People Buy Bottled Water

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006 at 0033

Commercial open source went wrong when they went to war on price. Wow. Lot of W’s there.

It occurred to me today, amidst a possible mispelling, that the open source movement really has shot itself in the feet when it comes to commanding marketplace respectability. See, when you tell someone that the thing you’re working with was free they immediately assume that because you didn’t pay for it, they shouldn’t have to either. Afterall, couldn’t they just do it themselves? And hey, it’s free right, so that means it’s not as good as something you pay for? Like the gloves you find in the street, they’re soggy and you don’t know who wore them last. You could find yourself incriminated in a murder case, or at the very least glove theft. What if a tramp loses his hands to frostbite that night because you walked off with his gloves thinking “Hey, free gloves, may as well give them a try…” before discarding them, somewhere out the tramp’s line of sight?

Some open source gloves are soggy. Mambo, for instance, has dampened my hands on more than one occasion. Maybe its just that we didn’t get along, maybe my hands are too big or too dry, who knows. Others like WordPress and Typo3 are warm dry gloves, but lo, not found on a street but in a shop that gives them away free for the price of your patronage and nothing more. These are the gloves that are unfairly treated by the business world, their charity spurned and looked down upon in the marketplace where only dollars count. Or Rubles. Or shells.

Free languages too, hunted down by the businessmen like geese and shot dead. If the language is free then so too must be the programmers that kneel at their altars. Surely no-one of worth would find themself dirtied by the carnal knowledge of the free whore-languages we know as PHP and Ruby?

People who pay people to do things (Who probably go on to pay other people in UK/US opressed nations to do it for even less…) on computers live with the delusion that people who do things (Hey, lets give them a name… “Programmers” will do…) with things that cost money have some right to pass that cost on to them. They accept it graciuosly, they cherish it on the invoices and sleep curled up next to it at night. Somehow the fact that the “Programmer’s” tool cost lots meant that it does a better job. But consider for a moment that this programmer has done many jobs before yours and he’s passed the cost of his fabled tools on to each and every client before you too. All of a sudden the price of the tool becomes meaningless as it’s already been set off against previous work. The cost of the tools, therefore, becomes a moot point.

“Open Source” has been marketted by many forces as being a cheaper option without stopping to examine the psychological impact of that on the squidgy pink things that will be paying for an end product, one way or another. As humans we are simple predictable beings and we cherish the rare and pricey and dismiss the free, soggy gloves.

People buy bottled water.

So where am I going ? I think the greatest thing about open source, its major power and what should have been the selling point, is its transparency. No government secrets, no adware, no spyware, no insidious marketting bods trying desperately to get their hands on your browsing habits. You pay for it or you pick it up off the street, but either way you can look inside it. This might be a harder sell than “Hey, it’s free” but in this age of the politics of fear and the Owellian state that many of us now live within, it sure strikes a chord with me. When you pay money for something “Closed Source” you really have little idea of what’s going on in the background and if you want to change something then you have to wait for the vendor to act. Just look at Internet Explorer for example. Almost every spyware molested PC on the planet is in that state thanks to IE. Patches? Yeah, they come, but only after months of waiting while worms run wild. Whoever thought a worm could run? In the crazy world known as the internet these days they even DRIVE CARS. WITHOUT HANDS. It’s madness.

Using open source tools and solutions as a developer is a tough sell thanks to the Open Source Marketting People (OSMP) (Doesn’t really exist as an organised body, but it could…) because now all our clients think that it’s cheap to do. No. The code would take just as long in .Net as it would PHP. Ok, we didn’t have to buy PHP or Apache, but then your .Net programming house only had to buy MS Studio once anyway and would have recouped that cost long ago. Yes, the running costs are lower because you’re not haemmoraging licence fees out to a megalithic 3rd party company, but that doesn’t mean that mystically the whole thing was easier to put together or is somehow worth less.

If anything, the open source solution should cost you MORE, because you can actually see what your developer is doing and come down on them like a tonne of bricks when you find comments like /* must fix later cos the arsehole client doesn’t know what he’s doing */ littered around your source.

They should have put their premium on transparency. Not price.

Nobody likes a soggy glove. Everybody likes double glazing.

(It’s warm, and dry, and transparent. Geddit?)

2 Comment for “People Buy Bottled Water”

  1. Orizu Nwokeji Said this on

    Amen. Quite frankly we need more awareness of this situation in order for the market to get real.

    Maybe then our open source proposals can address prospective approaches to the clients goals, rather than an apologetic explanation of our nerve in charging for something free.

    Not to mention the familiar preceding anecdote of a cousin’s neighbour’s fourteen year-old nephew who has his own website…

    You could however, gain proficiency in some commercial CMS’ and allow these to form the majority of your suite of offerings. They have plenty of promotional material and the savings made via an opensource approach may then be appreciated with the newly acquired perspective.

  2. ניו יורק Said this on

    If anything, the open source solution should cost you MORE, because you can actually see what your developer is doing and come down on them like a tonne of bricks when you find comments like /* must fix later cos the arsehole client doesn’t know what he’s doing */ littered around your source.

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