Many open source companies have partner programs. Companies that become partners demonstrate a commitment to the open source software.
Partnership does not guarentee qualification or competency. Before allowing partnership to influence your selection of a company, the following factors should be considered.
In most cases, companies purchase partnerships in an attempt to gain referrals and to access support resources. One may assume that purchasing a partnership to gain referrals indicates marketing difficulties or sales problems. Access to support resources is more difficult to assess, because companies that are pushing the envelope definitely need support occassionally, but support may also mean inexperience.
Companies that claim to be active participants in an open source community should provide links to their contributions. Contributions may range from bug fixes, extensions, themes, sample code, documentation, forum support, and donations. If a company can’t quickly show how they have contributed, their claim may not be honest.
The number of sites developed with an open source application can be a good indicator of experience level, assuming the team has the maturity to strive to improve their skills on every project. Any company that claims to be an expert with a product should have at least ten sites using the application. No two projects are the same. No two clients are the same. An expert company should have experience with enough different projects that they should have learned how to best resolve the most common issues.
A company should also state clearly what their specialty is with the application. No web company is good at everything. Some are stronger in design, some are better at integrating applications, some build excellent custom applications. Any company that doesn’t clearly state what they do best, and who can benefit most from their services may not have a real strength. They may be competent in many areas, but their solutions may not be as good as other companies.
Open source service providers may only work with one application. In that case, if you have already chosen the application, and you are sure that you want to use it, the company may be a good fit. However, if you don’t have a clear understanding of the available options, selecting a company that really only works with one application is likely to force your decision to fit their skill set. For a very large project, it may be better to invest some time in researching the requirements and the best path toward meeting them, prior to choosing a provider. Single product providers may also have a more limited skillset, due to the reduced exposure. The more applications you work with, the more you learn.
Never forget that open source applications are available for everyone. Check the resumes of the people who will be working on your project. Consider the level of education and the years of experience. Ensure they are inline with your expectations. Do the engineers have Computer Science degrees? Do the designers have Graphic Design or Art degrees? How many years of experience do they have? Do their titles match their education and experience?
Remember that a company that is very comfortable with a product, has a strong team that needs little support, and delivers quality work on time and under budget has little need for partnership agreements. They can stand on their own.