October 30, 2009

Software must be free as beer? No! Software has to work!

My point of view on open software, free software and quality software

Two days ago I a gave a lightning talk at the Plone Conference 2009 in Budapest and introduced the new Produce & Publish server as a solution for producing high-quality PDF documents. Appearently some people dislike (or should I say they are pissed off as I heard from people behind my back) the solution just because it uses a commercial converter backend in order for achieving a real good output quality. To those people who think that any software should be free as beer:

  • the software quality matters in the first place (and not the price)
  • there is no software project without costs - never ever - even the dumbest programmer at an organization costs you money and pain
  • programmers and solutions providers have to live from something and pay their bills

Let's look at the particular case of the Produce & Publish server and the PrinceXML converter backend:

  • PrinceXML costs about 2700 EUR - a bunch of money but comparable solutions like the Adobe Indesign server are much, much, much more expensive so a PrinceXML server license is comparable cheap
  • Compare the quality and  flexibility of PrinceXML with everything you get for Plone...you will not find something better (people that are working with the free Apache FOP converter know that it sucks and that FOP or any other XLF-FO based solution will never reach the quality we achieve with PrinceXML).
  • There are enough people within organizations trying to setup a reasonable PDF production solution on top of Plone for days and weeks - without reasonable results.  Instead of looking at the price tag of the converter backend, please calculate the costs for your work crew playing and trying out without achieving a reasonable solution or a solution or poor quality.
  • In the same way as SmartPrintNG allowed you to hook several converter backends (from free to commercial) you can do the same with the Produce & Publish server (as documented - reading helps). If you want to run the server with a free backend...go ahead.

So here is the conclusion:

  • The Produce & Publish server is a solution for professionals and it is trying to provide the best solution you can get for a reasonable price
  • Software must not be free as beer - software has to work and reasonable software has its price tag and there is often no comparable open-source alternative for some particular functionality (as in this case).
  • There is no software solution for free. Any software project has its costs - cost for menpower and costs for software components

And to any person still thinking that I am on the wrong trail: the Produce & Publish server is free. You pay for the third-party converter backends and you pay for integration work. But you are free to use the server with kindergarten-level converters like Apache FOP for free...make your choice: poor quality for free or high quality for a reasonable price or pay some incompetent employees over weeks for reaching nothing or pay for a reasonably-priced solution :-)