Open Motivations

It is no secret that Open Source has gone mainstream.  You’d have to be Steve Ballmer to not agree.

The question is “why?”  Knowing buyer motivation is key to knowing how to market any product.  iPods didn’t sell because they were new or great technology.  They sold because Apple marketers tapped into the emotional motivations of music junkies.  So too must software vendors, and the Open Source movement supplies interesting insights into IT buyer motivations.

In a study conducted by Forrester, companies in the North America and Europe were polled about their adoption of, and views about Open Source.  There were a set of completely unsurprising motivations for evaluating and adopting Open Source solutions.  These attributes are not completely peculiar to Open Source, so every software vendor should take note.

Among the top attributes of Open Source that buyers found important were support for open standards (78%), low use restrictions (76%), and lack of vendor lock-in (79%).  Two of this top-three list (standards and flexible use) are traits that even proprietary offering can (and should) adopt.  Not surprisingly, the community aspects of Open Source (access to source code, participating in development, etc.) were the least important to buyers.

On the flip side, the concerns expressed by these same IT buyers were compelling.  The total cost of ownership (TCO) was the least of their worries, which dispels one of the mythical selling points of Open Source in general and IT in particular.  Service, support and security were the top concerns.  But these are the same concerns IT buyers have with proprietary vendors, which makes gives Open Source a comparative advantage.  And despite SCO an Microsoft’s best efforts, only 43% of the respondents were bothered by legal and intellectual property issues.

The telling detail was that more than half of the respondents were using Open Source for mission critical applications. This wasn’t limited to infrastructure either.  Though Open Source is still climbing the hill to run the top-most critical applications, there is little … and less … reluctance to use Open Source for heart-of-the-business needs.

The last non-surprise was that 75% of the respondents are using Open Source to consolidate IT skill sets.  This isn’t surprising because in our work with SuSE Linux years ago we discovered this was a primary CIO/CTO motivation (see our white paper titled “What CxOs think about Linux”).

Today’s marketing strategy lesson is this:  the market finds a way.  Like life, the market adapts to provide what is really needed.  Open Source is meeting key and long standing needs of IT buyers, and software vendors will need to ante-up and meet the top buyer motivators to survive.


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