Open Source Software and House Paint

If you think about it, free or inexpensive open source software is like house paint. The product is readily available and doesn't cost a lot, but can be very valuable. A good open source software system such as a content management system, ecommerce system, forum or blog can transition a simple site into one that offers site visitors services and may provide important revenue for a company. A can of paint can transform a worn exterior or tired interior into fresh welcoming walls, making a home more attractive and valuable.

In both cases the most important element is the skill used to apply the product.

Software must be visually appealing, easy to use, and it must work. A designer or user interface person can layout the page, a developer must code the HTML and it must then be integrated into the system. Installation, configuration and customization are required to bring the application to life. Simply put, most powerful open source software requires a significant amount of skill and experience across the full spectrum of web development.

The same is true of paint and parallels the skills required for software. From a design perspective, the color and finish must be chosen carefully to match where the paint will be used. The walls must be prepared, including thorough removal of any wallpaper, patching any holes or dents, the floor must be covered, and areas that require masking tape have to be readied. Choosing the right tools is important, from ladders to paint brushes.

What's the point of this post?

That the expense of the paint or software doesn't reflect the cost to benefit from it.

Many people assume that because the software is free it shouldn't cost anything if they want to use it on their site. If there is a web company that is using that product, there is usually a significant skill investment required. Those skills are the difference between a secure, polished, functional, reliable and stable site and an awkward site that is far less credible.

Yesterday I bought a gallon of light blue paint for about $25. The walls had been prepared a few weeks ago, there was probably 10 hours of work stripping off the old wallpaper, soaking off the paper backing, and removing the wallpaper paste. A small can of spackle filled in the minor imperfections. The first coat of paint took three hours to apply and it came out nicely. It is mostly evenly distributed, there is very little paint where it shouldn't be, and the finish is fairly uniform. One more coat will complete the project. The true cost of the project is the labor to put the paint on the wall nicely, not the can of paint itself. Just like open source software.