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Open Source Users Unhappy With Paid Support

In a perfect world, all software would be self-explanatory and wouldn't require any additional support. But in the real world, ensuring customers get the support they need is paramount to any enterprise software provider.

That's becoming especially true in open source. In recent years, paid open source support services have sprung up as enterprises seek support models similar to those they're accustomed to in proprietary software, which often includes some level of professional support.

But a new study suggests that paying for open source support doesn't always guarantee the best level of service, compared to open source users' traditional ways of getting assistance through community resources, like mailing lists and message boards.

The study, conducted by OpenLogic, itself a vendor of open source support, found that only 38 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the support they received from a commercial open source organization.

Meanwhile, nearly 61 percent of the survey's respondents were satisfied with the open source support they get from their own internal support staff. A further 49 percent reported that they were satisfied with support from community mailing lists and message boards.

"I was surprised that on commercial open source companies we saw lower satisfaction than I expected," Kim Weins, senior vice president of marketing at OpenLogic, told InternetNews.com.

The satisfaction levels were mirrored by how often the respondents used a specific avenue for open source support. Fifty-six percent of the respondents reported often using internal support resources, while 55 percent reported using mailing lists and message boards.

Only 10 percent of respondents reported that they often used an external open source software vendor.

Weins said that the high degree of satisfaction and usage associated with internal support resources is likely related to the speed with which those resources are able to respond. She added that internal resources are also likely more familiar with the company, a factor likely to improve results.

Open source community resources also fared well in the study for similarly offering quick turnaround on support questions, she said.

Mailing lists and online forums also benefit from lowered initial expectations, which can translate into higher satisfaction, she added. On the other hand, users typically have higher expectations for paid support offerings.

Weins also said that in open source, support is often a vendor's single point of interaction with a paying customer. As a result, it's more critical than with commercial software, where users need to purchase the software first.

In most cases, open source users turned to support for help with setting up software. Configuration and integration needs were each cited by 28 percent of the survey's respondents, while support for performance issues came in at 26 percent. Software defects represented 22 percent of support questions.

"This matched very closely with what we see in our business, where 95 percent of our issues are not about software defects but are about 'How do I use the software, tune it and integrate it?' versus ... an actual bug in the software," Weins said.

As a result of the findings, she said the open source support industry needs to get better at providing support.

"In the commercial proprietary world, vendors can get away with support being the poor stepchild," Weins said. "In the open source market, that's not the case, as there are so many options for support, whether it is a mailing list or going to a commercial vendor."

"It has become a competitive marketplace, which means that for a vendor to be successful in the open source marketplace, they really need to have a high level of service and support," she added.