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Blueprint for Competing with Proprietary Software

Peek behind the curtain to see how proprietary software views the competitive threat of B2C FOSS.

In one of the best pieces of writing that I’ve seen in a long time about the business of software Patrick McKenzie, the creator of Bingo Card Creator, lays out an excellent critique of how FOSS is “sold” to the consumer. (“How To Successfully Compete With Open Source Software“)

Before your rage reaches Krakatoan levels at the audacity of linking to such an article, take a minute and read it. While it’s audience is for proprietary software developers, it’s an amazing look at everything that can be improved with the ecosystems that surround FOSS projects. For example, take something as simple as a project’s website:

OSS concentrates on the software, not the problems the software can solve: Take a look at an OSS site, any OSS site. You’ll see a whole lot of talking about the software, the implementation of the software, the source code for the software, how you can contribute to the software, etc. You’ll almost never see anything about the problem domain — the assumption is that, if you’ve stumbled upon the site, you already know you have a software problem.

Well put. So much of the community around free and open source software waves the banner of “by nerds, for nerds” a little too high. Increased adoption of FOSS will occur when the barriers to entry are lowered, not when people are intimated by a computing sub-culture.

If you write software, take a minute to read the article. McKenzie also talks about design, support, “speaking the users’ language” (incredibly important), and an interesting look at the FOSS development model:

You’ll notice I’ve been concentrating mostly on the 90% of the software business that happens outside of the IDE. However, there is no reason to assume that OSS is superior on a technical front, either. I know, a million eyes makes all bugs shallow, yadda yadda yadda. Back in my reality:

  • the median number of developers per OSS project hosted on Sourceforge is 1.
  • perhaps one project in five will ever leave beta.
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