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When I am asked to recommend software to the average non-super user I'm conflicted between recommending Open Source vs. Close Source.

I want to recommend open source as it is often the better choice, however it seldom has that bit of extra polish that close source has and if something goes wrong at least with close source their should be someone they can connect for support.

Has anyone put any thinking behind guidelines to decide when it is better to choose one or the other?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Personally I'd ignore the model and look at the product.

The important thing for most users (and because they're asking for recommendations I assume these aren't people with a strong opinon) is that it works for them and does so simply and reliably.

Based on this if there is a genuinely good Open Source option which has been polished in the way the typical novice user would want it to be (Firefox would be a good example) then that's the starting point but not because it's Open Source, but because it's a good product AND the price is good.

After that I'd tend to offer them the choice between something which might require a little more support/effort/tolerance but might be free and the pay alternative and let them decide - but do so honestly and openly, explaining not just that one was free but also potentially any limitations (so Open Office Calc while pretty good is not to the same standard as Excel 2007 and if they are a serious user you should let them know).

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It depends entirely on the end user. I have some colleagues that can excel using Open Source software and some that wouldn't even know where to start (read: "What's sourceforge?").

Unknowingly, I probably assess each person's ability and recommend what I believe they can understand and tolerate. For instance, my parents would require a closed source package because they want to be able to pick up the phone and talk with tech support. My brother could handle an open source package because he can scour through newsgroups and message boards to find answers to his problems.

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Why don't you simply recommend the best tool? Who cares about that extra polish when it gets the job done?

I also don't think that what you wrote about support is true. Support for open source software is surprisingly often better than anything you get from a commercial vendor.

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I usually only recommend Linux to people with strong technical chops.

I have no problems recommending other open source software if I think the person can fend for themselves a bit. The Gimp is quite usable and Paint.NET is really good for basic stuff. Open Office is all the more amazing because it's free. Apache, Firefox, Java, and Thunderbird are all awesome.

Some people, however, need hand holding and, unless I'm willing to hold that person's hand, I keep my mouth shut :o)

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