How Open Source Software Works: "Free" User-to-User Assistance

Intellectual Property and Open Source

Article Snapshot

Author(s)

Karim R. Lakhani and Eric Von Hippel

Source

MIT Sloan Working Paper No. 4117-00

Summary

This paper studies how open source software provides help services for users.

Policy Relevance

Open source business models can work better than traditional software models in supporting users.

Main Points

  • Open source software (OSS) lets users change code to suit their needs. Some types can only be redistributed for free. Some believe open source does a poor job of supporting users.

  • Apache, an open source software product, offers help to users through Apache’s Usenet help forum. Users help one another.
    • Apache’s help system is rated higher than commercial systems.
    • The system handles inquiries on a small scale, and would need to change if volume increased.

  • Users that help others often do so to learn from reading and answering questions.
    • The cost of answering is very low.
    • The risk of revealing sensitive information is low.

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