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Matt Asay makes a good point in his article on open source marketing, that people generally choose to use open source software because it is cost effective, not because it is “flexible”.
Put another way, “free as in beer” trumps “free as in speech” as a motivator for people making the choice to use open source. I think that is obvious. On the other hand, I think that it is so obvious that the premise of the article that open source should be marketed on the basis of low cost over freedom of choice is wrong. I think the market widely assumes that open source is “free as in beer” so you get the benefit of that perception just by being open source in the first place.
That said, he does refer to the importance of “low cost utility.” It isn’t good enough that Linux or MySQL or ServiceMix ESB is open source, (i.e. perceived to be “free as in beer”). It also has to be good enough to be useful in helping someone solve a real problem. In other words, the beer has to be drinkable or doesn’t matter that it’s free.
We, Progress Software, are also seeing companies begin to recognize that adopting open source isn’t entirely free (as in beer). They will be more successful getting the utility from the software if they invest in developing the skills to use the software properly and have the backing of a company to support them in that effort. To take the beer analogy a bit further, (perhaps too far?), renting a mug is better than drinking the beer out of your hands.
From an open source marketing perspective, what we need to do is let people know that the beer tastes good and explain how much better the experience will be drinking it from a mug. We don’t need to spend a lot of time explaining why it’s a good thing that the beer is free.
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