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Why Users Drop Open Source Apps For Proprietary Alternatives 891

Posted by Soulskill
from the have-you-tried-this-foxfire-thing dept.
maximus1 writes "Hard as it may be to imagine, 'free' is not always the primary selling point to open source software. This article makes some interesting points about subtle ways Open Source projects might lose to the competition. Lack of features is a common answer you'd expect, but the author points out that complicated setup and configuration can be a real turn-off. Moreover, open source companies may not do enough to market major upgrades. If they did, they might lure back folks who tried and dumped the earlier, less polished version. This raises the question: what made you dump an open source app you were using? What could that project have done differently?"
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Why Users Drop Open Source Apps For Proprietary Alternatives

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  • Stability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ada_Rules (260218) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:18AM (#29397205) Homepage Journal
    On the verge of dumping firefox after years of use. 3.5.2 was horrible. 3.5.3 crashed within the first 5 minutes of use. The #1 reason I would dump any SW product is stability. If it can't perform its intended function without crashing then nothing else matters. Lets just hope I don't need to switch to Chrome to get this to post.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Daimanta (1140543)

      Using Firefox 3.5.3 and having no problems whatsoever. No crash in firefox happened that can't be attributed to adobe or flash in the last year.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ash-Fox (726320)

      On the verge of dumping firefox after years of use. 3.5.2 was horrible. 3.5.3 crashed within the first 5 minutes of use.

      Firefox crashes? This is news to me.

      *Glances at several windows with a god awful amount of tabs which have been open for.. days? weeks?*

      You sure you've not got a foobared installation or messed up profile?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sigma 7 (266129)

        Firefox crashes? This is news to me.

        *Glances at several windows with a god awful amount of tabs which have been open for.. days? weeks?*

        You sure you've not got a foobared installation or messed up profile?

        The early versions of Firefox 3 effectively crashed if you had a large quantity of bookmarks. It would work if you waited for the Bookmark processing to finish, but sometimes the wait period was over a few minutes. A version of Firefox 2 could crash if you clicked on Forward/Back at the right time, since

    • Chrome is also open source so by this logic it will very likely suffer the same fate and be dumped. Rather than go back to IE I have decided to retire.
    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:07AM (#29397487)

      I've lost count of the number of "casual" graphics designers to whom I have introduced to open source tools... they want to "do stuff," either within a web site or with their photos, but the name brand graphics tools are too expensive, so... they'll try anything, even something with a name as ridiculous and off-putting as "The Gimp." Then, once they become proficient, once they start to understand "layers" and "filters" and the like, they understand the required reading a bit better, and wonder what they are missing with the Adobe software. Well, they don't wonder, it's very clear: all the web and design magazines each month provide specialized step-by-step tutorials on how to do neat stuff with the popular tools, and never once mention open source beyond the "Annual Condescension" summary article about the "other" tools. These people take a stroll down the aisles at B&N and see tome after tome designed to help the Adobe user, and maybe -- in a particularly well-stocked store -- a copy of "Beginning GIMP, which just sounds icky. I've seen the same scenario play out with Audacity and Pro Tools: people learn how to edit with free Audacity, and then when they become savvy enough to realize what they are missing with the proprietary stuff -- either in the form of missing features or widespread community and commercial support -- they step up.

      The pro creative tools have great "wannabe" appeal: working with Adobe and Pro Tools, the amateur wannabe artists feel like they're "more connected" to that professional world to which they aspire. Using the free open source tools just underscores -- in their mind -- that they are second tier. This is not to say that the open source tools are second-rate technically, just that -- in the eyes of the latte-infused graphics and sound editor pretenders -- they may not be quite as "fashionable."

      • by Zero__Kelvin (151819) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:45AM (#29398129) Homepage

        "I've seen the same scenario play out with Audacity and Pro Tools: people learn how to edit with free Audacity, and then when they become savvy enough to realize what they are missing with the proprietary stuff -- either in the form of missing features or widespread community and commercial support -- they step up."

        ... to Ardour [ardour.org] you mean ? Because Ardour is the "Pro Tools" FOSS equivalent. Obviously if you choose the wrong tool to compare to, the FOSS version will seem inadequate.

      • I don't use Adobe products, period. But I can see why some people would get incensed at the GIMP and abandon it. A big part of it is the pace of development on the GIMP project, and another big part of it is the team.

        The GIMP developers have, for the past dozen years at least, dismissed all suggestions that they are the de facto competitor to Adobe Photoshop. They are scratching their own itch, not scratching the itch that tens of thousands of graphic artists have, and if you want something in the GIMP,

    • by klubar (591384) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:49AM (#29397763) Homepage
      For many FOSS applications the UI isn't nearly as polished as the commercial alternatives. This might be partially because UI designers want to get paid for the work (perhaps not a dedicated to the free community as sofware developers). The commercial alernatives invest in easy-to-use (watered down) configuration utilities that make it easy to set up. Contrast apache (perhaps the best of the FOSS) with IIS. Apache is in many ways a much better program, but the configuration is via a really obscure configuration file--and if you do something wrong you've broken it. ISS has a slick UI with nice dropdowns and checkboxes. MS spent as much effort on the UI as they did on the actual product. This is very different than FOSS.

