The nineties of the previous century saw the rise of open source software.
Though open source is not equal to freeware, these two frequently come together.
Open source software is developed not by commercial companies, but by communities that are too disorganized to strive for profit.
Still, open source is seen as a potential danger for commercial applications, because of its often very low cost.
Is that really so? In my opinion open source suffers from several handicaps in getting acceptance from the general public:
- User interface. Because open source is often developed by people primarily for their own use, the user interface tends to be neglected. Open source developers are able software users that (a) are not interested in investing a lot of time in a slick user interface and (b) don't need it. They stick to rough, but effective interfaces. The same holds true for installation and configuration of the software. But most average computer users get lost when confronted with a difficult interface or installation procedure and tend to turn to simpler software.
- Support. While open source is supported by strong communities, you must be able to find your way about and there are no guarantees that a plea for help will be answered. Commercial helpdesks and centralized companies are easier to reach.
- Mistrust. The attitude of the average software buyer is you-get-what-you-pay-for. Quote from a major bank: "If it is too cheap, it cannot be worth anything". The realization that cheap software, especially software, can be good, has not yet dawned in most minds.
- Marketing machine. Open source uses the pull-model: It sits idle, waiting to be downloaded. Commercial products use the push-model: It goes out to the customer accompanied by an aggressive sales force that performs a wonderful sell-show. And sell-shows, however silly they often get, are good at one things: selling.
Not surprisingly, the things listed above are exactly the areas that commercial vendors, basing packages on open software, are reinforcing.
Different groups of software users have different needs and priorities regarding the software.
The table below is an attempt at categorizing users and demands to software.
In the table, A blank means "of minor importance", one plus "important" and two pluses "very important". To get an overview, the numbers of pluses have been totaled in both horizontal and vertical directions. The outcome is surprisingly accurate for the actual software market, I think.
|Flexible APIs, technical documentation||Security, stability, performance||Cool look-and-feel||Ease-of-use||Efficiency and effectiveness||Low-price||Product line stability||User community||Total demands|