A Slight Rant About Ranting

We are all familiar with the adage of “You get what you pay for”. Home Assistant is free, by the the measure of the adage it should either be total trash or pretty close. The Home Assistant community is free, again it should be worthless.

Neither of these statements are true. Yes, your free software has bugs and may glitch from time to time but so does any product that you do pay for from Microsoft, Apple or anyone else.

I’m on a Git ticket about Nabu Casa and the ability to managed multiple instances from that system, which costs around $60 USD per year to have. It went from a simple request to flaming Nabu Casa to heads exploding over this issue (my contribution was “this would be nice to have”). The gist by the end was “well if Nabu Casa can’t do this then I’m canceling my subscription” - of course presumably they are only canceling Nabu Casa and still using Home Assistant. There were also plenty in the camp of “If Nabu Casa can’t do this then I won’t pay them”.

My rant is that people don’t seem to understand the effort it takes to manage a project of this magnitude. They don’t really know that not only is the management a pain but this same team of people are building the core Home Assistant out, so now there’s development time. On top of all of this there are amazing contributors to this forum that freely give their time and experience to supporting others. Add to this building and maintaining web sites and repositories and all of that and this isn’t your average small open source project, it’s pretty massive.

So, you aren’t paying for remote access, you aren’t paying for Alexa integration - these are benefits to encourage you to voluntarily contribute in the first place, you are paying for all of the time and effort it takes to bring you a totally free product that is arguably the strongest home automation platform on the market with a support network of thousands of people and your willingness to contribute to the effort gets you a few extra bonus features.

Since the days of freeware to the the modern times of “buy me a coffee”, if I find value in a product I contribute money to the people who spend endless hours providing something I use regularly. I just gave Octoprint $100 because I find it invaluable to my 3D printing, I gave BackupList+ $200 because it was a crucial part of my disaster recovery - the list goes on and on. This is to say that even if Nabu Casa gave me nothing at all, I would give them money because my entire home (and other places) center around this magnificent brain they created.

The moral of the rant is: before you go off on a tangent about this free software, give some thought to what it took to make it and ask yourself if have the ability to build a better mousetrap - and if you do then just build it already and stop hammering people over the software you downloaded from them for free.

And, yes, I understand that some folks buy hardware from Nabu Casa, they have a legitimate reason to raise their voices if something is wrong, but given the user base of Home Assistant I believe that to be a very small number comparatively - and, anyway, they are buying HARDWARE, not Home Assistant.

Rant over :slight_smile:


You should see all the people whining about “too many esphome updates” another free software by hard working people and volunteers. Instead of (some) people paying or volunteering their own time even if its just to help write better documentation, they only have time for complaining or whining. Its rather annoying.


So… I’d like to respond to this, because I’ve been on both sides of this coin/argument/rant/whatever you want to call it.

Some background:

I’ve been in IT professionally since the late 90s. I was a CS major in college. Back then, it was C/C++, LISP, Assembly, and transitioned to JAVA towards the end.

I first cut my teeth on computers in the early 80s with an Apple //e, and BASIC, then C=64s.

As a professional IT consultant to some very large companies for the past ~15 years, I’ve seen and done ALL manner of nonsense - but most recently, my consulting career has centered around IAC: Terraform, Ansible, Packer, Spacelift, Github Actions, etc.

That is to say, I have some familiarity with writing code, managing repos, and that type of stuff. The code that we write is not for sale - hell, it’s not even available for public consumption. BUT - the people who DO consume it are lower-level engineering staff within the organization who leverage it to complete complex tasks in MUCH less time than could be accomplished manually.

At the end of the day, that’s all home automation is. We all know we could stop our car, get out, open the garage door, get back in the car, pull into the garage, and close the garage door. We all know we could walk through the entire house at night before going to bed and turn off every light. We all know that we could sit and look out the window and watch for motion, and turn on the exterior light whenever we see something.

Code is code, and no matter what it does, it does it to make our lives better.

Why am I bothering to say all this? To say that I understand the challenges faced by developers.

So what’s the other side of the coin?

The other side of the coin is the group of people who USE that code. Providing something for free does not absolve you of the responsibility of ensuring that what you provide works as advertised, and providing a newer version of that free something does not absolve you of the responsibility of ensuring that the new version does not cause something that used to work to stop working.

While I’m unfamiliar with your specific rant about Nabu Casa, too many times have there been code changes made in future releases that broke functionality that was previously rock solid. Sometimes, those changes were made intentionally, and simply were poorly socialized, but more oft than not, they were unintentional, and something accidentally broke as a result.

Then, when those concerns are raised, rather than actually assisting with what was inadvertently broken, the responses come “works fine for me”. Uhhh, good for you? That doesn’t help the person that it’s broken for.