      Secondly, the documentation is typically better on commercial software than FOSS (there are some expections, mostly badly documented commercial software rather than well documented FOSS). Again, writers, proofreaders and editors want to get paid for their work.

      I the long run there are probably only a score or so of free software applilications that are substainable. With the exception of these star applications (apache, linux, etc.) the real reason for using FOSS is that it's free. For example, if both MS Office and OO were both free, which would people choose? If they were both $99 (the home/student price of Office) which would they choose. Mostly free software is exploiting programs to give their work away for free--designers, editors and proofreaders don't fall for it.
      • by westlake (615356) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:55AM (#29398223)

        MS spent as much effort on the UI as they did on the actual product. This is very different than FOSS.

        I can't think of anything more revealing - and more damning - than this.

        The UI is essential part of your product - to treat it as an afterthought defines you as an amateur.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Kjella (173770)

          The question is how you're making it for. I've made things for myself that have UIs that are incredibly cryptic but work for doing what I want to do. If I just throw it out there because it's better than sitting on my hard drive, well... You really only start caring about the UI when you code for others.

          • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:59PM (#29399703)

            You really only start caring about the UI when you code for others.

            That is the KEY difference between FOSS and proprietary software, and it explains all the issues people have with FOSS right there. FOSS programmers are usually writing the program for themselves, and don't think about what other people might want or need with their program. Proprietary software programmers are -always- thinking about what other people might want or need, because they are NOT coding it for themselves. Half the time they could care less and wouldn't use the product they are writing anyway, but they end up making the better programs.

            FOSS is great for developing the underlying technologies behind programs, but when it comes to actually putting something out there for the masses to use, they suck. A proprietary UI with a FOSS core can do extremely well, just look at OSX.

      • by gilgongo (57446) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:53PM (#29399659) Homepage Journal

        For many FOSS applications the UI isn't nearly as polished as the commercial alternatives. This might be partially because UI designers want to get paid for the work (perhaps not a dedicated to the free community as sofware developers).

        I am a UI designer, and the couple of occasions when I've tried to offer UI design improvements for FOSS projects have been pretty depressing. Both times I tried, it seemed that one of the coders on the project doubled as a UI designer and resented anyone who would challenge their ideas. Their contribution of code to the project meant that others then close ranks around them, so that any real discussion of UI improvements is killed off and anyone not a coder was frozen out. You could see why Alan Cooper wrote The Lunatics.

        Other projects may of course be different. This was just my somewhat bitter experience with two fairly well known web apps.

        Mostly free software is exploiting programs to give their work away for free--designers, editors and proofreaders don't fall for it.

        I strongly disagree with that. If I could point to a FOSS application and say "I did the UI for that", I would probably double the amount of commercial work I could get (assuming my work was any good!). I would also think that being the only UI designer on a FOSS project would be wonderful - think of the freedom!

  • Support (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garcia (6573) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:19AM (#29397207) Homepage

    The biggest reason is the fact that there weren't expensive support contracts available for purchase. Employee turnover always exists and generally only one or maybe two people knew how to operate any particular system in the places where I have worked. Expensive support contracts allowed for someone else to do deal w/the turnover problem and kept it out of the hands of the on-site departments.

    • Re:Support (Score:5, Informative)

      by solanum (80810) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:41AM (#29397319)

      This is a reason that is always trotted out at times like this, but is it a myth? I've worked at a number of institutions and the place where I am currently at (note I don't work in IT), has over 6,000 employees and a very varied software set up for the various parts of the organisation. The only time, either here or at a previous job, I have ever heard of anyone receiving training in software use, or access to paid support from a vendor is when we recently went to SAP (funnily enough the training was useless).

      It may be that all the training/support is provided to the IT department so they can support us I guess, but generally they only provide support for installation and desktop use, so I doubt it.

      • Re:Support (Score:5, Interesting)

        by quixote9 (999874) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:29AM (#29397629) Homepage
        Same where I work. It's a college with about 6000 people, and an IT department that isn't merely useless. They make our jobs *more* difficult. They just recently talked the higher-ups into switching over to M$ server software (from Apache, etc, which was great) at a cost of hundreds of thousands per year to a cash-strapped district, because then they could outsource support. They talked the higher ups into going with proprietary course management software, more hundreds of thousands per year, again, because then somebody in Pennsylvania would be so-called "supporting" it.

        There are several people on campus who use Linux. None of us has ever considered switching back to either Windows or Macs. Sure, there's a learning curve. As someone who had to learn DOS in the Good Old Days, it's no worse than that. Easier actually, because these days there are forums. I can't remember when I heard a useful answer from tech support for a commercial product.

        The other massive advantage is software repositories. When something comes up and I need some new program to solve that problem, I google to find out what can do the job, download, install, and some five minutes to half hour later, I'm ready to go. No credit cards, no registration codes. When I have to use Windows to help out a colleague, I can never understand why anyone puts up with the inconvenience of it now that Linux has distros like Ubuntu.

        So, anyway, this is a longwinded way of saying that, yes, support is the big issue in getting people back to proprietary software. But that's not support as a non-IT person understands it. That's "support" in the sense that there's someone else to blame when things go wrong.
    • Continuity (Score:4, Informative)

      by goombah99 (560566) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:13AM (#29397521)

      I use pylab and scipy as a replacement for Matlab. But it's really frustrating because sometimes you do an update and everything can bust because this or that lib won't compile with your current compiler or this or that dependency is not available or it wont work with X or aqua term or whatever.

