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Support Possibilities in Open Source Communities

So you are thinking about using an open source software system, but are unsure whether you might get the same support that a paid software would have? In the following sections we’re presenting the different levels of support you can leverage for typical open source projects.

Levels of support

Let’s look at an example. Say you decided to use an Open Source CMS. Most Open Source CMS have the same support levels:

  • There's free support via chat, forum or mailing list

  • There's professional support offered via partners

  • There are SLAs for the system and its add-ons

Free Support

Most open source systems have a community around them offering free support through different channels. Look at the website of the system to find out what they are. Typically, there will be a mix of chat and forum-like support options. The chats are a good tool for quick questions, for connecting with the community in general and to stay up-to-date on current events. The biggest advantage of a chat is instantaneous, the biggest disadvantage is you only reach the people online simultaneously and your question may get lost.

The more persistent options like forums, mailing-lists or newsgroups are a better option, if you want to reach more people, have a more complicated question or need to show longer examples of your code. Read up on existing code of conducts or descriptions of what the different options should be used for. For example, Stack Overflow is not a platform for discussions but for concrete questions and answers.

Keep in mind that people are supporting you for free, and you have neither a guarantee nor right to get an answer.

Professional Support

There are multiple reasons for requesting support from a professional:

  • you haven’t got an answer to your question from free support

  • you need a quicker option than waiting for free support

  • you don’t want to or are not allowed to take your problems public

In these cases, look at partner listings on your systems website. The longer you plan on wanting your support partner to work with you, the more important it is to select the right partner. The right partner will not only solve your current problem but should ideally know the industry you are in and the challenges you’re solving for your customers.

Professional support options usually come in different forms. You can contract a freelancer to solve your problem, commission an agency or hire a developer in your company. Ideally your software eco system allows you to find all three directly.

Vendor Support / SLAs

Another option for support is direct vendor support - often in the form of an SLA. Service Level Agreements ensure you have a personal contact in case you have problems with the software itself. Your development partner usually only provides SLAs, support and guarantees for their part of the development effort, not for the system underneath. Having a vendor SLA in place gives you and your partner a safety net - and ensures you don’t spend too much time on searching and qualifying bugs that ultimately reside outside of your project's scope.

Get in touch with us if you'd like to know more.