4 Jan 2005 titus   » (Journeyer)

OCaml and string theory -- how cool is that?!

Open-source vs closed-source Web dev

On our trip to Mammoth over New Year's, we had an interesting discussion about Web development frameworks, specifically open-source vs closed-source. One of the things that made it especially interesting was that apart from me & my wife (your standard OSS advocates) there was an MBA student & software developer as well as an engineer working in management at a construction company. So rather than discussing things with the usual group of my academic friends who buy into OSS by default, I had to actually come up with business arguments for OSS Web frameworks ;).

There were a two requirements that came up:

  • The engineer wanted accountability: if the company they hired to build a Web site or CMS defaulted or screwed up, he wanted to be able to sue them and/or recover their assets. Beyond that, he didn't really care whether or not they used OSS.

  • The MBA/programmer wanted better overall documentation. His experience with the Java-based ArsDigita CMS that RedHat bought was extremely frustrating because the documentation was essentially nonexistent. I and others have had similar experiences with Python CMSs.

Beyond these two considerations, I don't think either one had a problem with open-source vs closed source, which was nice to hear. In particular, there was no mention of OSS lacking features, security, or stability -- it seems like FUD on this account isn't reaching these two people.

My responses were basically this:

  • Re accountability, it seems to be difficult to recover assets no matter what. Large companies (e.g. Oracle and MS) that sell software tend to have EULA that nix accountability at this level. Consulting companies are either heavyweights that have lots of lawyers (e.g. IBM) or small businesses that have no money anyway.

    They both more-or-less agreed to this point & redefined their requirements to be that there was a company, with a reputation to manage, behind the software. When I pointed out that there were now many companies that were building on OSS, they shrugged & said that would be fine.

  • On the better documentation issue I agreed but pointed out that (a) a lot of closed-source software doesn't have great documentation either, and (b) most companies aren't going to care what documentation there is for their CMS if they have a consulting firm running it. Since it's kinda silly for a small non-IT firm to do more than manage their content, this point doesn't really matter for the end-user.

I added that one strong reason to go with an OSS Web CMS supported by multiple companies is company failure. A continual problem (exemplified by ArsDigita) is that companies go out of business & leave their customers high & dry. Maybe the base CMS is stable enough to work without modification, but any future customization or extension will be impossible with a closed CMS if the owners go out of business. With Zope or Plone, other companies (or even individual consultants) can pick up the pieces, if the company you had hired fails.

This seemed to resonate with both of our friends.

Anyway... 'nuff for now.


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