      To give an example, none of the scientific programs I wrote to display my graphs work any more because none of the 3D graphics in pylab work anymore. instead you can use Mayavi (much better but more difficult), but to do an install of that cleanly is a nightmare. So you switch to the Enthought distro with all that built in. But then the ENthought distro doesn't have a fortran compiler so all the scientific add ons that depend on that or use F2PY are busted. And so on. Sure you can if you try get it all to work, but your old programs seldom work anymore.

      Continuity is a huge headache with open source. If your time is worth anything then even something as overpriced as matlab starts to be attractive.

      (the problem with matlab's pricing is that while it's not so absurd for single seats if it makes you more productive, once you have a large group then everyone needs a copy to be interactive even if they seldom use it: then it becomes prohibitively expensive.)

      • by goombah99 (560566) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:48AM (#29397753)

        The problem with open source is the dependency chain becomes brutal. So you turn to a package manager like Yum or Fink to handle all the self consistency and installs, not to mention the updates.

        Then sometime later you want to update python from 2.4 to 2.5. you do the update and it updates all these dependencies as well. And suddenly you find that Gimp or gnuplot or something else you need is busted because say they all depend on some Latex for symbolic fonts and there's an incompatibility.

        These package manager while saving you a lot of time on the initial install also couple all your apps together in unneccessary ways, so that updating one can break another. Or worse maybe it won't let you update at all.

        One would prefer in many cases decoupling of applications or even standalone applications. When you update an app the worst that happens then is that just that app breaks. Plus it's trivial to roll back to the old self contained app.

  • Ease of Use (Score:5, Insightful)

    by illumastorm (172101) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:22AM (#29397219)

    For me it really wasn't about the lack of features. It was more on how easy it was to use as program. You have Feature X,Y, and Z on there, but if I have to navigate Menus A, B, C, and D to find that feature then I will not use that program.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by moon3 (1530265)
      Free software makes money by selling books, guides, manuals etc. Therefore the software must NOT be very intuitive or user friendly. This way people are forced to buy the book to help them out. Bloat, bad design, general difficulty to understand the thing are regarded as 'features' and pluses by high level in-the-money OSS priests.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Joce640k (829181)

      This is why I still use Paint Shop Pro instead of photoshop - PSP does everything with half/tenth the number of clicks.

      eg. I do a lot of paste screenshot from the clipboard - it's one click in PSP but in Photoshop I have to do "File->new, select 'size from clipboard' in the dropdown, click 'ok', then I get to paste the image".

      Same with JPG images - in PSP I load one up, do something to it, click save, done. In photoshop there's a whole extra layer of dialogs to "set jpg options" when I go to save it.

      It a

  • by smpoole7 (1467717) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:23AM (#29397227) Homepage
    ... is my key principle. I'm capable of RTM'ing and Googling to find answers, but especially as I get older, I don't have the time I used to. Just yesterday, I was struggling with an Open Source mail server. Having to read separate (and usually incomplete) (not to mention incomprehensible at times) documentation on each component, THEN figure out how it all played together ... just to be honest, I briefly (briefly!) considered telling Corporate that we needed to just bite the bullet and go with an Exchange Server with full support. Fortunately, I got this one working (again), and it's holding for now. But my #1 complaint is the lack of clear, easy-to-follow documentation. I love F/OSS -- I run Suse at home, and I've fallen head-over-heels for VirtualBox -- but this is my biggest complaint. We have a lot of brilliant coders working in F/OSS. We need to attract some equally-brilliant technical writers to donate time to explain how the stuff works in the real world.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We have a lot of brilliant coders working in F/OSS. We need to attract some equally-brilliant technical writers to donate time to explain how the stuff works in the real world.

      Those brilliant coders might have to explain to the brilliant technical writers how some stuff works. Seeing as the "separate (and usually incomplete) (not to mention incomprehensible at times) documentation" is also somewhat out of date since they've been busy hacking away on the code instead of updating the documentation. I don't mean explaining basic stuff but esoteric things like exactly what effects various switches and options have, if any of them conflict with each other, and so on.

    • by Static Sky (1439941) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:41AM (#29397323)
      Or at least we need those brilliant coders to take the ball that last 10 yards and not stop when the product hits the "functional" stage. Functional and usable are not the same thing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ash-Fox (726320)

      We need to attract some equally-brilliant technical writers to donate time to explain how the stuff works in the real world.

      I think a problem is that good technical writers don't have a tendency to donate work in their 'hobby time'.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maharb (1534501)

        Which is why F/OSS is generally struggling despite delivering what some would consider equal or superior products. It seems people enjoy the hobby of building things, but once it is all built... its done. Seems a lot like building the frame for a car and putting the engine in starting it up and rolling it off the line. No manual, no body, no paint. Technically it works but it is still missing something.

        I think it is more than just technical writers not donating time, I think it is people not donating ti

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ash-Fox (726320)

          I think it is more than just technical writers not donating time, I think it is people not donating time to areas that are tedious and boring or provide little 'reward'.

