What is your first thought when you encounter the term "open source support"? A programmer typing the answer to a question using a chat utility? Hours spent scouring the Internet for a working configuration sample? Contacting a support engineer at a commercial call centre? If you find it difficult to think about a support engineer, you're not alone. Actuate's recently published 2007 Open Source Survey of senior personnel from financial services, Telco, and public sector organizations across North America and Europe indicates that 46.3% of respondents cite the lack of availability of long term support as a major barrier to their company's adoption of open source technologies.
My own observations from speaking at technical conferences bear out the survey results. Many personnel, both technical and managerial, are unaware that commercial open source support options even exist. Further, most who have heard of open source support assume it is limited to vendors of Linux distributions. In other words, you're fine as long as you stick to that vendor's packages and don't try to integrate with any other software or operating systems--hardly a realistic scenario for today's complex business needs.
Fortunately for those organizations requiring commercial support, options do exist. Three of the articles in this issue were contributed by companies which provide commercial open source support. Each article focuses on the needs of a particular sector and describes the approach that company uses to address those needs. OpenLogic taps into the open source developer community as well as their own engineers to support complex mixed environments, SourceLabs provides certified stacks to meet the regulatory requirements of financial institutions, and Freeform Solutions is creating a development commons to support niche applications within the not-for-profit sector. Two of the articles don't deal directly with support, but serve as a reminder that support, and its associated cost or cost savings, is a piece of a bigger software puzzle for organizations. Glen McInnis argues that the marketing of support, or its perceived lack, is but one of several competitive actions undertaken by business organizations. Coverity's Open Source Strategist describes how its Scan project is increasing the quality and value of open source by reducing its number of software defects.
This issue contains a new section in response to feedback from our readers. It is a report on the recent Open Education 2007 conference which builds upon the Open Educational Resources (OER) article which was published in the September issue.
As always, we look forward to receiving and publishing reader feedback.