The Disappearance of Open Source?

RedHat.com"

A little while ago we made the decision here at OSTraining.com to alter how our name is shown to visitors.

We changed “Open Source Training” to “OSTraining” throughout our site. The main reason? In our user testing and customer interactions we constantly found that people were confused about the phrase “Open Source”. We kept on hearing comments like these:

  • “I was under the impression that Open Source training meant I wouldn’t have to pay for it. I won’t be coming back.”
  • “It’s disgusting that you guys charge for Open Source training. You’re making money off the hard work of all those volunteers.”

That left us with two options:

  1. Engage with each customer who raises this issue and talk them around.
  2. Remove the initial point of confusion and then teach them more about open source and its commercial aspects only after they’ve become a member.

We went with option 2. We realised that visitors need to know that we’re great trainers first and foremost. The fact that we work with open source can wait.

The thing is, we’re not alone in this. I went to look at the websites for a lot of big Open Source companies and nearly all of them mention “open source” far less than they once did. I picked five companies as examples. Here are some screenshots from archive.org compared with the 2012 version of their sites:

RedHat.com in 2004: Four Mentions

RedHat.com"

RedHat.com in 2012: One Mention

RedHat.com"

Here’s the single mention, tucked underneath a menu:

redhatmenu

SugarCRM.com in 2008: 18 Mentions

I gave up pointing out all of the examples on this archived page:

SugarCRM.com

SugarCRM.com in 2012: One Mention

SugarCRM.com

Alfresco.com in 2006: Eight Mentions

Alfresco.com

Alfresco.com in 2012: Zero Mentions

Alfresco.com

MySQL.com in 2003: Fourteen Mentions

There were so many that I’ve only marked those at the top of the homepage.

mySQL.com

MySQL.com in 2012: One Mention

mySQL.com

Acquia.com in 2008: Four Mentions

Apologies for the low quality of this particular archive.org snapshot.

Acquia.com

Acquia.com in 2012: One Mention

Acquia.com

Possible Explanations

I wonder if “open source” is disappearing for one or more of these reasons?

  1. The failure of the open source community to explain that successful businesses are a key part of what we do.
  2. The maturation of open source companies and their ability to offer more of value than simply their code.
  3. The experience of lot of open source companies dealing with enterprise customers and realising that open source was often asked about quite late in the sales process.

What do you think? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the word “open source” is used less by companies relying that rely on it?

Instructor

  • Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.

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Radek Suski

In most cases: definitely answer #1. I truly believe that Open Source software is really good marketing argument and can be used as such.

However in case of big companies as RedHat I think their customer do not really care if the software is Open Source or not because the whole product is just good.

jenkramer

Definitely #1. People think “open source” means “free beer”. We don’t explain it as open source code, and the ability to manipulate that code accordingly. People think “open source” means free software. While that’s frequently (but not necessarily) true, it doesn’t define an open source project, and we don’t set people straight on that by explaining that you may need to pay someone for installation, customization, or training, if you don’t do it yourself.

As for #2, it’s true that most OS companies offer more than code, but I’m not sure that’s driving things.

Finally, I’d expand on #3 or add a #4: acceptance of open source as a legitimate approach, equally as proprietary systems. Open source used to mean “no support”, and that’s really not true anymore, so enterprise is more accepting of the open source approach. As long as support is available and the product is reasonably secure, enterprise seems happy most of the time.

Dan Thies

I think Jen Kramer’s #4 is important.

When we shop for solutions, Open Source is an important feature. Sometimes, even a requirement, but what we’re looking for most of all is a great solution.

Alfresco is a great solution. MySQL is a great solution. That they are also open source is a great “extra.”

When open source was “new” (I am old enough to remember when closed/secret source code was unusual), most open source solutions were far from the best. We searched for open source solutions because they were free, and it was a good thing we had the code because we’d probably need to fix it.

The “open source” and “free software” movements are historically linked, and it’s funny because the “free” there doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means. Neither does open source.

Russell Nelson

It’s so common-place these days that it’s no longer a product differentiator.

Translation: we won.

Edward Capriolo

“I was under the impression that Open Source training meant I wouldn’t have to pay for it. I won’t be coming back.”

Yes! We love spending our time teaching people how to use software and have no plans to capitalize any of this. Our investors and stock holders love this business model.

::facepalm::

John Smith

It seems that all the previous commenters come from a professional background – where the price of the product matters less when compared to the quality of the product.

But if you are a student or if you come from a poor country, then you want “open source” (meaning “gratis”) software products simply because you have no money to pay for the software…

Mike Pritchard

Great article, thanks for sharing the reasoning behind your rebrand. It’s the value you place on transparency and your ability to communicate that sets you above the rest. Love the case studies too.

Comments like “It’s disgusting that you guys charge for Open Source training,” are patent bullshit. It’s like saying “You should bust your asses working for no pay whatsoever”. Unreasonable.

Good on you for managing this false sense of entitlement in a logical way. Love the cited examples too.

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