          Reminds me of any sort of programming I do. I've seen artists that designed interface icons in an hour get credit to the point that it seemed they were the ones that actually made the application useful to everyone, not the programmers that spend far more tedious hours on it.

          To be honest, I disagree with your assessment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I can completely agree with smpool7. He is telling you about the corporate side of it. Let me tell you about the personall, home situation side of this story.

      In the early days when I did not have the money to purchase software I used opensource.
      By using it I learned a lot and eventually became a UNIX administrator (with some additional learning and stuff). And when it works it usually does a great job. But now I got older, make more money, have a family, I simply do not have the time to delve into a program

    • by Teckla (630646) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:59AM (#29397449)

      ... is my key principle. I'm capable of RTM'ing and Googling to find answers, but especially as I get older, I don't have the time I used to.

      Amen to that.

      Not long ago, I was struggling getting vino/vnc to work under Ubuntu Linux (desktop edition). I spent hours Googling and trying to juggle conflicting and just plain wrong information. Eventually, I discovered the culprit was that IPv6 was enabled on Ubuntu by default.

      First, I was stunned Ubuntu would be misguided enough to enable IPv6 in their desktop distro by default, when less than 1% of ISPs support it, and most consumer networking equipment either doesn't support it or doesn't have it enabled by default.

      Second, I was stunned vino/vnc would fail to accept connections if IPv6 was enabled but my networking gear didn't support it. I literally could not VNC into my Ubuntu desktop machine unless I disabled IPv6 on the Ubuntu machine, even if all my IPv4 firewall and tunnel settings were correct.

      Third, I was stunned that the solution (which was remarkably hard to discover) was to hand edit some weird blacklist file so that I could blacklist IPv6. Nope, no GUI option to just frakking disable IPv6, at least not that I could find.

      After struggling with this for hours...finally getting it to work...and then enjoying the slow-as-molasses solution that VNC is, I started to think that paying $100 or $200 for Windows and just clicking a few checkboxes to enable Remote Desktop was looking pretty damn good. (And Remote Desktop performance is way better, too.)

      I'll continue to use Linux, of course, but FOSS in general has a long ways to go.

      Now I look forward to someone telling me what a complete dummy I am for having such difficulty setting up remote access on Linux.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by speedtux (1307149)

        After struggling with this for hours...finally getting it to work...and then enjoying the slow-as-molasses solution that VNC is, I started to think that paying $100 or $200 for Windows and just clicking a few checkboxes to enable Remote Desktop was looking pretty damn good. (And Remote Desktop performance is way better, too.)

        If only it were as simple as paying some $$$ and getting it to work. Unfortunately, it isn't. For me and many other FOSS users, not using Windows is not a question of money or even pr

    • by gbutler69 (910166) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:00AM (#29397821) Homepage
      What makes you think the documentation for Exchange Server is any better? What makes you think that it doesn't have tons of problems all the time that people who are so called "experts" don't take weeks to resolve and evern when it's resolved, they don't know what it is that finally fixed it? I see this ALL THE TIME in enterprise environments where I work. Consistently, commercial solutions, especially from Microsoft, are touted for their "so-called" commercial support and complete documentation, only to see issues go unresolved until someone (like me) implements and open-source solution that actually works!
  • Fonts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wigaloo (897600) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:27AM (#29397251)

    This raises the question: what made you dump an open source app you were using?

    Fonts. The default fonts for OpenOffice look awful. With Pages (word processor on my Mac), my documents look beautiful with no fuss. I don't require a thousand different features, either.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Joe Jay Bee (1151309)

      That's probably the OS's fault though though. Apple spend money on getting decent fonts for OSX, because decent fonts do cost money - real Helvetica, Gill Sans et al cost money. Money which OSS/X/Linux developers simply can't afford. Microsoft have the same thing with their new fonts for Vista/7/Office 2007, they spent money on Calibri etc and got great results.

    • Patents (Score:4, Informative)

      by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:33AM (#29397663)
      This may be more of a legal issue; Microsoft and Apple both have multiple patents on font rendering. It may be the case that the OpenOffice.org developers actually wrote code to render fonts properly, but had to deliberately disable it in order to comply with patents. I vaguely recall this happening at least once in another project that involved font rendering.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by massysett (910130)

        had to deliberately disable it in order to comply with patents. I vaguely recall this happening at least once in another project that involved font rendering.

        Yep:

        http://www.freetype.org/patents.html [freetype.org]

        On Slackware I manually recompiled Freetype to enable the bytecode interpreter. Debian (and, presumably, Ubuntu) ship with the bytecode interpreter already enabled.

  • Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DewDude (537374) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:30AM (#29397267)
    Maybe I'm entirely different than most people. I used to use a bunch of propritary applications...Office, AIM, Yahoo, mIRC....I switched to the open-source alternatives and I never looked back. For me, it was being able to jump between Ubuntu and Windows while maintaining the same "feel" as the other apps. Market major upgrades are lame. How many times does someone make a major upgrade that's really just more annoying features....didn't AOL just "upgrade" ICQ to use the same rendering engine as AIM Triton...quite honestly, AIM Triton was enough to make me switch to Pidgin full time. Obviously the windows people will stick with the applications that they're used to.
  • Why surprising? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GF678 (1453005) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:36AM (#29397287)

    Hard as it may be to imagine, 'free' is not always the primary selling point to open source software.

