Since I’m a product manager by day, I was intrigued by Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri’s tweet:

“Software has become very bloated #btf09 because vendors love to add features and users hate to lose features”

Without doubt, this is conventional wisdom about the software industry. The first part of this statement is often considered the culprit much more than the latter. And to be honest, the latter doesn’t happen unless there is a better replacement for the feature that customers are using.

If we focus on the first part of the statement, it’s all too easy to point the accusing finger at vendors alone. However, features aren’t added to software products because a developer thinks it’ll be “cool” or because it’s a “challenging technical problem to solve”. Nor are features added because the vendor needs something new for the next product release; vendors typically have a backlog of features at every release.

Features are added in response to a widely held business issue that a customer is trying to remedy. Widely held means there’s an emphasis on adding features that 80% of customers will find helpful. That isn’t to say that niche features aren’t added for important customers; they are, but these features are not a top priority for releases.

All of the above is equally true for commercial open source, open core and traditional software. Gone are the days of open source vendor employed developers working on features that “scratch an itch”. Open source vendors have quickly added professional product management roles to ensure that the product contains features that customers will find valuable enough to purchase the product and ongoing upgrades.

Regardless of how open source and open core vendors position their subscription offerings, they’re selling products and related support and maintenance. This is no different from traditional software vendors do. As such, the customer driven requirement for new features which solve existing and new customer issues remains critical.

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PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”