It's Open Source But Not Free Software!


“Do you charge for providing services on open source products? Or do they come free along with the product?” This is a typical question that is asked when we go out for providing demos on Open Source products. Thank God, they don’t ask if our premises are free for their usage and if employees work without salaries! I wish I could explain to them that Open Source is different from charity and probably that is why it is spelt differently too. Don’t get me wrong. We do charity; however, we keep it separated from business.

It is an interesting experience selling open source services and solutions. I must admit that I was exposed to mostly licensed products and had seldom used open source products or services earlier. Nonetheless, I would not have dreamed of asking professionals (especially certified practitioners) to provide “free” services. Not a single time did that thought cross my mind and my only mistake was that I assumed that I thought mostly like everybody … until we started providing services on open source products.

We implement and deploy open source solutions as one of our services. We get many enquiries and mostly the questions are if the product is really “free” to be downloaded and used without any licenses. We have been amused by such questions because in spite of specifying it very openly and clearly, many people (including the experienced ones in MNCs too) ask if the product is completely free of cost.

The enquiries include from few of the Top 10 organizations in India as well. As usual, they ask us to visit their office to demonstrate the product, ask all sorts of questions, confirm at least 20 times that the product is free, pat themselves a few times that they would be able to get a free ride and boast to their supervisors about their ‘research’ on cost saving; and that they need not worry about the licenses. What stuns me usually is their next question – “You also provide free services to implement these open source products, don’t you?” I understand that there is a fantasy to get most of the things, free, wherever and whenever possible; however, expecting everything free in a professional world, especially by senior people sounds very intriguing.

Let me share on some of our experiences on how the styles of asking free meals, aka, open source services, differ –

Company A (amongst top 10 IT organizations in India) approached us to demonstrate the functionality of one of the open source product and how it could help to meet their requirements. We landed in their office and realized that they had already downloaded the product and were looking if they can get enough clues and help (free of cost) from us about the product to start implementing it themselves. After couple of hours of discussion, they were convinced that we had a better expertise to roll out the product. One of their senior Project Managers after confirming that the product is absolutely free, asked us if services would also be complimentary! We told him that they are not and that we would send across a quotation. After hearing out that they had some limitations on sending internal emails to their customers, we proposed on our ability to provide a solution over mobile phones as well. Pat came the question if that was free too!!

Company B (Banking organization) approached us to get more details and understand if we can implement the solution. They seemed so impressed at our skilled resources and certified professionals that they asked us to send a quotation without considering even the demo. After a few days of interval, they approached us requesting to do a study of their existing system to propose the implementation of solution. It required a travel and significant amount of time studying their systems before proposing customized solution. When they weren’t openly talking about commercials involved, we shared the cost that would be involved for the travel and study. A prompt reply was sent that they cannot afford to pay for the services and that the cost/risk of travel/study would have to be borne by us! I thanked them profusely for letting us know that in advanceWink

Company C (Financial organization) approached us to roll out an automated solution to meet their requirements. We had a demo along with their CFO, VP and few key players. As usual, impressed and after several questions, a few discussions on customizations, they were nice enough to ask for the quotation. Since the replies stopped after receiving the quotation, we followed up to understand on the progress. After a lot of questioning, we realized that they were looking for a “free” implementation that need not even require a support from the product vendor!

I could go on and on and share few more incidents. However, I don’t intend to write this blog on ridiculing the prospects. The intention is to share thoughts about “so called professionals” that go to an extent to get everything free of cost. The idea is to share these experiences with those budding consultancy founders who need to be cautious about those “so called professionals” who talk professionally in the beginning to squeeze as much as they can from you and then, unprofessionally ask if the further services can be free of cost. Indeed, we have also had few good customers that included from bigger MNCs to less organizations having than 100 employees. However, they had much better attitude towards looking at a solution and paying appropriate consultancy fees for open source services/solutions. Without boasting, I can tell you that they are reaping a much better reward and are very happy to get the information at their fingertips to take better decisions for their organizations.

I wonder if there is a limitation to expect free things. Complimentary features? Yes. Negotiating? Yes. Gratuitous Support for a week or so, Yes. But completely free services/solutions? Absolutely NO.

I wish those so called professionals, “Get Well Soon” from this gratis malady (“free” disease).