    Why is it hard to imagine? People will pay money for something if it saves them time, or is simply more pleasant to use. It's software after all - free isn't the best drawcard if the software is crap to begin with, and goodness-knows there's a ton of crap open source software out there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Fred_A (10934)

      Hard as it may be to imagine, 'free' is not always the primary selling point to open source software.

      Why is it hard to imagine? People will pay money for something if it saves them time, or is simply more pleasant to use. It's software after all - free isn't the best drawcard if the software is crap to begin with, and goodness-knows there's a ton of crap open source software out there.

      I've always thought that the "monetary free" had to be pretty close to the bottom of the list for most corporate decision makers when considering open source. Or at least quite far from the primary selling point. Freedom could be a good argument. Cost ? Not really. (except as in "but if it's free then who is going to invite me for lunch ?")

  • by Yoda2 (522522) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:41AM (#29397325)
    Drives me nuts. Try each new version of Calc, no easy "fill down" & its back to Excel. Other than that I use open source apps whenever possible.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spvo (955716)

      Try each new version of Calc, no easy "fill down"

      I remember using hot keys in the past to "fill down" in open office. I just checked and, sure enough, by default open office 3.0 (in ubuntu) uses ctrl-d to fill down in a spreadsheet. Maybe it's time for you to try again.

  • by mauddib~ (126018) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:42AM (#29397333) Homepage

    It seems the developers have no concern whatsoever to test their new user-interfaces with users who will actually use their software. This causes miscommunication between the developer and the user-base, in turn leading to an alienation of both groups. It is paramount to learn to speak the language of the user, or the boat we want to sail will never land on a coast.

    Besides this, I find the lack of clear and uniform documentation a big mishap in modern linux systems.

    So, my complaint list:

    1. Lack of user-testing
    2. Incomplete, incomprehensible, multi-format documentation.
    3. Lack of quality control (eg. automated testing)
    4. Unannounced drop of support on certain projects.
    5. A plethora of linux distributions makes it difficult to choose.
    6. Too many configuration formats.
    7. The UNIX framework is not mature anymore and because of its design flaws, responds horribly to new demands.
    8. Too many different programming languages make it difficult for new talent to drop in or to integrate different approaches.
    9. KISS principle is broken too many times.
    10. Featuritis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feature_creep)

    • by dissy (172727) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:02AM (#29397465)

      So, my complaint list:

      1. Lack of user-testing
      2. Incomplete, incomprehensible, multi-format documentation.
      3. Lack of quality control (eg. automated testing)
      4. Unannounced drop of support on certain projects.
      5. A plethora of linux distributions makes it difficult to choose.
      6. Too many configuration formats.
      7. The UNIX framework is not mature anymore and because of its design flaws, responds horribly to new demands.
      8. Too many different programming languages make it difficult for new talent to drop in or to integrate different approaches.
      9. KISS principle is broken too many times.
      10. Featuritis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feature_creep)

      Ironically (Other than #5 and #7 needing rewording) that is the exact list of complaints I have against most of the commercial software packages I have to work with!

      If you replace the word 'linux distro' with 'windows release' in #5, and replace 'unix' with the list of 20 frameworks used in windows for #7, then it is an exact match.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gravyface (592485)

      1,2,3: This sounds like a laundry list of complaints for any software.
      4: how is this an issue of open source? The fact that anyone can pick up and run with a project is a bonus; try doing that with proprietary. If nobody has picked up something, then perhaps it wasn't worth saving in the first place?
      5. Agreed, but some people like choice, and you can't go wrong with any of the major distros either.
      6. You're kidding, right? So on Windows, you've got opaque, "blackbox" wizards, .ini files, .cfg files,
  • Security (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LaughingCoder (914424) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:45AM (#29397349)
    The last time I dropped a FOSS application was because it had a security hole you could drive a truck through. I learned the hard way by being hacked. Suspecting this application, I spent a few hours crawling through the source and found it severely compromised. Fixing it would have taken way more time than it was worth given the readily available closed source alternatives.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by s4m7 (519684)
      just curious, did you at least report the bug and see if there was any response from the maintainers?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by LaughingCoder (914424)
        Actually, (mea culpa) I did not. However I just went to their site and found that the most recent version (dated October, 2008) fixed a "security vulnerability". The release prior to that fixed a different "security vulnerability". I don't know if either of these addressed the hole that cost me a day of system recoveries. Frankly, the closed source application I have been using for the past 2 years (which was also free, by the way) has served me well and so I have moved on.
  • Works both ways (Score:3, Insightful)

    by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte AT drunksnipers DOT com> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:51AM (#29397387) Homepage

    I've dumped proprietary applications for the same reasons people dump open source alternatives.

    And there's also the price of a lot of proprietary applications, it's often not worth the improvements I gain.

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:52AM (#29397403)

    Many of the reasons leveled at open source can also be leveled at commercial software. I've seen more than my fair share of commercial applications that lack features, have critical bugs, and are definitely hard to use. While some of these problems may be surmounted by purchasing additional software or employing the services of a consultant, that is rarely an option for non-revenue generating organizations (never mind most individual users).