But even worse, is that at some future point in time, the thing that was broken just magically starts working again - without any intervention on the part of the person who raised the concern. Logic would say that whoever the dev was that owned that code saw the complaint, didn’t bother to respond, found the issue, quietly fixed it, and didn’t even bother to tell anyone.

Now, I get it. Communicating with end-users when you’re a SUPER big nerd is not something that is considered fun. It’s not something that ANY IT engineer I’ve EVER met wants to do. That’s help-desk-level nonsense, right? The people actually doing the work have better things to do with their time.

The problem with that engineer/help-desk model is that Home Assistant has “outsourced” their help-desk to the forums, and the VAST majority of people on the forums ARE NOT HELP DESK STAFF. They barely understand the product themselves, and they CERTAINLY don’t have the ability to actually effect change. I have seen post after post after post of nonsense, bad/technically incorrect information/recommendations, etc. Now, mind you - there are some FANSTIC resources on the forum as well - some VERY sharp people that do provide excellent responses and solutions. But unfortunately, they are outnumbered…

Tl;dr - cost is irrelevant. If you’re going to provide something, you need to go to GREAT lengths to ensure future versions of that product do not break features that used to work just fine. People use those features, people RELY on those features. If you are unable/unwilling to invest that amount of time in QC/QA/regression testing/whatever - then you need to provide VALID, HELPFUL help-desk staff that actually have the ability to speak intelligently and resolve issues - or at the VERY least, acknowledge their existence and properly announce when those issues have been fixed so that users can upgrade to the fixed version ASAP rather than find out about it by accident some weeks or months down the road.

The difference between crApple/Google/Amazon, and why people buy them, is because they DO provide that help-desk service. They LISTEN to their user base when a concern is raised. “Oh, that’s broken? Let’s see if we can fix it.” or “We will look into that and get back to you.”

Failure to do this will all but ENSURE that Home Assistant will never be a viable alternative to crApple or Google or Amazon for the masses.

Since the dev teams have started to make hardware, and improve the interface, and have tried to “dumb things down” to make the product easier to work with, it would appear that they do want to appeal to the masses. Having a valid help desk is something that the masses want, regardless the cost (or not) of the product. It’s something those end users NEED.

It would appear that Home Assistant is in that weird spot where they’ve gotten the attention of end users who aren’t savvy enough to use it, but Home Assistant isn’t “big” enough or able to afford to provide the help desk service those non-savvy users require in order to be successful with it - at least, not yet.

As for my contribution? I try to figure things out as best I can, document them as best I can, and then produce high-quality videos showing new users how to do those things so they can have as trouble-free an experience as possible. It’s not much, but it’s something.

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I agree with you in principle. Having said that, it seems like the project leads looked into a mirror, many years ago, and said “I absolve you”.

Think of how a traditional business would envy this arrangement:

  • Over a quarter million customers
  • Hundreds of unpaid developers contributing to the product’s evolution
  • Hundreds of unpaid instructors providing free technical support
  • Sufficient income from the sales of a companion product, and unsolicited contributions, to pay 30 employees
  • Unbeholden to a board of directors, shareholders or, for that matter, even your own customers

It’s a pretty sweet deal. Small wonder suggestions to change its modus operandi are ignored.

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Oh, I completely agree. Thing is, there’s a reason you don’t see “traditional”, flourishing businesses operate in such a manner: It’s not sustainable. Over time, you run into the issues that I listed above. As the user base grows, and the ratio of… “not-savvy” users increases, so too do the problems caused by this model.

Eventually, they must be addressed. If they aren’t, then best case is that growth slows/stops, worst case is the project goes belly up.

Don’t overlook the nerd factor.

The fact is that Home Assistant is not a commercial product and Nabu Casa is not a conventional organisation. The developers and their army of contributors don’t have a model - they’re doing stuff because they can. Hence the ridiculously fast, scattergun pace of innovation, and the fact that long-standing problems don’t get fixed until they spark someone’s interest.

Similarly, on the user side - Home Assistant Green and “dumbing down” notwithstanding - there’s no way anyone can pick up a smart home they way they can pick up a laptop on Amazon. Users all want to meddle and tinker and they all think HA should do things differently (whatever the docs say), and that the solution to any problem is a new bit of kit.

It will end in tears, but don’t get me wrong - I love it. I’m delighted that someone is romantic enough to give two fingers to the increasingly grey world of commercialism and marketing doubletalk. I’m endlessly impressed by the kindness (mostly) in the community.

But Home Assistant is a hobby - for users and developers. Eighty years ago we would all have been playing with model railways in the garage. :steam_locomotive:

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A significant change of management philosophy would be needed in order to make that transition. One read-through of this architectural discussion is evidence that the leads are not about to change anything soon.

