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supportservicepull-a-partpartjunk yard 15 Jan 2008 2:40 PM
Junk Yard Parts by kvandersluis

Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet talked today about how the open source ecosystem is a lot like the Pull-a-Part yards in the South and Midwest (see A Pull-a-Part is an auto junk yard that inventories its parts for easy identification and retrieval. I remember my first experience at a junk yard. My dad dragged me along in the hunt for a replacement radio for our Datsun B-210 Hatchback. It was cheap, too: $15 if we used our tools to pull the radio, or $20 if they pulled it out for us. To my surprise, Dad opted for the more expensive package, not wanting to waste his efforts if the radio didn't work.


Dana makes the point that Sourceforge is full of software "parts", and any system you build is made of many parts:

You have to locate them, put them together yourself, and use your own tools. With over 166,000 projects in stock, you're bound to find the one you need.

You can't build today's complex sites and systems from scratch, any more than you can build your own car. But with parts, the right tools, skill, and patience, you can build something very good, very quickly.

And this is why open source is the development platform of choice. Everything you need is visible, right in the yard.


Of course, despite the title of this post, what you get from Sourceforge is not junk. True, many projects are immature, but the leading projects rival the quality and depth of features found in the commercial software industry. And if you use the right tools and skills in building  your system using quality parts, the results can be excellent.


I would extend Dana's analogy by noting that many leading open source projects go beyond just making parts available, as they provide value-added services and support. Just as Dad didn't want to waste time pulling a part that might not work, as a user, you can pay a small premium for the added assurance that your open source "part" will fit nicely into your project. In addition to free support from the project's community, you can buy support to guarantee answers in a reasonable timeframe, or buy consulting time to help you install the part into your system. Fortunately, there is ample room for both types of users in the open source community: those like Dad willing to pay for a little extra assurance, and those like me willing to pull their own radio (I'm certain now that I would have broken it!). As it turned out, we installed the radio and it worked great. I did my part by handing Dad the tools.

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