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I wanted to write about the concept of selling open source ideas and what are some of the required criteria for being successful in doing it for quite some time, and Stormy's comment on my last post sort of pushed me to it.

I use the word “sell” here not strictly in the sense of a financial transaction but also in the sense of getting your open source product to be adopted and have a better chance at standing out from the huge pool of available open source software. These last 3 years have showed me that what we today call “popular” open source software display a couple of distinct patterns, some of which seem to also be shared with other open source products that are distributed with some type of financial payback. So, without much further ado, here are some of my observations:

  • Your “product” must be available for the Ubuntu distribution. There is no doubt that Ubuntu is the most popular desktop GNU/Linux distribution and there are no signs of that changing any time soon. If you want people to use your product, make sure you have it properly packaged for Ubuntu. Bonus points for RPMs too!
  • It should be localized to other languages. When we’re talking about massive contracts such as those done by government agencies and larger institutes or departments, and I quote Stormy here, “having localized versions of the product can be a deciding factor for companies looking to include GNOME technologies in their products, like custom netbook distros.” More follows on my next point.
  • Corporations should invest in open source communities. For instance, say that company Foo wants to sell device Bar to the education department of country Zing. Let’s say this device will run LXDEandwill be distributed to young children of Zing whose first language is Zong. Don’t you think that Foo will have a better chance of getting a contract with Zing if their devices are 100% translated to Zong? Also, wouldn’t make sense for Foo to invest some (probably tax deductible) money into a project’s translation team so to give back to the community, and moreover, get (hopefully) quicker return in their investment?
  • Documentation must also be localized. This includes web sites, forums, FAQs, etc and goes hand to hand with my previous observation.
  • Have a clear process for offering some type of support. Having a great product is only half of the battle if you want to make it appealing to “investors”. But in order to secure a good relationship with them it is necessary to have a clear and structured process for offering technical support. Obviously most open source projects are all volunteer based and there is no “support team” per se, but having some type of issue tracking system and a FAQ section somewhere intuitive in your project’s web site is a good start. Investors need to know that in case something arises, issues can be “escalated” to people who will be more knowledgeable on how to handle them.
  • Release soon, release often. Stay on top of your issues and make sure that there is a constant feedback flow between those who report them and those who are looking into them.  Have a clear and well stated roadmap available and make sure that your users know when to expect an update or upgrade.

Well, there are some of the things I could remember during my lunch break. As I am not a business person nor have I ever sold anything in my life, some of these observations may not be relevant to the real world. I’d be very much interested to learn what other people think about this subject and what personal exeperiences you may want to share?


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