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.

Comments on "Blueprint for Competing with Proprietary Software"


Email from Linux mag 2/9/09 “Peek behind the curtain to see how propritary” (sic).

Got spelling?


Oh yes, the link you used at the beginning of the page should not enrage the FOSS community, it should serve to enlighten and inform.

If it does annoy you to no end, that’s because you don’t care about the end user. In fact, you might even *hate* the Great Unwashed and wish a pox upon them all.

Sourceforge is probably the biggest offender and preventer of adoption of FOSS, because of the way they design their site. If anything, there should be an innocuous “I am a developer” or “I want to contribute” button somewhere on the site that makes the user-friendly side of the site disappear and be replaced by what we have today. If the Sourceforge masters wanted to sell FOSS software to the people, the site should more resemble the Tucows site, which is geared towards easy downloading and installation of software.


I must agree. Many times I’m led to an interesting FOSS website, and I recall “something” about it, but the site does not include any kind of summary or even link to “what is this thing”. All kinds of yadda, yadda about how to download, configure, build, install. After several decades, I’m reasonably capable of doing that. However, there is no way to “guess” what the functionality might be from a whimsical name.


I believe there are more companies that people are aware of that are directly competing with their proprietary counterparts.

One of the skills I see emerging now is a need for more people that can find open source alternatives to the mainstream. I will agree to a degree that some of the open source software makers really are more about the software than the problem, but there are good companies out there that provide excellent support for their software (even the community versions), and are willing to implement changes based on the requests of their customer base.




I love it as it is… leave it alone! I pray everyday that the OSS products keep reflecting the culture of the people that created them. Why? Because it keeps you and I business. Like you I am in the business of providing OSS solutions to people with business needs that would be too mundane for OSS developers to touch. I am lucky enough to understand real world business requirements and how to map them to OSS solutions.


Ha! I have to agree with the above — my favorites are the FOSS descriptions like “Abuse – An SDL port of Abuse” (that’s for real!), and such. Or my GNU favorite “To understand how to transcode a MP3 to WAV, you have to understand how the human ear works” – followed by a 40 page diatribe on sound sampling, yadda yadda yadda. Buzzt! I found another piece of software.

I’m almost all Linux at home — but reading over some of the free packages makes you realize why many of the developers are all alone over a computer late at night in their parent’s basement…


The viewpoint in this article is limited but spot on. The key to enhanced FOSS competitiveness is in stacking up functionality of applications. The UNIX/Linux community writes software with a philosophy of one program one function. That is very good, especially for small development teams or individual contributors. As in business, most innovation comes from small groups.

Yet market dominating software is written by large teams. An example, Microsoft Office Word plus Publisher dominate documentation and brochures. Individual Linux applications don’t provide a superior solution, only a cheaper one that is a bit less functional. Yet how about the following: Open Office plus Scribus plus LyX are all free and their combined functionality puts Microsoft applications to shame. Thus combining the functionality of FOSS compared to mainstream proprietary applications will give FOSS a competitive performance advantage that, combined with price advantage, will be persuasive to a number of users.

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