Most software that’s sold today remains the exclusive property of the software vendors that created it. The past few years, however, have seen an upsurge of interest in open source software that’s created and supported by a development community consisting primarily of volunteers. Under the open source model, volunteers perform peer review to help ensure quality. The resulting software code then is made freely available to anyone who wishes to use it or modify it.
Although open source software licenses are free, for-profit companies sometimes sell an upgraded version of an open source product and, for a fee, provide customer support for both the open source and upgraded versions. The Linux operating system and the Apaches Web server are primary examples of supported open source software.
Much has been written on the advantages and disadvantages of open source versus traditional proprietary methods. The following list summarizes the main arguments.
1. Business model:
2. Quality control:
3. Product completeness:
4. Security risk:
As the above list illustrates, the arguments surrounding proprietary and open source software are finely balanced. Regardless of whether you’re selling proprietary or open source software, you should familiarize yourself with the controversy and learn to articulate both the advantages of your company’s approach as well as the disadvantages of your competitor’s approach.
Discussions you have with customers on this subject also should have the appropriate strategic focus. If you’re selling for a proprietary vendor, that focus should be total cost of ownership. Your job is to show how your license fee or subscription pricing structure is a bargain in the long term, even if the upfront cost is higher, which it probably is. By contrast, if you’re selling for an open source vendor, the correct strategic focus is flexibility and control. Your job is to convince customers that the ability to view and modify the software gives them power and thus is more likely to result in customer satisfaction.
The above is based on a conversation with Laura Didio who covers software development methodologies at The Yankee Group, a market research and analyst firm headquartered in Boston, MA.