    So why do people drop it? Lack of familiarity is one big reason. If you're a Linux user who does specialized stuff with your system, try figuring out how to do that stuff in Windows. Can't find it in the UI or configuration files? No problem. Just read the documentation. Wow. What language does Microsoft write their documentation in? While it may not be quite as bad as another language, the jargon of the Windows world is definitely different from the jargon of the Linux world. This adds time and frustration to the process of learning a new technology. So if you're familiar with Linux, you'll probably stick to Linux. If you're familiar with Windows, you'll probably stick to Windows. Feel free to substitute Linux with your favorite open source application and Windows with your favorite commercial application. By in large, this barrier will still exist.

    If that issues exists for technical people, imagine how hard it is for non-technical people to deal with similar problems. A function that is found in a different place or that works in a slightly different manner will cause a neophyte OpenOffice.org user to throw up their arms in frustration, call the product shit, and head directly back to Word. Many people are completely unwilling to adapt to change in a domain that does not interest them. (I've talked to some of these people, and intellectually they realize that OpenOffice.org is just different and that it would serve all of their needs. But emotionally they view it as a vastly inferior product.)

    Sometimes bundling is a reason for adopting commercial products. I'm not talking about the bundling of software that you see with commercial vendors (e.g. the various Adobe suites). Rather I'm talking about the resources that are bundled with that software. When you download the Gimp or Inkscape, you get just the Gimp or just Inkscape. When you buy something like the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, you get fonts and clipart that you can use in your projects. When you buy the Microsoft Office Suite you get clipart and templates. Looking at my Linux setup, I have only one or two graphic fonts and no clipart to speak of. Even though I have the standard DTP and graphics software installed under it. Now I don't mind that. Actually I prefer it that way. Yet I can guarantee you that the run of the mill user will throw up their arms in frustration because they expect that stuff.

    And the list could go on.

  • Mortgage on my house (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheMidget (512188) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @08:56AM (#29397433)
    With a huge mortgage on my house, and the bank breathing down my neck, any influx of cash into my personal finances is welcome. And who'd really stayed true to his principles if offered $75000 to move my employer's mail system back from dovecot plus sendmail to Exchange. Yes, Micro$oft is really paying that much (as long as your company is big or well-known enough). I've heard Adobe offers similar deals (for moving from the Gimp to Photoshop). A couple of well-placed flash animations also pay, although far less.

    If you aren't getting the same kind of coin, you aren't negotiating hard enough. Hint: know the selling points of the open source alternatives, and (obviously) arrange for a private after hours meeting with the sales guy, but without your colleagues.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You do know that this type of behaviour can get you fired? It's typically called "corruption".

  • by schnikies79 (788746) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:04AM (#29397477)

    I thought I would try Ubuntu (Intrepid Ibex), again, out on my Dell Inspiron 640m. I got everything installed but the wireless wasn't working, so I plugged it into the lan and did some googling. I had to edit several config files and use some ndiswrapper. For someone who doesn't code and doesn't work in IT, it was a pain but whatever. I got it working.

    A couple days later, Ubuntu tells me I have auto-updated to install, so I say okay. It hoses the wireless. I go through the same procedure again and get it working. A couple weeks later, the same thing.

    I've told this story before and got all kinds of apologist telling me various reasons why it happened. The fact is, I don't care what the reasons are. I went back to windows.

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashBLUEdot.org minus berry> on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:10AM (#29397497)

    Actually, every software is free to normal users!
    Either you download and crack it yourself, or you have a friend who does it for yo.
    That is the main point free software hasn't taken off, and everybody knows it.

    I mean, when instead of Gimp, you can get this: http://btjunkie.org/search?q=adobe%20master [btjunkie.org]
    Then who cares about Gimp?
    And instead of OpenOffice, you get this: http://btjunkie.org/search?q=microsoft+office [btjunkie.org]
    I mean, it's obvious.

    Oh, and under Linux, the culture is quite different.
    1. Because not everything runs fine under Wine.
    2. The abilities to combine Linux tools into scripts and a mesh, glued together with bash.
    Which I absolutely love. I could never go back. I'm officially spoiled. :)

  • by fantomas (94850) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:11AM (#29397507)

    Open Source is a lot better from when I first started looking into it 15 years ago but I still occasionally get hit by cultural attitudes of some of the software developers. To be fair, I understand that a lot of the projects are volunteer run and small scale, maybe one or two people hitting way above their weight and competing with large commercial corporations, but the documentation can be sparse. There's still an emphasis on getting software out rather than communicating what it does or how to help people to use it in some cases. More friendly introductions and more explicit guidance would be useful.

    I think there are still a lot of elitist attitudes in the open source movement, with people "points scoring" - trying to prove they are more elite, more expert, and more competent than others and basing their sense of worth on proving they are better than others. Some of this filters into support forums where innocent questions from beginners can be savagely put down ("if you don't know how to do this, get lost newbie!").

    The open source movement has come on a long way but could go a lot further in taking advantage of the large number of people who philosophically wish to support open source / FOSS/FLOSS whatever you want to call it but are not technical experts. Think of the large number of people who will pay extra to buy free range eggs / fairtrade food: they don't want to become small holding farmers themselves and look after chickens in their own back yard but they'll pay extra for food sources they believe in and fight furiously for it to be promoted as an alternative to be used in schools and government workplaces. Maybe think how the open source movement could learn lessons from this?

