I have noticed an increase in the number of companies deciding to put their code in the open source arena. Here’s my concern: Open Source is not a silver bullet for ailing enterprise software businesses. Yet, entrepreneurs going into open source today seem to assume they will not need to budget money for sales and marketing. I disagree with this.
To be viable as a commercial open source company, management should consider emulating popular open source products. Most of the “successful” ones have been available as projects for several years, built a significant web presence and have thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of downloads. Getting to this enviable position can be left to chance. Is that a good idea for a commercial entity?
With several hundred thousand open source projects, it is easy to get lost in the melee. Having a better mouse trap, and a free one at that, is not enough. More and more open source companies are turning to traditional ways to get their product known. Firefox, last week, announced it would be turning to its user community to create and produce video ads for future TV and Web campaigns. Other successful open source companies such as SugarCRM and JBoss are turning to Google AdWords and web banner advertising campaigns to get noticed.
Given that users will have even more choice among open source products, gaining more downloads and converting them to paying customers will require innovative and potentially costly marketing and sales programs. If commercial open source company management teams don’t plan how to grow their businesses, we will end up with a dot com fiasco once again.