Easier said than done…converting your OSS user base. Read on, but that’s the summary of this post.

Joel Jackson of Red Hat said:

“Do you think the genius of OSS is how we sell it? Seriously. How did you get a job blogging on open source my friend.

We already know that to scale in OSS you start off by doing two things: (1) writing great code and (2) getting market share (by selling what you call “Support” subscriptions”). Then, right about the time your OSS company is in Gartner’s upper right “magic quadrant” with the other proprietary companies, you establish a revenue model that try’s to convert much more of your user base (by selling what you call “Software” subscriptions).

Is this what you were trying to educate us on all along?

Come on and say it with me: The real genius in OSS isn’t the way we sell software. It’s the way we develop software and crush the development models of proprietary companies in the process. OSS transforms the way software is developed, distributed and supported. “

Joel, I truly appreciate your comments. Look, I am an OSS fan. But, I don’t subscribe to the “it’ll all work out in the end” line of thinking that seems to be the norm amongst OSS proponents. I *think* that the balanced approach is why I got a ‘job’ blogging about OSS ;-)

I can’t reconcile that OSS is game changing, yet is only estimated to represent < 2% of customer spending in 2011. The fact that 2011 will be 20 years into the life of the commercial OSS market, if you base t=0 is when Red Hat was founded. I keep dropping those numbers to bring some reality to the discussion. Heck, let’s say the <2% is really going to be 4%, or 10% in 2011…is that what we should define as “game changing”? In my opinion no. Is revenue the best measure of OSS success? Maybe not, but for those of us who get paid to work, it’s probably the best measure of success out there.

Joel, I mean no disrespect to OSS proponents that have predicted the end of the commercial software business model as we know it. I like and respect many of them. But I do feel that they trivialize the tough battle ahead for OSS.

Yes, OSS is great if your company is able to (1) write great code and (2) gain share via a Support Subscription business model. But it’s a completely different ball game when you (3) try to convert your user base by selling Software Subscriptions. When you start doing (3) you are competing vs. the commercial software vendors who have been doing this for decades. OSS plays on its home turf with (2), and (1)…but there are also great commercial products out there. The real challenge is for OSS vendors to attain success with (3), namely, converting users into paying customers. Oh, and as you start selling products to do this (under the guise of a service or not), you are playing the commercial software game. It’s a tough game….tougher than OSS proponents make it out to be.