  • Documentation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cheebie (459397) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:24AM (#29397597)

    Even though the documentation for proprietary software can be crap, it is usually light years ahead of what you get for most Freeware/Open Source/Hippieware/Whatever programs.

    I hate it when I install something and I get a window with three greyed out menus. Somehow I am supposed to magically know to go edit ~/.korgodi/pyconfig/menus/anabling.cfg to turn them on. And when I look for documentation about this or even a damn README, I get a link to a forum where everyone is too busy arguing the philosophy of tabs vs. spaces for indentation to tell me anything.

    I hate writing up the documentation as much as anyone, but your project is not ready to be released until you can give the user a document telling them how to use the stupid thing.

    I'll give you a real-time example. I am going to attempt to find the format for conditional execution in gmake. I don't do development on this machine normally, so some fumbling will be necessary.

    Step 1: 'man gmake':
    What do you mean there's no gmake? I installed the dev package.

    Step 2: search for where gmake is.
    Let's check synaptic to see where they put it. No gmake in there.
    Oh, they called it just plain 'make' in Ubuntu. Of course.

    Step 3: 'man make':
    Blah blah blah . . . purpose of make . . . startup options . . . damn there are a lot of them . . . THAT'S ALL?!!! . . . Wait, there was a SEE ALSO back there.

    See Also The Gnu Make Manual. Oh, of course, I have one of those with me at all times. WHERE IS IT!

    Step 4: Google
    Type in 'The Gnu Make Manual'. There it is. Ah yes, a webpage with a format circa 1994. ^F conditional . . . See Conditionals. At least it's a link. Reading . . . I had wondered what the definition of the word 'conditional' was. Show me the stupid syntax.

    Blah blah blah, examples that no one will ever use . . . oh wait, for once the examples are relatively useful. Okay, that should get me started.

    So, that wasn't too bad as was as documentation searches go. But I still had to resort to Google. WRITE THE DAMN MANUAL AND INCLUDE IT. If I type 'progname -h' give me something useful. Put something in the Help menu. No, I don't care what programs you compiled it with.

  • A Short List (Score:3, Insightful)

    by reallocate (142797) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @09:34AM (#29397669)

    Being free, in cost or in development model, is of little interest to me when I chooise software. I want the best software I can afford, and I can afford more than no cost.

    Here's a short list:

    1. Lack of attention to interface and usability design. This is not "eye candy". Consider: People think Photoshop is easier to use than Gimp. What does that tell you? (Responses that trash Photoshop users illustrate the problem.)

    2. I get the impression that, apart from the corporate funded biggies, many open source projects are staffed by one or two people. That's not confidence-insipiring when I'm looking for software to use for years in the future.

    3. Rushed updates often made to conform to an established schedule. If an update needs more time, don't release it.

    4. Lack of innovation. Software innovation is really, really hard and no one does it well. However, open source software, more or less by intent, produces many slightly varied iterations of the same code. I.e., forks.

    5. Hostile attitude to customers: One of the touted benefits of open source software is access online to developers and other cognoscenti for tech support. Although I suspect it happens with less frequency these days, too many open source users are met with hostile "code it yourself" or "I'm not interested in that..." responses when they ask for help with a problem. Online support forums should not run bugtracking software.That's a developer-only tool.

  • OSS a red herring? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Junta (36770) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @10:00AM (#29397819)

    The fact is, in any product, people jump ship to 'something else'. They may jump from OSS to commercial, from commercial to commercial, from commercial to OSS, or OSS to OSS. The OSS aspect of it is a feature for some, but its the total featureset that gets compared. Sometimes, something is just better than something else. An anecdote about some hobbyists 30 minute hack behaving more poorly than a commercial product with man-years of polish behind it is about as useful as comparing some untalented developers get-rich-quick startup software hammered out in a rush for venture capital against a venerable project like Apache.

  • by sirkha (1015441) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @11:16AM (#29398373)
    Much like with racism, people get too hung up over general categories. Its not whether a piece of software is open source, or if it is free. What matters is if the software satisfies the user. The method of distribution, the cost, the license, the openness of the code, the status and quality of documentation, the level of support, the usability, the name, the aesthetics of the user interface, and many other factors all play into a user's satisfaction, and different users will appreciate different things, depending on what they like and their predetermined biases. Anyone looking to choose a piece of software should look into the pros and cons of that software and their budget instead of looking at just its label, open source or commercial.
  • GCC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gillbates (106458) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @12:11PM (#29398735) Homepage Journal

    Open Source nearly sank my career.

    I've been a staunch advocate of OS for quite some time now. I'm the guy who asks the awkward questions at the meeting, like, "Why are we paying 40 grand for a vendor toolchain when GCC is free?"

    Well, I found out.

