OK take a deep breath and don't panic! I assure you that I'm not asking you to do anything that you have not already done before. Let me explain myself before I go any further. I'm the CEO of a web design agency in Malmö, Sweden that specializes in web publishing and digital presence. We create web sites using TYPO3 which is a web Content Management Solution. The TYPO3 project, represented by the TYPO3 Association uses different licenses, one for the distribution of software and its associated documentation and one for contributions from individuals and corporations. These are Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) licenses based on the Apache CLA and GNU GPL version 2 and 3 licenses.
So what has this got to do with the title of my blog post? Well at my weekly meetings with my sales team I started to hear the same problem over and over again... "The customer is worried about this Open Source software...they think its insecure." As a developer I had heard many similar myths and misconceptions concerning Free software back in the day..."How can you sell something that is free?" or "We don't trust or value software that we don't pay for."
I thought we had largely solved these problems with Open Source right? Open Source is business friendly right? Open Source was the silver bullet which would cut through the confusion...so why am I hearing this...again? Are my sales team simply not getting the point across? That may be true but going through the sales case studies on our files I saw a common pattern emerge in over 50 of those cases which made alarm bells ring loud and clear. So is my sales team to blame? Well we are making sales, in fact we are making more sales than ever before so they must be doing something right...right? The problem is the word open. At one point when I explained open source CMS to my client he responded...“So does that mean that anybody can change anything on my web page?”
The rise of Open Source Software and its impact on market share is undeniable and I'm not saying we cannot sell Open Source. My point is that we think we can sell much more if we go back to the drawing board and seriously rethink about a re-branding which addresses the business concerns once and for all. FOSS is here to stay but why haven't we completely dominated the market rather than simply having a share of it? Why is proprietary software still used by businesses? As a developer I understand the benefits of FOSS and as a CEO my company is reaping them, however, since the establishment of the Free Software Foundation in the 80's and the Open Source Initiative in the 90's we have still not managed to convince businesses that our software is not free of charge and is secure...well at least in my case.
I wonder how many other businesses are experiencing the same problem. I'm keen to start a conversation about how others fair when selling FOSS solutions and whether its time to get together again and think again about a re-branding that will have my prospective customers asking "OK tell us more" rather than "Open sounds insecure". To that end I would like to nominate a brand new name that I have seen used in FOSS communities as a suitable candidate...Community Software.
When the people in the Free software movement felt that Free software was too hard to sell they redefined a new model called Open Source. That change, whether you agree with it or not, had a huge impact on the industry but when Open Source is closing doors its time to go back to the communities that inspired these movements and ask them if we can do better.
So you see I don't think rebranding FOSS is a big ask. FOSS came from developer communities. As their success has grown in business we find our communities have diversified and I think we need to reflect that diversification in the way we express ourselves. Community Software takes the focus away from an abstract idea about the openness of source code and places it firmly in the reality of communities, the people that constitute them and the values they represent.
I'm not suggesting that a rebranding will mean the end of discussions concerning the price and security of FOSS...far from it. I am however suggesting it will occur on a much more level playing field with propitiatory software. I want my sales teams discussing features at the same time the competition is and not having to reassure the client about what Open Source means.