Government // Enterprise Architecture
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8/25/2009
11:59 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Sell 'Good,' Not 'Open'

The folks at the 451 Group talked recently about "the right and best way" to make money from open source. The short version: don't sell "open source", sell good software.

The folks at the 451 Group talked recently about "the right and best way" to make money from open source. The short version: don't sell "open source", sell good software.

In their words:

... the right way and best way involves being honest and transparent about licensing, avoiding marketing the benefits of open source while selling proprietary licenses, separating proprietary features attractive to paying customers from the requirements of community users, and looking after and understanding the needs of the community.

In short, the best and right way to generate revenue from open source is by making the fact that it's open source secondary to the fact that it's an excellent product. Best-in-breed applications win no matter how they were developed, no matter what the licensing scheme and no matter what the cost. Yes, the pricetag on a program is a big part of its perceived value -- but if you're getting something that cannot be had anywhere else, you have that much less sticker shock.

The next question that comes to mind: Does smart marketing of open source come most from people who already have experience marketing software in general, no matter what its development philosophy? I'd say so. Perhaps not exclusively on a corporate level, but certainly on an individual level. Those who leave an existing software company to boot up their own (open source) outfit typically bring with them a good deal of working knowledge about the software marketplace. They know how to attract and keep customers, what to emphasize when selling their product and what to leave out.

The lesson that comes to light again and again is that good marketing for open source -- yes, the dreaded M word rears its head -- means the fact that something is open source has to be less important than the fact that it gets a given job done, and gets it done better than whatever competition exists. No amount of theoretical value will trump practical use when you're eyeing a budget sheet.

I don't think this means open source will disappear as a differentiator (although Matt Asay tilts a bit in that direction). As awareness rises on the part of the customer, it'll be a point of value for them. But it won't -- and shouldn't -- usurp the most important thing of all: is this program worth the money?

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