Free software projects need a pitch

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.


2 responses

  1. Avatar for minombresbond

    open source is not a business, it's only a licencing paradigm, the people that make money with open source still have much to learn! but the open source community is more that a business, like the web 2.0 projects where the users are not only pasive consumers, in the open source world, the users are not only consumers or clients, I mean the open source website is result of a wider perspective, not only a marketing plan

    nice blog!

    minombresbond December 8, 2007
  2. Avatar for Wiki expert

    the problem with opensource software is that time is scarce. As you know, many phases exist in the softwaredevelopment proces. But because you always start with the beginning, time is mostly spent there. Problems arise with the after care and feedback, less time is allocated to this part. Therefore opensource projects usually suffer from very long and timeconsuming trajects.

    You can see this with MediaWiki for example. Even one of the major features such as squid caching is not properly explained, and the explanation that exists is outdated.

    Wiki expert December 10, 2008