Open source and free software projects still have much to learn from commercial software, the number one in my book being “the pitch”.
Most free software project home pages consist of a brief description, a list of technical documents and a number of download options but fail to pitch their solution at all.
Today I found myself at the home page for Mercurial which describes itself as
a fast, lightweight Source Control Management system designed for efficient handling of very large distributed projects
The site fails to persuade me to use or even evaluate their product. They present no argument for using their product over non-distributed systems such as Subversion nor why I should choose their product over distributed systems such as Git (which has associations with Linus and Google).
Contrasting that experience to the home page for Perforce, a commercial (non-distributed) product for source control management, we see:
- “Why Perforce” – the 10 minute pitch that covers their unique aspects such as performance, high-availability databases
- A quote from customer Clive Maxfield at iDesign pointing out that Perforce handles more than just source code (binary files & assets)
- Videos showing Perforce in operation so you can see how the product works (and learn it at the same time)
- Links to comparisons with ClearCase (commercial offering) and Subversion (popular free software offering)
Just because your software carries a $0 price tag doesn’t mean it will sell itself. Evaluating software takes time and effort which could mean another open source or commercial software is chosen because either it works out cheaper or made a better case for its selection.
When a project isn’t interested in new users that signals it could be a “pet-project” written for the challenge and not to address a real need not met by existing solutions. Until these projects reach a certain level of maturity, and some never do, users can expect to take a back seat in an uncomfortable ride.
So if your project wants users, pitch it.