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Improving Open Source: The competition’s playbook

In this weekly post, we talk about ways that Linux, and the overall open source community could be improved.  The focus is on providing constructive criticism and feedback to the open source community to drive development towards better offerings that can as a whole better compete with the classic commercial contenders.

One of the larger hindrances to open source development is, quite simply, money.  There’s lots of developers putting in a little bit of time here and there, but in some projects this amounts to little that’s actually done.  On the other hand, you have companies like Google, who have a seemingly endless number of new projects they are releasing all the time, to address problems that sometimes we didn’t even know exist.  It’s not that the number of develoeprs at Google is larger than the open source community, it’s that they pay those developers to have time to work on these projects.

The open source community does have money, I’m knot saying that it doesn’t, however it doesn’t have those same deep pockets (except maybe Canonical for Ubuntu and RedHat for, well, RedHat).  The solution to this that the community has thus used, in trying to be the light side of good and evil, is to accept donations for work rendered.  This, however, I pontificate is not enough.

What the open source community needs to start doing, is being more in your face about getting money.  They still obviously should not beg like a homeless gentleman on the street, nor start to charge for their products (they wouldn’t exactly be open source then).  What they should do, is to have a mix of both.  When you go to a commercial website that offers a free version of a product, the first thing you see when you go to download is an add showing you the benefits of their pay for use version, and only after a brief scan of the page do you see the “no thanks” button.  Why don’t open source projects start to do this?

What’s more, is in some of these new developments coming down the pipeline should employ tools that make it easier to donate, or at least present donating to the user.  One specific item I have in mind is the Ubuntu app store that is supposed to be comming out.  What if this had built-in donation functionality?  Say I searched for Firefox. When I found it in the list, there would be an install button or something of the sort, but also a donate button.  Maybe even a simple “Donate $1″.  I mean, I’d totally have donated to the Mozilla Foundation already if that button was there.  And Firefox is like crack!  And, even when you click install, it asks you real quick if you’d like to make a donation, just in-case you where mulling it over, but hadn’t decided yet.

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