The True Cost of Open Source

This afternoon I came across a blog post entitled The True Cost of Open Source, in which the blogger tries to dissuade churches from using open source solutions, and thereby promote their own proprietary CMS.

I commented on their blog post, but I don't know if they'll post it, because I show them up for what they really seem to be doing. So with this in mind, I've posted my full, unedited reply below:

Why is this so reminiscent of those Microsoft-funded studies showing how open source software is more expensive than proprietary software?

Ah... I see what you're doing, but first I'm going to reply to your blog post, and then I'm going to conclude with my answer to the real reason you blogged this.

"When a project gets mature enough to be widely useful, it can be released as open source."

Uh, most open source projects are open source from the get-go, even if only one person is currently using it, and that person is the developer.

"You may not be paying software licensing fees or monthly costs, but you will be paying for labor, expertise, or suffering through long nights and weekends without a geek who can make sense of this stuff."

This is a half-truth. All three content management systems in the roundup you highlighted have one or more commercial companies that provide installations, support and other services around the open source app. On top of that you seem to assume that most churches implement websites themselves, whereas in my experience, as an IT professional, most churches ask a geek to do it for them (and then said geek uses the CMS of their choice, be it open source or not).

"The research by DeviousMedia shows that the average setup costs for any open source system can easily top $15,000. Monthly maintenance costs are usually $250 or more."

Of course what you don't point out is that DeviousMedia uses Drupal themselves, and are just doing a comparison of open source CMSes, they are not trying to explain how open source is "more expensive" or something else like that. They are simply giving their visitors an accurate comparison of open source systems.

Also, note that those setup costs are what commercial companies (that build their businesses around open source software) charge, not the REAL cost a church might incur. So this is not a true cost, just an estimated cost if you ask a company to do it for you.

1. Lack of support

This is such a red herring. I've had more and better support from the open source community than I've had from commercial companies. Sure there's no telephone number you can call, but a most of them offer either forums or IRC (and a lot of open source projects now have a web IRC client on their websites so that you don't even need to download an IRC client), or even both. Some even have a support e-mail address.

I have spoken to a number of folks about this, and they all agree with me, they've gotten more support out of open source projects than commercial companies.

2. Requirements for ongoing maintenance

While you say that this is true for all software, you make this out to be something that commercial companies are not affected by. I can tell you from personal experience that this is not the case. We're upgrading the commercial issue tracking system at work for the 2nd time in less than 2 years, and we'll still be a release behind after the upgrade.

3. No accountability from the vendor

Have you read the EULA from commercial products? Have you ever read a EULA? They are far worse than the open source licenses.

Commercial companies completely absolve themselves of any and all responsibility of your data. So if your commercial CMS messes up your database, you're up the creek without a paddle, and (as I mentioned in the "support" section) you are without help. At least the open source projects will try to help you recover your data. Try getting a commercial company to do that.

4. Forced workarounds and duct-tape solutions

While this may be true about some open source systems, it's just as true about commercial CMSes. In addition to that, there are some open source CMSes and open source church CMSes that do not have this issue.

All blankets statements are wrong. (See what I did there?)

5. Not customer-focused

This has got to be the biggest myth I've ever heard. How many open source projects have you interviewed and studied to determine this?

Time and time again I have dealt with open source projects I have found them to be exceedingly user-focused. They have gone out their way to help their users, they accept feature requests from the users and implement them. Few commercial companies will implement feature requests from users unless it is in line with their product strategy.

Additionally, most commercial companies I have dealt with are mostly concerned about the money. Want support? You need a support contract.

Lastly, as I said earlier, I'm going to answer the reason you have blogged this.

I saw your link in the post and your little note at the bottom of the blog, and went to your site, and noticed that lo and behold, you're selling a proprietary content management system! No wonder this is reminiscent of those Microsoft studies. I'm guessing that you've had a number of potential customers use open source systems instead of yours, and you're trying to counter that.

With this in mind you pulled an infographic that you thought you could use to bolster your argument, even though that infographic actually has nothing to do with your argument.

However, the truth is that even with all the hidden costs, open source systems are still cheaper than commercial systems.

Update: they have replied to my comment.