We have seen this before: Company promises updated software by X date and when X date arrives said company backpedals and gives new date Y. Date Y comes and said company once again backpedals and gives date Z. Date Z then comes and said company finally says, “Sometime in Q2, but we thank our customers for their patience”. As many of you have been in this situation, you know patience wore off long before data X ever came and went. Patience wore off when the current software hasn’t worked right from day one and the only fix is for a complete update.

It happens all the time. Most proprietary companies make users suffer this fate. This time around (at least for me) it’s Sprint and the HTC Hero. At first purchase, the phone seemed to really be great. But very quickly the bugs and flaws of Android 1.5 popped up. Shortly after those bugs and flaws started showing their ugly heads, the Android developers fixed those bugs and released a new version…and then another (to fix even more bugs). Now the Android OS is rock solid. Sprint, however, has yet to release an update to the HTC Hero phone. That phone is still on 1.5.

It’s very interesting that this is the case, seeing as how the same phone has been rooted with 2.1. Or, even better, I read a post on another site of man who successfully ported Android 2.1 to an iPhone 2G. But what exactly does all of this have to do with open source? I knew you’d get to that question.

If you swim with the open source fishes long enough you start seeing the patterns develop surrounding development – specifically bug fixes and update releases. Ubuntu is a perfect example. Every 6 months Canonical ships a new version of their distribution. Sometimes those releases are epic in scale (such as 9.10 to 10.04). Yet they still manage to get those releases out on time. And, as you continue to use that release, you find that updates come very shortly after a bug is discovered.

How is this possible? Major proprietary companies with vastly deep pockets can’t seem to do this. In fact, some bugs go untouched for months and years. How can a community of developers manage to squash bugs so quickly? Two reasons: communication and passion.

If you’ve ever reported a bug to a distribution or piece of software, you know they take those bugs very seriously. You report that bug to a tool (such as Launchpad or Bugzilla) and that bug is either upgraded or downgraded (depending upon the severity of the bug). The developers of the product are constantly monitoring these bug reporting tools and fixing issues as they come up. The biggest difference, in this respect, between the open source and proprietary software is that the open source community has a globe full of bug reporters. Closed, proprietary software has as many bug testers as their budget can handle.

The second reason is passion. Open source developers do what they do (in most cases) not for money, but for a passion to develop (and do so for the open source community). Why else would they do what they do? Of course, I’m not saying it’s a better model to not make a penny from your work. I’m sure every open source developer would love to be paid for what they do (and they should be). Of course, this reason will be tossed out the window as it can not truly be quantified or measured with respect to developing software. But I felt it should be mentioned.

Ultimately companies like Sprint really show their true colors when issues like this arise. What happens is their customers start tossing around conspiracy theories that they are holding out to try to push customers into purchasing new phones (in this case the EVO, whose release will most likely coincide with the release of 2.1 for the Hero). This really only serves to tarnish a company brand….something you will rarely find in the open source community.

It’s very easy to get spoiled by the open source development community. A bug is found, the bug is squashed, the fix is released. It’s like clockwork. You can depend upon it. If the software you are using has an issue, give it a moment and a fix will be issued. Proprietary software? You are at their mercy. Just like US Sprint customers who happen to be burdened with an HTC Hero that is nearly worthless at the moment.

I’m not saying Sprint is the only company that could use a good lesson in public relations from the open source community. But right now Sprint is on the hot seat and will certainly lose customers for this complete failure with the HTC Hero. And all those companies only need look toward the open source community for a lesson in how best to handle software updates.