Sun’s Simon Phipps has a nice description of an “adoption-led market”, which differs from the traditional “procurement-driven market” commonplace in the commercial software market.

“In this (adoption-led) approach, developers select from available Free software and try the software that fits best in their proposed application. They develop prototypes, switch packages as they find benefits and problems and finally create a deployable solution to their business problem. At that final point, assuming the application is sufficiently critical to the business to make it worthwhile to do so, they seek out vendors to provide support, services (like defect resolution) and more. Adoption-led users are not all customers; they only become so when they find a vendor with value to offer.”

If Simon is suggesting that the future of the software market is in providing support, then I can’t help but disagree. While the “adoption-led market” moniker sounds great, we should recognize its shortcomings. Not the least of which is the fact we train users to get by without paying for our product. And then we expect the user to want to pay for a product that they’ve already been using for free. You could offer support and bi-week massages, and you’re still in an uphill battle. The dual license model (MySQL) or a gated access to products model (Fedora/RHEL) are more effective than support-driven business models.

Next, if we’re honest with ourselves, an adoption-led market is not a whole lot different from the shareware model. I can’t think of many software products that utilized the shareware model and made it big. WinZip maybe? I’m sure there were some….but I shudder to think that we’re going back to the past and recommending the shareware model as the future of the software industry. Come to think of it, with the shareware model, users would have been more likely to become paying customers because they couldn’t get ‘support’ from a community or benefit from community developed features since the source was not open. So, if shareware products could convert 0.01% of users into customers, it stands to reason that an adoption-led model will convert some number less than 0.01%. Onward!?