Coders 'have support concerns' over open source

The majority of European software developers are concerned about using open source software due to a perceived lack of reliable support, according to a study published this week.

The majority of European software developers are concerned about using open source software due to a perceived lack of reliable support, according to a study published on Monday.

The survey of 1,000 European software developers was commissioned by software company BEA, which sells proprietary software, and carried out by Evans Data Corporation. It found that although 60 percent of developers would use open source software in principle, many of you have concerns about using open source software. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said they had concerns about open source's provision of regular updates, maintenance and support.

The survey also found that 42 percent of developers interviewed cited the "lack of accountability provided by open source licences" as a key reason for not implementing open source software.

Jim Rivera, director of technology at BEA Systems, said these worries are driving companies towards "commercial" software vendors. "The survey shows that developers remain concerned about the level of support and accountability associated with OSS," said Rivera. "As a result, we're seeing customers continue to turn to commercial vendors for more advanced, complex technologies used for production deployments."

Gary Barnett, research director at Ovum, said the issue of support is a valid concern for companies that are looking to use an open source product that does not have commercial support.

"Certainly these points have some merits," said Barnett. "You've got to be realistic -- it's wrong to expect a community of volunteers to sign up to an agreement guaranteeing levels of support."

Open source software has advantages over proprietary software that the survey does not mention, such as the availability of the source code, the lack of lock-in and in some cases the provision of better quality software than proprietary alternatives, according to Barnett. He pointed out that many commercial vendors, such as IBM and Novell, will provide guaranteed levels of support for open source software, such as Linux.

"The bottom line is, if you want a high level of support, such as a response within the same working day, you will have to pay for it," said Barnett. "There is no free ride."

Several companies, for example Red Hat and MandrakeSoft, sell open source software products and compete directly with proprietary software vendors in the "commercial software" space.

Another company that offers support for open source software is JBoss, which provides services for the open source application server of the same name. Sacha Labourey, European general manager at JBoss, said its customers are generally satisfied with the support they get.

"As a matter of fact, we do provide timely bug fixes, full 24x7 maintenance and when we ask our customers how they compare our service with the one [they receive] from other vendors, we get excellent feedback," said Labourey.

A recent survey of 185 of JBoss' customers, carried out by research company Velociti Partners, found that JBoss was given a score of 5.42 out of a maximum of seven, indicating that customers on average "somewhat agree" that JBoss "consistently meets or exceeds my service level agreements". The same survey found that JBoss' customers rated the service provided by alternative application server suppliers as lower, with BEA systems scoring 4.27, IBM scoring 3.96 and Oracle scoring 4.46.

Labourey said he was concerned that the BEA study might not have been wholly objective as it was conducted "during a series of developer events hosted by BEA in cities around Europe".

"It is like asking people at an event hosted by Microsoft what they prefer: MS Office or OpenOffice," Labourey claimed.