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Free as in Speech

Why Product Management is Open Source’s Fatal Flaw

GNUFree Open Source Software (FOSS) is great – I have released code under the GPL, LGPL, and similar licenses. There are mountains of FOSS available right now for download from sites like SourceForge and others that save businesses millions of dollars. More importantly, open source software offers feature sets and mixes that often aren’t available in commercial products because the market is too small, commercial companies don’t understand it, or the problems aren’t profitable enough to solve.

The great promise of open source is that you can have equal or more functionality than commercial software for free, and you have access to the source code if you have the desire, time, and skills to hack it into something new. This model was perfect when developers were writing tools for each other, like text editors such as VI and Linux. Most FOSS projects aren’t under the stewardship of a commercial entity (although some of the most successful ones are, such as RedHat, Firefox, and OpenOffice), they are built by and for a handful of developers “scratching an itch,” and they are not working with a Product Manager. Unfortunately, FOSS has become a victim of its own success, and today, open source developers are facing a problem that threatens to turn legions of users against the software they rely on.

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