The long haul: Providing long-term support for open source

I think Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols may just have a point in his latest column.
Written by Joe Brockmeier, Contributor

I think Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols may just have a point in his latest column. Vaughan-Nichols writes that, if open source folks want businesses to adopt their software, they need to be able to support software for the long haul: "programs that not only work well, but will still be fully supported five years down the road."

While there's immense focus on new features and improving software, open source projects should never lose sight of the simple fact: Upgrades are often painful. I see this every day, users who are having to migrate away from older control panels and old versions of Red Hat Linux to newer versions of Red Hat or Fedora -- which also means newer (and, let's not forget, often incompatible) versions of PHP, MySQL, Apache and so forth. Sure, with a few tweaks here and there, older PHP apps can be tuned for newer versions of PHP. A few adjustments and you can import your MySQL database that you dumped from MySQL 3.x to MySQL 4.x.

But, there's another point in there as well, which Vaughan-Nichols does not emphasize. He points out, "After all, Progeny Linux Systems is doing just fine by supporting the earlier revs of Red Hat." Indeed, Ian Murdock and crew are making a living providing support for software that has been "end of lifed." Companies that invest in open source are not left completely high-and-dry -- unlike the companies that have invested in Visual Basic 6 or other proprietary solutions that are put out to pasture.

If your business depends on open source software, you at least have the option of going to a company like Progeny Linux Systems to buy additional support. With proprietary software, "end of life" really does mean end of life. Open source means being able to do it yourself, which is a much more attractive option for organizations that do not wish to be subject to arbitrary cut-off dates that exist only because a vendor wishes to force another round of upgrades to boost the bottom line.

Open source also means opportunity for sharp cookies like Murdock who know a good (admittedly niche) market when they see it.

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