Why Users Dumped Your Open Source App for Proprietary Software

Hard as it may be to imagine, "free" is not always the primary selling point.

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FOSS adherents are happy to discuss all the reasons that open source is attractive to users and to other developers, from "it's free!" to "the philosophy of open source." Sometimes, they talk about the reasons that people avoid open source, such as "I want a phone number for tech support." But the hard fact is that sometimes people try an open source application — such as yours — and they end up not using it. I realize this is hard to imagine. But it happens, and not merely because the users have evil in their hearts.

[ See also: Convincing the Boss to Accept FOSS ]

While that's copacetic for plenty of people in the FOSS community (the not-adopting the software, I mean, not the evil part), other folks truly want their software to be used, and they want other developers to contribute to enhancing the app. (Whether you also want press attention to give your project better visibility is something else again.) I hate to bring up a dirty word, but the applicable term is marketing. That is: if you want more people to use your stuff, you need to know what it is that's currently chasing them away, and (assuming you care) you need to address those issues.

So I asked several people, especially open-source-friendly techies, about the times they seriously experimented with or used an open source app — and ended up using a proprietary application after all. I'm not speaking of a "trial" scenario in which someone downloaded an open source app, poked at it for a couple of hours, and decided, "Eh." I'm thinking more about situations in which they (or the department, or the company) were prepared to commit to using the software (for personal or business purposes) and decided on a non-open-source option instead.

My aim is not to diminish open source; quite to the contrary. My view is that — to use ordinary marketing terms — to sell an open source app you have to understand and respond to the sales objections. An open source project (or at least those in it who are thinking, "How do we get more users?") has to understand the ways in which it might "lose to the competition" before it can address the problem.

The most common answer is the one you probably expect: It didn't have the features required. That's understandable, because few open source apps have as many hours of development as do mature (you can read "bloated" if you like) proprietary alternatives. Any software that's been around for 10 or 15 years is apt to have more feature depth than will a newer application.

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