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The Indulgences of Open Source

I am always amused by the complete lack of customer savviness that open source projects sometimes demonstrate. Of course I am not being fair at all and my observations are in no way scientific and I am sure you can find ten more examples of commercial companies doing the same. With that in mind, here are my two examples:

  1. DokuWiki
    A great wiki platform, my favorite to date – recommended to me by two techies at a Virginia networking event and I haven’t looked back since; asides from an annoying concurrency page saving bug due to timestamps or something that no-one on their support forums seems to care about but that is a story for a different day.So what is the indulgence?Their website only distributes the DokuWiki download as a .tgz file. I have had my run in the UNIX world for long enough to know that this is a standard file format. HoweverDokuWiki supports Windows and yet this file extension is not natively supported by Windows XP or Vista or Windows Server. What commercial company with half a brain would release their product in a format that their customers could not consume without a third party tool to unpackage it? Wouldn’t a simple zip file make infinitely more sense or go really crazy and offer downloads in .tgz and .zip? 🙂
  2. Awstats
    They make a wonderful web stats package written in Perl and we use it to crunch stats on our website visitors etc. But if you visit their homepage with Internet Explorer 7 (or probably any Internet Explorer browser) then you will be redirected to a page that recommends you install Firefox. What commercial company with half a brain would try to change their users software for no reason directly required by their product?

It seems that the only reason these projectscan get away with these indulgences is because their software is free and worthwhile. Is this the tradeoff users should come to expect with Open Source? How much more successful would these projects be if they thought more carefully about their users?

Please don’t misinterpret my post as anti-Open Source; that is not my intention at all. I am simply questioning the liberties that are taken by people on these projects and wonder if it is best for the software community since a commercial company would be unwise to follow any of these approaches.

Got any thoughts on these or maybe some other amusing indulgences to share?

Jonathan Cogley is the CEO and founder of Thycotic Software, a .NET consulting company and ISV in Washington DC. Our product, Secret Server is a web-based password manager system for teams to secure their passwords. Where do you keep your passwords or do you still use the samepassword everywhere?

  1. http://
    April 9, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Is it indulgent for Microsoft to post documentation in .DOC files, forcing people to download software to view it? They do. I have also visited websites that force users to use IE–mostly Microsoft sites. Equally indulgent. It goes both ways.

  2. thycotic
    April 9, 2007 at 9:01 pm


    Yes – I agree that also seems like a bad customer experience.

  3. Jon Galloway
    April 9, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    Another one that bugs me – “First, get the source and compile it. You’ll first need to build the glorkShnufelle DLL from source, available at SourceForge…”

    Installing an OS project should’nt be a project in itself.

  4. thycotic
    April 10, 2007 at 8:19 pm


    Definitely! If you don’t ship binaries then you really aren’t helping your user. I don’t compile software before I use it, period. 🙂

  5. http://
    May 3, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Are you implying that Windows XP, Vista and/or server support any kind of archive format natively? You aren’t talking about compressed folders, are you? Operating systems like Windows require their users to get a certain set of tools. A good archiver is one of the minimum requirements.

  6. Jonathan Cogley
    May 8, 2007 at 4:27 am


    Yes – those Windows operating systems do support the .zip file format natively – no extra tools needed. They do not however support .tgz.

  7. http://
    May 19, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    “… in a format that their customers could not consume without a third party tool …”
    Well, you need a *web server* and *PHP* to run DokuWiki. Those are third party tools as well and much more “complicated” and less-likely-to-be-already-installed ones than a simple compression and archiving tool.

    Furthermore you probably misunderstood: DokuWiki has *no support forum*! The forum you are mentioning is a *user forum*, where users were given the opportunity to help and talk to each other.

  8. Jonathan Cogley
    July 3, 2007 at 4:15 am


    Personally give me a good commercial piece of software any day – less ego, hassle and a simple price tag. Heck, they might even *want* me to use it. 🙂

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