all projects, but it certainly was my experience in enough cases that I was iffy about using any OS apps. Now that I've gone through the gauntlet, so to speak, I don't have a problem with it, but the learning curve and the enculturation was not pleasant and certainly nearly turned me off of OS apps.

I haven't found too many problems with functionality. In general, apps like OOo, GIMP, and Forrest give me what I want when I need it. Sure, I've had to hunt and peck, but you have to do that with any application. And I have found the communities for these and a few other apps very helpful and even fun. Bugs get fixed pretty quickly and functionality suggestions are taken seriously. As for the manuals, they are just as bad (or good) as any other apps. Of course, if the problem with OS software is simply that the manuals aren't great, we should all be volunteering our time to change that, right? :-) (Yes, I understand that sometimes circumstances and schedules don't permit such work.)

Anyway, that's my opinion.

And Bruce, you're the one who got me off on this whole OS kick, so yes, your opinion does affect others. ;-)

Sean Hower - tech writer

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