Growth that sales and marketing money can't buy

I feel for proprietary vendors. Their very business model is their biggest inhibitor to fast growth and global adoption. Maybe they should try open source.

I was thinking through the open source diffusion model over the last few days, and put together this slide. It's not groundbreaking by any stretch (Larry Augustin and John Roberts are much more articulate on this point than I am), but it reflects the way open source spreads.

On the open source side, you start with users and then convert them into customers. On the proprietary side, you start with marketing and sales to create customers. No users until they pay.

The key point here is in the difference in focus. Both groups - proprietary and open source - care about customers. You have to or you go out of business. Nothing revolutionary in caring about customers.

But the proprietary world has a model that puts it at a disadvantage with open source. (Yes, Savio, I know. Stop that smirking! :-) It's insistence on hoarding IP means that the only way to goose adoption is through hefty sales and marketing costs. Free, as it turns out, is a great price to encourage distribution.

Don't believe me? Ask Javier at Hyperic what kind of response he's had to releasing his product under the GPL. Or take a look at Alfresco's spread of its web content management product since its launch earlier this year. Over 8,000 installations (active) in just three months of having a stable product out:

You don't get that kind of spread if the fundamental premise behind your distribution process is hoard first, give (in highly limited fashion) later. Let freedom ring.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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