electronic brain surgery since 2001

Open Source Customers

Yesterday I came across a blog post titled The Indulgences of Open Source which made me a little angry first. It's author, Jonathan Cogley, rants about missing “customer savviness” in Open Source projects. Eg. he writes about DokuWiki:

Their website only distributes the DokuWiki download as a .tgz file. […] However DokuWiki supports Windows and yet this file extension is not natively supported by Windows XP or Vista or Windows Server. What commercial company with half a brain would release their product in a format that their customers could not consume without a third party tool to unpackage it?

So is he right? Yes and no. He might point out valid points for possible improvements but his attitude is very wrong. It seems hard to grasp for Jonathan how Open Source projects and its authors work. The idea to be treated as DokuWiki customer is wrong from the beginning:

cus·tom·er, noun, one that purchases a commodity or service
Webster Dictionary

You get DokuWiki for free, you don't purchase it – not even if you donate a few bucks.

Let me explain how I see it. To me, DokuWiki users are friends not customers. I give you my software because I like you and think you might like the software. I don't expect anything in return. I'm happy to hear if you like it or if you have ideas for improvements. If you do, I'm happy to work on it with your help. But if you start to make demands I feel exploited. Of course this “friends” analogy is a little bit far fetched, but you should understand how Jonathan's post made me angry in the first place.

So I give away the software for free and there are a lot of friendly people in the mailinglist, the forum and the IRC channel who are all happy to help if they have an idea, but nobody is obligated to do so. Of course this might not be enough for some, relying on friends can be hard sometimes ;-). If you really want to be treated as customer you should pay for it, eg. my company offers Business Support for DokuWiki.

About the two points raised by Jonathan - I posted a reply to his post that might help, but I won't do zip files. The format is pretty limited and does not handle file permissions. Providing two formats is more work which benefits only the lazy. There are excellent tools available to use tgz files on a Windows system. If this is already to much hassle, then feel free to send me $5 and I will handcraft a personal zip file for you ;-).

opensource, dokuwiki, rant, blogosphere
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