The problem with the implicit contract in open source

One of the things I’ve found very interesting about being involved in open source, and indeed business for that matter, is customer expectations.

Just because you give something away does not mean that you or your offering will be judged more kindly as a consequence. It does not mean that there will be a lower expectation of your support either.

Take this exchange on the Hyperic support forum. HyperMike plainly has an expectation that Hyperic offer technical support via their forum for free. Something you only guarantee if you buy the enterprise version of Hyperc HQ.

I’m not saying that either HyperMike or Hyperic are wrong, just that you have to be very careful to set expectations of precisely what will be delivered and what will not. If you are not careful, you could very easily end up with a tarnished reputation even though you haven’t failed to deliver anything you said you would. Perhaps the problem is assuming that your users will understand what the deal with open source tools is without you setting it out in detail for them.

The implicit deal on open source is usually: we give you the code and maybe some binaries for installing it with some rudimentary documentation and you figure it from there yourself. If things go wrong you can ask for help on our support forum where other people in the same situation might be able to help you out. Don’t ask us unless you want to pony up some dough.

Of course, not everybody knows what the implicit deal is… which is where the problems arise.