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FOSS and the Last Mile Problem

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    John Melville-- MD

    Retailers, I am told, speak about the problem of "the last mile:" how do you get product from your lowest level faculity to the customer's living room?  You can build a store and make your customers carry product home, you can hire UPS to deliver it for you, and there may be other options.  Needless to say the "last mile" is a pesky problem on the end of a business plan and outside many retailer's expertise; but when done wrong it can condem the entire enterprise.

    I contend that FOSS, speaking in general, has a problem equivilent to the final mile.  The installation / first use experience for many of the OS products I have used just stinks.  Half the time I have to chase down two or three dependencies from halfway arround the net.  I often have to read manuals of varying quality and work through clunky user interfaves.  It usually takes me an hour or two just to get the simplest FOSS program working, and decide if it meets my needs.

    (At this point Beer28 will post and indicate that he just installed [insert FOSS program here] in under 15 minutes, that it worked on the first try and that the interface is better than microsoft's.  Since I do not know beer, I cannot contest his experience; he likewise cannot contest mine.)

    I find this interesting because I am currently working on Nester, a FOSS coverage and mutation tester for C#.  Nester is right at the "one mile out point," it works great on my machine, but has bunches of dependencies, and making it work anywhere else is a challenge.  Furthermore, my enthusiasm is waning.  The technical problems have been solved, and the product is maximally useful to me right now.  I see nothing but boring work between now and release.  In a system that depends on volunteer programmers, this is a big problem.

    Can FOSS overcome this phenomenon and give me the great install-and-it-works experience that I get from microsoft?  Can a software system that depends on support calls for payment afford to give me that experience?

    What do you think?

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