Despite numerous well-reasoned rebuttals and thoughtful alternatives presented, the original proposal will proceed as planned with its limitations intact. All else was waved off; ignoring user feedback is so commonplace that the one time it wasn’t (*) felt like witnessing a miracle.

As for “belly up”, I doubt that’ll happen in the near future. Even given a worst case scenario, it has sufficient momentum to coast for a long time.

FWIW, I still use Premise along with Home Assistant. Premise was created 23 years ago. It was discontinued in 2006. I started using it in 2007 when it was released to the public for free. It still controls all of my “legacy” devices (the things that are unsupported by Home Assistant). In 2018, I enhanced it to support MQTT so that it could work with Home Assistant.

In a nutshell, I’ve been using discontinued software for longer than the Home Assistant project has existed. That final version of Premise not only runs reliably, it can still do things Home Assistant cannot (and probably never will). So, yeah, it’s equally possible for Home Assistant to coast, unguided, for quite awhile.

(*) The decision to cease development and support of Home Assistant Supervised was “suspended”.

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I appreciate your point of view - and to some extent, even agree with it. However - it’s not nearly as black and white as your post would lead some to believe, and perhaps as you, yourself, may believe?

Allow me to veer off-topic for JUST a hot minute here - I promise it’ll all make sense in just a moment.

When I started my YouTube channel - nay, when I got SERIOUS about my YouTube channel - one of the exercises I went through was to create an “avatar” of my viewer. That starts simply enough: Are they male or female? Probably male (not sexist, just realistic). How old are they? I’m gonna say 30. They are young enough to have free time due to maybe having not started a family just yet, but they are old enough that their career has gotten off the ground to the point that they have some level of disposable income - because, let’s face it: Home Assistant might be free, but the hardware it runs on, the thermostats, light switches, IP cameras, and various sensors all over my house were most assuredly NOT free. What’s their income level? I don’t know. That’s going to depend on their location, but I’m going to say they are most likely SOLIDLY middle-class, if not upper-middle class. However, they probably are not upper class (this is important, I’ll get back to this). But, the point is, insert whatever salary is needed in whatever geography to provide someone with a goodly amount of “disposable income”.

You get the idea. This exercise goes on, and on, and on, and eventually culminates with you even giving your avatar a NAME. This avatar, then, is who you speak to when you are making a video.

The devs do seem to want to turn this into a revenue stream - some how, some way. Whether that be home assistant blue/amber/yellow/green/tye die/whatever, or through the subscription service that is (currently) Nabu Casa. I support these efforts. I’m not AGAINST open source, but I do think that if people produce works of SUCH value, there should be some form of compensation in it for them. I mean, I, myself, started with an HA blue. Not because I’m not “tech savvy” (see previous post), but because it seemed like a good “all-in-one” solution, and it did help to support the project.

NOW - having stipulated that - where does that revenue for the devs come from? They can say “it’s this hardware” or “it’s this subscription service” or whatever else - but the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, it comes from people who have enough disposable income to purchase their products. But who is that? What’s the name of their avatar that is their ideal customer? I’m not convinced that the devs have thought that out quite that far.

You posit that “home assistant is not a commercial product” and “Nabu Cass is not a conventional organization.” I can’t argue that. But you also make the statement that “Users all want to meddle and tinker”.

I call bullshit (pardon my French).

The focus shouldn’t be so short-sighted as “the users”. The focus should be on “THE CUSTOMERS”.

Who are these “customers”??

I’m not a braggart - and please do not misinterpret what I’m about to share, especially since I am most assuredly not in these league - but I have five friends here in the small town (population ~19k) that are all business owners. When I say “business owners”, I don’t mean they own some corner little stop-n-rob and they make $150k/yr - I’m talking these individuals all have incomes well into the 7, if not 8-figures. In addition, I have a friend who is an attorney and is the second-in-command on the legal team of a pretty large regional medical organization, and is married to a surgeon. Between the two of them, their income is well into the 7-figures as well.

Each and every one of those guys - every single time they come to my house, they are amazed at all the new things that my house does automatically, and the fact that they can just walk up to a tablet on my wall and scan a QR code to get on my guest wifi. The lights turn on and off, the water main turns off if there’s a leak (one of them owns an insurance company, so this is near and dear to his heart), and all the other neat/cool stuff that my house does.

Each of them, at one point or another, has expressed their wish that they hour did one or more of the things that my house does - until I begin to show them how I made my house do that.

You know what happens then? Their eyes glaze over, and they ask me what kind of whiskey we are going to drink today.

They WANT what my house does. They WANT the ability to customize it. They do NOT want to invest many hours into making it DO that. They will PAY - and when I say pay, they will PAY - I’m talking GOOD MONEY - for their house to just “do that”.

