The quality issue with open source software

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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4 thoughts on “The quality issue with open source software

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  1. Wow, you are clueless. The idea of fixing bugs in an OLD version of a software program is counter-productive. That’s how open-source software works. It’s written by the developers, FOR the developers. If users want to use it, great, if not, who cares? The point is, they should ALWAYS be running the current version, of any program. It makes no sense not to. Especially if the software is still in a development stage. Most projects do follow some type of release cycle–with a feature-freeze phase prior to a new release. This is great for users, however it is completely unnecessary for good open source software, as USERS DON’T MATTER. Get it? We’re not trying to win you over. We don’t give a shit if you use it or not. You just don’t matter. You are NOT our “customers”. If that is the realtionship you want, you should go ahead and use your proprietary software garbage.

  2. You sum it up in your with “users don’t matter”. Most of the world are users, and if you think they don’t matter then don’t be surprised if no-one uses your software because you don’t think enough about them to make it usable.

  3. Misinformed, maybe. Clueless, probably a little bit overboard, stating that users don’t matter?
    The Linux kernel was created for users, and so is all software.
    But I would point out that Open Source software has the same problem as proprietry software, once
    the user base is gone it is no longer maintained.
    SugarCRM may be full of bugs, and no-longer maintained, but so will wordpress at some point in time, so will XP and Vista like windows 95/98. The main problem and benefit with opensource is that it tends to move far quicker than proprietry software, if you are willing have the time, and have the expertise to keep up with it then it is often more stable and more feature rich. But at the same time you must be ready to move on to the next “fad”.
    If you are looking for a good CRM system I would strongly recommend drupal, although the pace of its development can be quite daunting, but good fun as well

  4. Unfortuntaley Sugar is still maintained, they’ve released v4.5 and it’s drawing more complaints about it’s Email system than ever before (theres a long thread dedicated to which is posted to almost daily), yet still little has been done.

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