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re: free vs commercial

ken keanon wrote:

> Let's consider one aspect of software, i.e. technical support.
> In the 'free' software world, this of course is done freely. You have a
> problem, post it online and you may or may not get an answer. No one is
> obliged to answer it within a certain time, if at all.

True. However, if you ask a well-phrased question, provide relevant
information, and show a willingness to learn and work with those who try to
help you, the technical support on mailing lists like this is excellent.

If, on the other hand, you post a poorly-phrased question, don't provide
information, and expect to be served rather than helped, you will indeed
have problems on public mailing lists staffed by volunteers.

> If you do get an answer, if it turns out to be wrong, you can't hold
> anyone accountable. 

No different than commercial support channels.

> The person may not be qualified to answer the question.

Also no different than commercial support channels.

> The email addr may be available, but you don't know the person behind it.
> He/she could be just a kid trying to impress the crowd.

And with commercial support, you could wait on hold for 30 minutes or more
and get some idiot paid minimum wage to fill a chair and answer a phone
while reading a script.

At least with mailing lists the whole list sees the question, which enables
others to correct misinformed advice. With commercial support you have to
call back, wait on hold again, and hope you get someone competent.

> In the 'commercial' world, I know of an online technical support, that
> provided by HP Computers but is free for all as long as it is related to
> HP computer products. I have seen how it works. When a question is posed,
> the response is quick and the person answering the query has a human face.

How do they have a human face? Do you get to view a webcam or something?

How does this concept fundamentally differ from a well-asked question on a
public mailing list, besides the fact only one person has a chance to

> On the questioner part, he/she has to give a feedback on the quality of
> the answer by giving points to the person who provides the answer. HP
> ranks the technical support staff with the total points each have
> accumulated and this in turn affects their performance review. Which do
> you think is a better system? 

A system that corrects itself by giving the opportunity for multiple people
to respond to a post and correct bad information, and then automatically
makes prior postings and discussions available for searching so that others
don't have to post to get an answer in the future.

In other words, a system like this mailing list.

> Let's swing to the higher end of the spectrum, that of innovation. One
> thing that can be safely said about the 'free' software world is that it
> has not led in innovation.

> OS? There was UNIX before Linux.

IIRC, the first versions of Unix were freely distributed (at least to
universities) - and end users could tinker with the source code if they

> Firefox?  Apache? Openoffice? All these have commecially innovated
> counteparts that existed before them.

Apache grew out of a government project, and rapidly overtook all other
competing web servers in market share. If free software lacks innovation,
why has no commercial web server ever dominated the market like Apache does
now, and how could Apache achieve such dominance at all?

Web browsers and office suites have been around for some time - Internet
Explorer and MS Office weren't "innovations", either. All software,
commercial and free, builds upon the features in past software.

> Software is a complex entity. Software innovation requires 
> individual discipline and teamwork.

Since when do commercial entities have a monopoly on this?

> It can't be left to a group of unpaid volunteers who  want to do things in
> their own free way and their own free time.

The success of BSD, Linux, Apache, Perl, and other free software projects
would prove otherwise.

> For the  'free' software movement to leap-frog the 'commercial' world, it
> has to come up with an innovation which has a competitive advantage over
> its 'commercial'  competitor.

Having a less expensive, higher quality product is not a competitive
advantage? How do you think Japanese automakers nearly destroyed the United
States auto industry?


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