On MORE than one occasion, they have offered to pay ME to make their house “do that”. Each and every time, I have declined their offer. Why? Because I’m not going to support their house. The devs are GOING to break something. It’s GOING to happen, and anyone who is willing to pay me tens of thousand of dollars to make their house “do that” expects that when they say “do the thing”, the house DOES THE THING.

This is anecdotal, of course. But 3 of the 5? They use Amazon to do random stuff around their house. One of them even DOES have an HA blue, because I convinced him to get one - but literally the ONLY thing he does with it is use it as a “bridge” so that Alexa announces when someone rang his Ubiquiti doorbell. The others? They are using Amazon “because it’s easy”.

crApple/Amazon/Google will continue to OWN the market - especially for people like these - until there is stability, and ease of use, for the people who ACTUALLY have the money to just light on fire for whatever they want, to make their house do whatever they want.

Home Assistant could EASILY capture that market, but they need to shift their focus towards stability and some level of customer service, or they will never “strike gold”, they’ll just be panning for the little bits and pieces in whatever tiny little stream they happen to currently be sitting in.

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With all due respect, we aren’t talking about “coasting”, we are talking about growing bigger, and taking over market share from the big players - or at least, that what I thought we were talking about.

I’ve never heard of Premise, and while I think that’s awesome - even I, with my vast years of experience, do not have the expertise to feel at all comfortable using a system that doesn’t currently have at least SOME level of support. :wink:

My “coasting” comment was in response to your prediction of a worst case scenario where the project goes “belly up”. I feel even if that came to pass, it would still “coast” along through sheer momentum of its user-base. The comparison to Premise was to demonstrate a real-world case of how long one could continue to use discontinued home automation software that’s “self-supported” by its user-base.

FWIW, it’s my understanding that Premise was developed by a small team (about 6) of former Microsoft employees and professional systems integrators. The software sold for about $1000 for hobbyists and I don’t recall how much more for professional integrators. Based on the breadth and depth of its thoughtful features, it was evident that the systems integrators, who were steeped in real-world home automation experience, had a significant influence in the product’s design.

Long story short, after the company was bought out twice, it was eventually discontinued. The rumor I heard was there was more profit in providing home automation products and services than in home automation software itself.

Fast forward to today and you have free labor building and supporting free home automation software. Nabu Casa’s income is from companion services and products whose growth depends on the software’s appeal. Naturally they retain control of its evolution by vetting submissions from the free labor pool (and their employees).

Had this model existing as a viable option two decades ago, I’ll hazard a guess that the Premise team would have probably opted for it.

Ah, gotcha. I guess I should have chosen my words more carefully. I wasn’t referring to the ability to download or use the product, I was more referring to the commercial viability of any of the associated offerings.

As for why Premise is no longer, and where the profit lies, it’s difficult to comment since I really don’t know anything about their product or their marketing, but I think it’s probably a pretty safe bet that at $1000 per unit 15-20 years ago, their total addressable market was MUCH smaller than it would have been had they dropped a zero off the end of that price. I know that today, even accounting for the 20 years of my own career (and associated wage) growth, and even inflation - I wouldn’t spend a thousand 2024 dollars on a Home Automation controller. However, I wouldn’t even bat an eye at spending $100 - and were I in the market, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it in 2004, either. Since, according to you, it was only software and not hardware, there’s a lot more revenue to be had in 250,000 units at $100 each than there is at 10,000 units at $1000 each. I get the desire to recoup R&D with sales, but at some point you need to make a decision about revenue, not just margin. The software was already written. They wouldn’t “lose” money by selling it for less…

FWIW, I believe their target market was your wealthy friends. A professional installation was (is?) in the tens of thousands of dollars for an upscale home (Crestron/Control4 territory) so the software’s cost was a mere fraction of the project’s total. The “hobbyist’s” version, with its eye-watering price even by today’s standards, was a secondary market.

That’s why it was intriguing (at least for me) to use pro-level software when it was released for free.

Sure, I could see that.

But yes - if their target market was the wealthy folks, and the only piece they had was the software, that’s not enough. Crestron/Control4 have a much more robust suite of offerings from which to pull revenue. If your only piece of a $20k home automation project is the $1k software, someone else is making a WHOLE lot more than you. LOL

I believe the goal was to allow integrators to use off-the-shelf hardware, as opposed to using Crestron/Control4’s ecosystem. That would allow integrators greater flexibility (and better margins) compared to if they were bound exclusively to Crestron. Effectively, they were trying to open up the home automation market (at a time when many current standards didn’t even exist). It was forward-thinking (the systems integrators on staff were familiar with the market at the time) but a bit too early.

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