    I've spent the last few weeks trying to build a cross compiler on Cygwin. Here's what I went through:

    1. First, I download version 4.4.1. This is the latest version formally released, so I assumed it was stable ;-)
    2. I actually read the documentation on building a cross compiler that came with it. Oh, look - well, my particular architecture isn't listed as being built, but there's a long historical support for this processor and this architecture with GCC. So I assumed no one had gotten around to building a cross compiler for my architecture with this particular version. As it turns out, this was the first warning.
    3. Reading the docs, I realize gcc needs binutils. So I download that, build it for my architecture, and do a make install. It actually works, without a hitch, the first time.
    4. So I follow the instructions, configuring it --with-this and --prefix-that, with all of the requisite gnu goodness switches. It configures successfully.
    5. After a few hours of my employer's time, the build fails. Tracing through the output, I can clearly see that it is missing a few headers. No problem, I'll just add them.
    6. A few hours later, the build still fails. Tracking down the problem, it was configure's fault - there's a config.in, but the config.h is nothing more than the template. So I modify that by hand and restart the build.
    7. About four hours later, it fails yet again, with a different problem. It complains that it can't link the libraries. So I google the error phrase, and sure enough, it's a known problem with older versions of the compiler. I look at the patch provided, and modify my configuration accordingly. Time to rebuild.
    8. Another few hours pass, and the build still fails. I've now figured out that I've built the cross-compiler portion, and it's now working on the libraries. Here's the problem: things like stdio.h are missing. So I go through this iterative stage by which I start copying headers to the library directory until it compiles and builds. Granted, I'm building this on Cygwin, and I'm concerned that their headers might not match the actual libraries I'll be building. But, I'll leave that for another time. (warning number two...)
    9. It finishes. I do a 'make install'.
    10. Now I can compile the project I've taken over from another department. Mind you, I was supposed to have had this working a week or so ago, but no one has found out yet... So I start the build. The cross compiler works, but then fails at the link stage - missing -lc.
    11. Okay, so I need libc. I download it, untar it, and then run into some problems. When I configure and build it, I can't get it to use the cross-compiler I've just built. Turns out, libc comes with many of the same headers in the Cygwin distro. That little warning flag about headers just went from orange to red. The compiler was compiled with the Cygwin headers, but I can't use them for building the C library. So now I have a conflict between the headers used to build the compiler, and the headers used to build the library. I have to make a choice: I'm going to install the C library headers in Cygwin, and then rebuild the compiler. I don't have time to audit all of the inconsistencies between the two.
    12. So I install the libc headers. And I do a make distclean and a configure. And then I try to build the compiler once again. It fails.
    13. Just as a sanity check, I configure for my host architecture - i686, and build and install gcc. It works like a charm, no problems at all. So I know that the compiler _can_ be built successfully.
    14. This time, it has a whole different set of problems. Can't find ins-modes.h. Yep, it's autogenerated by a program called ge
  • by MagikSlinger (259969) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @01:25PM (#29399407) Homepage Journal

    I've seen some saying bits of what I want to say, and I don't have mod points so I'll just do a "me too":

    1. Programmer User Interfaces. GIMP makes sense to programmers, but shows nothing but contempt for anyone else. I have to switch mental modes to use GIMP, but even then, I find the user interface inconvenient. I used to think Photoshop's user interface was needlessly painful, now I know better...
    2. "We'll Do Everything, But Won't Assume Useful Defaults". I am staring at you Open Office! When I select a range on a spreadsheet and press delete, I would like you to clear the contents of those cells and leave the formatting. Quit bloody asking me what I want to delete each and every time!!
    3. "To Be Done". I am a programmer, and I understand writing user documentation sucks, but I have news for you: I'll ignore your precious open source project if there is inadequate documentation. Don't go crying, "You should write it!" No, you're the one who has to convince me to use your project. It's your responsibility to create docs, not mine.
    4. "Frequent releases are good!" NoScript protects me on-line, but I am so tired of trying to open Firefox and have to wait an extra 2-3 minutes for NoScript to update--AGAIN! For people who use your software in production, frequent releases are bad, m'kay? They have to regression test the new version in a development environment, plan a roll-out, negotiate outages, etc. Either make the frequent releases transparent to me (like Ubuntu does which goes to the trouble to make sure 99% of systems won't break so you don't notice), or batch and release like Microsoft does on a Tuesday.
    5. Developer Arrogance, NMH syndrome, arbitrary and irrational politics, etc. Most of the major projects I follow fork because of developer politics. Developers argue and fork over irrational arguments -- it reminds me of Gulliver's Travels and the Big-End/Little-End arguments. Decisions to not support something that smack of "I didn't design or make it, so I don't like/trust it". This childish and unprofessional behavior will kill open source projects more than any patent troll portfolio.

    These are my beefs. Feel free to add more.

  • by leereyno (32197) on Saturday September 12, 2009 @07:28PM (#29401667) Homepage Journal

    There is a vocal minority of computer professionals and users who operate off of an ideological model rather than a pragmatic one. They see moral issues where most of us only see an engineering problem. Furthermore they define themselves based upon their attachment to their ideology.

    For the rest of us this is silly at best and downright exasperating at worst. Try working with someone who demands that a sub-par solution be used on political grounds and who casts your reluctance to do so as a moral failing, if not evidence of participation in an evil conspiracy of some sort. I really do think that people like that are mentally ill.

    I make technological choices on technological grounds. I choose the solution that works best. I don't cloud my judgement with emotionally driven ideologies.

    I use (and contribute to) open source products because they usually offer the best value proposition. When they don't, I look elsewhere. It is not wrong to support a proprietary solution. It is not wrong to reward those whose efforts have made your life easier.

You scratch my tape, and I'll scratch yours.

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