Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blame and Open Source Software

In the company I work for, open source software is generally the first choice, on every new in-house project. But when I am consulting in different organizations, the situation is often quite different: a lot of money is spent on software licensing (even if the software is seldom used), and open source software is observed suspiciously.

Some times ago, a manager asked to me and a colleague: “What if [a big company] starts selling their version of Ant?” We both looked puzzled, but then we got his implicit point. The point is that when you buy software, you are in fact paying for the right to blame somebody else, if something goes wrong (is this a Chain of Responsibility pattern?) or to call to say “Fix this immediately!”. If you adopt open source instead, you are saving some money (aside from the possible learning costs), but you are actually buying back responsibility: if something goes wrong, the only one to blame it’s you. Some managers accept this risk, some don’t and prefer a defensive strategy such as “we bought the best software on the market, what else can we do?” or maybe simply decided that persuading their bosses that open source doesn’t necessarily mean two teenage hackers in a garage isn’t yet a battle worth fighting for.

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