The quality issue with open source software

Sat, May 13, 2006 3-minute read

There is no doubt that open source software saves people money. There is also no doubt that there are a large number of talented people working for free on open source software. But there is a large amount of debate over the quality of the open source “product” .

A lot of open source authors dismiss the statement that “open source software has a lower quality level” as being just F.U.D.. In some cases the developers are right (e.g. the linux kernel), but there are a number of projects for which the statement holds true usually because of one of three reasons;

  1. Software that doesn’t reach a stable state - Not great, but at the end of the day if you’re using software marked as unstable you’re taking a risk from day one.

  2. Software that is no longer developed - Not ideal (especially for the users who’ve been abandoned), but it does allow some other person or group to take on the software starting from a solid base knowing they’re unlikely to just create an incompatible fork.

  3. Software where there are bugs that don’t get fixed - This gives open source software a really low quality rating, and usually happens when none of the developers are interested in solving the bug either through it being too complex or just not interesting enough.

Take, for example SugarCRM, it’s looks like a decent piece of software with some great features, and has a free open source version. If you look at the forums they are littered with reports of problems with the email handling section of the system. The authors response; Ignore the problems in the current release (4.2) and announce a new version (4.5), thus forcing an upgrade onto the user base if they want a fix for the problem. This isn’t the first time they’ve done this either, the Email system was introduced in version 4.0, so there has already been one major upgrade to “fix” some issues, and are still problems with it.

OSS authors should be aware that users are willing to put up with more problems than they would from a commercial piece of software because it’s free, but this only goes so far. If problems aren’t being fixed, or users are being forced into a “stay with a broken version or upgrade to a new version with an unknown number of problems” situation then they’ll start to move on to software which seems to be taking quality more seriously by fixing problems in the current version as opposed to adding “cool” new features and release a new one.

The big sting in the tail for open source authors is that the with the freedom open source software brings some users may just switch so something that’s a fork of their own work.

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