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Are Open Source tools worth the price?

Posted by daniel on December 2, 2003 at 9:25 AM PST

No, this isn't FUD from someone trying to scare you away from using any open source project. The roots are in a blog entry that asks how you decide when an open source tool is worth the price.

In Weblogs ,
John Reynolds details his Adventures with JMeter - Are Open Source tools worth the price? To answer the question, he looks at four items that cost him time and effort. First, there was the time spent on a documented function where the known defect wasn't mentioned in the appropriate place in the docs. The good news is that there is a patch for the bug. The bad news (his issue number 2) is that the distributed version includes the bug and not the patch. The patch was submitted eight months ago but has not been applied to either the current release build or to the nightly build. He points out that these issues are not particular to open source. John adds

Item number 3 is a key decision point for me. With Open Source, once a fix is known you can find it, and with some effort you can fix the tool to the point where it is useful for you. This is not the case with Closed Source products.

Item number 4 is also “pretty darn important” in my opinion. With many Open Source tools, extendibility is the point. Once you learn enough about a tool you will probably be able to make it even more useful for your particular circumstance. This will certainly cost your organization time and money, but if the tool is something that will really prove useful for your development process, then it's probably worth the cost to learn the internal details.

In this case he concludes that JMeter is worth the price. But John's entry makes it clear that (of course) there is always a cost to using a tool and you should take the time to evaluate this worth.

Joshua Marinacci refutes the notions that "ease of use and power are inversely proportional" and "If something is too hard to use it's because the user is stupid" in Point, Click, and Drool!. My mom can run Apache Web Server. She has Mac OS X and all she has to do to run Apache is open up her System Preferences, click on sharing, and check the check box labeled "Personal Web Sharing". There's a clear example that ease of use and power need not be inversely proportional.

Joshua writes that we should "remember that the people who want those systems are the people who are experts at something else, like car mechanics and heart surgeons. People with better things to do than deal with my crummy user interface." Does that ring a bell? Joshua is talking about the end result of our development efforts. James Gosling made a similar analogy when he talked at JavaOne about attracting more developers to Java. He said that we have to make it easier for people who are smart in other areas to code up their applications.

John Mitchell rants about the name Java Desktop System. He asks if "you notice how little actual Java there is in the "Java Desktop System"?" A reader responds that his "department invited Sun (Canada) to give us their slant on Swing GUI development and instead we got a presentation of the Java Desktop which has nothing to do with what we wanted to know." Neither John nor the talkback are criticizing the Java Desktop System as a product, just its name. The reader concludes that the "sad part is that the Linux/Gnome/StarOffice/Evoloution desktop and server solutions that they sell are very nice and priced right. They won't sell any however if they can't get the story straight."

We lead off Also in Java Today with a link to SQL Tags. In Sue Spielman's article Practical JSTL she wrote that making SQL calls from JSP is a clear violation of MVC. When I asked SQLTags developer Steven Olson about that, he answered, "the fundamental question-- violation of MVC, I know; however, for the simple to moderately complex web application I think SQLTags offers a good alternative; IMO, there is a significant class of JSP development that requires database access but does not require pure
MVC separation (I've seen developers waste months on very simple
web applications in attempts to implement MVC). Additionally, SQLTags
will work in conjunction with Struts, for example, as a way to output the data after the Action has completed. Also, the Action servlet
can manipulate the generated SQLTags JavaBeans directly and hand them
off to the JSP page in the traditional Struts manner." He also wrote that SQLTags plays very nicely with JSP 2.0.

New blogger Sam Dalton has an article on how you Complete the MVC Puzzle with Struts. Dalton present a nice introduction to an MVC Model 2 application with two JSP pages, a servlet, and a JavaBean. He then gives a quick overview of Struts and finishes by showing how you can use the framework in your MVC-based Web apps.

Today in Projects and Communities, the JavaDesktop community features their forum for Product Announcements. Whether you have "Applications, component libraries, you name it - if it's shipping, announce it here!" The Java Web Services and XML community points to an article on Keynote's XML Connections. This Mac OS X presentation application uses an XML format called APXL to store the presentations. An example demonstrates that you can generate slides from a Java application.

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