We get lots of questions asking the differences between Open Source versions and commercial versions of software. I hope this blog post will help.
So let’s be blunt here – every company (from Adobe/IBM/Microsoft/Facebook/Google down to your local store), has to give enough reasons for enough people to give them money. Otherwise there is no business model and no development or fixes. It does not mean that everyone has to pay. Indeed, with a product like Facebook users are really the product (sold to advertisers) not the customer.
Usually there are 2 or 3 main differences between Open Source and commercial software. So here are the main difference you will find in OS/commercial software releases:-
1. Features. Some companies will offer you an identical featureset on the commercial and OS versions while others will have 2 separate releases and migrate down some features over time.
The guys at IText give you an amazing full package in the open source version but include a more limiting license. I see lots of people moaning on stack overflow because they want to use free software in products they sell to maximise their profit and the IText license does not allow that. I personally have no sympathy for them.
We include a lot of extra features in our commercial version. So you will find that the commercial version does more (printing, text search, extraction) and it does things better (the viewer has far more features and the PDF to image conversion is better).
That allows us to produce a monthly release of both versions and provide a lot of stuff for free. Some of our competitors actually use the old, now-defunct free BSD version of our JBig2 library (and we then get complaints from their customers even though it works in our version). No good deed should ever go unpunished!
2. Support. If you are a commercial client we will try very hard to help you. As a small company we thrive on our reputation and we have an excellent base of long-term happy clients. We want to keep you onboard, renewing your yearly support and singing our praises.
If you are an Open Source customer you are using the unsupported version. We derive no income to cover support costs from you and it would seem naive to allow paying customers to subside non-paying ones. We answer all questions on the forum and you have access to the source code. But we will not be staying late on friday night to debug your critical issues. Let’s be honest here, if it really was URGENT, you would be desperately offering to pay for it.
3. Cost. The OS version is FREE. If it meets your needs, great. Please spread the word because we want everyone to use it.
So why would you pay for something you can get for free (other than more features or license limit)? You will still have to make sure that it meets your needs and you will be providing your own support (rather than asking the guys who spent 11 years writing it). The mistake many people make with Open Source software is to mistake initial cost for total cost.
In our case, the Open Source version is designed as a great entry-level point to allow lots of people to use the software and use PDF in Java for free. It also allows people to try it and see the code. And it gives us a base to build lots of other freebies like the PDF viewer plugins for NetBeans, IDEA and Eclipse.
The commercial version is designed to provide lots more functionality and provide support (PDF is a notoriously messy format). It also funds all the ongoing development (which you should care about for purely selfish reasons). So you can choose either of our versions to suit, go to one of our competitors (do ask them about the jbig2 support!) or do it inhouse.
We will be at Javaone this year with both versions so come and see us at stand 5111. And if we can’t help you (we do not do creation or editing), I’m sure the people in the stand next door can.
If you are interested in Open Source, you can read other articles here.
What do you think are the differences between Open Source and commercial software?