Many of the readers of the
Minute have probably heard of Linux,
OpenOffice, GIMP and other open source programs. But I wanted to find
out how commonplace those products were outside the Internet community.
decided to conduct a survey one lunch hour at a mall near the Linspire
investigate people's knowledge of their software options. I decided to
ask questions about OpenOffice and GIMP, two of the more popular open
source products competing with very expensive proprietary alternatives
(Microsoft Office is $400 and Photoshop $500). First I wanted to
investigate if regular people had ever heard of the open source
I asked 10 people the questions below. (I have included the answers I
received, plus the number of people who gave each response):
What are your options in computer software when
looking for an
6 - Don't know
3 - Microsoft/XP Office
1 - Mac Office
What are your options for sophisticated photo
5 - Don't know
3 - Photoshop
1 - Photoshop/Microsoft Photo
1 - Shutterfly
I must point out that the people I surveyed were
shopping at an affluent shopping mall right next to University of
California, San Diego (UCSD), and
some appeared to be students. Yet none mentioned open source products
when asked about their software options.
Next I wanted to measure if people really had heard of OpenOffice, but
couldn't think of the name. So I asked a different 10 people:
Have you ever heard of Open Office? Where would
you get it? How
would it cost?
10 - Never heard of it.
Have you ever heard of GIMP? Where would you
get it? How much
would it cost?
9- Never heard of it.
1- I think I have heard of it, not sure where I
would buy it and
have no clue how much it costs.
This survey was hardly
scientific, but it confirms my belief that
just putting software on the net and expecting people to find it,
download it and install it is not a practical approach for competing
with proprietary software companies.
I decided to start a software
company called CompareSoft,
would try to better market and sell open source alternatives for
Microsoft Windows computers. The driver behind this idea was to take
the "generic drug" approach to marketing - promote open source products
software with the "same active ingredients" as Windows or Mac, but at a
much lower price. We spent the money to create beautiful
packaging and build versions of several open source products with more
mainstream titles and terminology... OpenOffice.org
GIMP became ComparePhoto
The packaging encourages shoppers to compare
features, formats and
price. The Compare line costs hundreds of dollars less than the better
known competitors. It often reads and writes the most popular file
formats and can be freely installed to multiple computers. We wanted to
put "copy to as many computers as you like" as a specific feature, but
software retailers refused to carry the product if that was on the box.
If generic soda pop, generic drugs, and generic paper towels can garner
20-40% market share, generic software such as CompareSoft should be
able to as well.
Some may criticize CompareSoft for charging for
software that can
be downloaded for free online, but this is necessary if open source is
going to grow beyond 1% geek market share. If something is free, then
there is no profit and therefore no
incentive for retailers or distributors to merchandise the products. By
charging a reasonable amount for CompareSoft products, we are able
a profit motive for retailers and distributors so they are encouraged
to stock open source solutions and not just expensive proprietary ones.
We're also planning to re-invest a percentage of profits to encourage
development and support of the products CompareSoft is re-branding and
CompareSoft President Jan Schwarz has done a terrific job in just a few
short months building a company that can compete with software
powerhouses not just at the code level but in the retail marketplace.
By the first quarter of 2006, CompareSoft products will be in nearly
3,000 locations nationwide such as BestBuy and Circuit City. This will
give retail outlets - where many people buy and learn about software -
a low cost open source alternative for the first time. CompareSoft has also partnered with an
international republisher, Questar,
a long time follower of
my initiatives. They are working to release and distribute the
localized versions of these products throughout Europe, adding
international sales and focused marketing exposure to those
territories. This large distribution network will put
pricing pressure on companies like Microsoft and Adobe to re-assess
their oversized profit margins for software that they have long since
captured their research and development costs. Making software more
affordable will be a win for society.
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