For those of you who don’t know, I am a member of the free/open source software community. I have used versions of Linux on my personal computer for four years now. I run this server and this installation of WordPress on a Debian GNU/Linux installation on a computer that sits in my living room. I contribute bug reports and post on various fora to help both developers and users.
I am, obviously, also a member of the archival community, and I got an email yesterday that really made me angry. It was from an archival vendor, Eloquent Systems Inc., the seems to provide software that fills the same role as Archon. In trying to convince me to purchase their system, they painted the entire free software community with a single stroke, saying that free software is basically unusable in a production environment. They obviously have a right to compare themselves to other products and to state why they believe their product is better than this competition. However, I feel that trashing an entire community is just ridiculous. I’ve attached their email to me, along with my response, beneath the fold.
Attention: Benjamin S. Bromley ,
RE: Does free software cost too much?
So many archivists are complaining that “time is wasting” and their valuable archives are still not online for the world to see. Time and money is being spent trying to get their free software working. Their professional skills cannot be used for describing their rich holdings and serving their clients.
Free software sounded good, but almost a year later the results are disappointing:
Other institutions have something concrete to show their stakeholders. They are attracting funding to do “more of the same”. An established system is in place and all that is required now is more help to process the backlog.
Too much talent is being wasted chasing the ever-evolving technology. Practical results are elusive. Staff becomes frustrated and impatient. Programmers come and go with little to show for their time.
Free software (open source) lacks a history of ongoing support. The people disappear. The funding disappears. Remaining support teams hold you hostage. Your system becomes dated.
Do the Right Thing
Find a supported software package with everything you need, but pay now for only what is required to get started. Then, pay as you grow.
Check off the items you require from this features checklist and see if Eloquent Archives
We look forward to having you as a customer!
Eloquent Systems Inc.
Organizing data for eloquent presentation!
I am sad to see that you and your company are spreading such lies about free software.
My main concern about the email which you sent me is with your characterization of the free software community as a whole. In your section entitled “Questionable Sustainability,” you say that “Free software (open source) lacks a history of ongoing support. The people disappear. The funding disappears. Remaining support teams hold you hostage. Your system becomes dated.” This is completely wrong. Free software has been around for over 25 years, and some of the most important applications on the internet are free software. For example, the Apache web server is an open source application and it serves over 50% of the websites in the world. WordPress, the most popular blogging software in use today, is also free software. Mozilla Firefox, the second most popular web browser in the world, is free software. Drupal, the content management system that will soon power the home page of the Society of American Archivists and that currently powers whitehouse.gov, is free software. These applications, along with countless others, are supported by major corporations and foundations who hire developers to work on them.
Archon, an archival information system that seems to be your competition, will soon be combined with Archivists’ Toolkit. This application will be supported by the University of Illinois, NYU, the University of California, and the San Diego Libraries. This is a sustainable application that will be available for the long term.
In the end, it comes down to where a repository wants to spend its money. Both proprietary and free software have their advantages, and their disadvantages. And of course you have the right to point out areas where you believe that your product is better than the product of your competitors. However, I am disappointed that you and your company would spread such egregious lies about the free software community, of which I am a member.
Thank you for your time,