Why Open Source <> Micro-ISV.

Every so often since my Micro-ISV book came out, I get an email like this:

I'm currently reading your book "Micro-ISV" and am learning a lot from it. However, I have one question about something you said. On page 23 you said, "Open Source may just be the greatest way to create anything, but it's a lousy way to start a small profit-making business..." Could you explain what you meant by this?

I've tried to explain why I believe this to be true, but there's a better real-life example: the Death of NDoc. Kevin Downs, head of the Open Source project is pulling the plug on going to 2.0 and killing it off in a couple of weeks at SourceForge after freeloaders bitched he wasn't working on it enough.

Kevin wrote:

Since 1.3 was released, there have been the grand total of eleven donations to the project...

To put this into perspective, if only roughly 1-in-10 of the those who downloaded NDoc had donated the minimum allowable amount of $5 then I could have worked on NDoc 2.0 full-time and it could have been released months ago! Now, I am not suggesting that this should have occurred, or that anyone owes me anything for the work I have done, rather I am trying to demonstrate that if the community values open-source projects then it should do *something* to support them.

Indeed. Kevin became the focus of a personal mail bomb attack by some disgruntled alleged programmer out there who thought they weren't getting enough of Kevin for free.

An Open Source project with many contributors is one thing; A micro-ISV product by 1-few programmers brought out as Open Source is a very different, and to all our losses, thing.

But what about add-ons?

I would think a better Open Source model for a Micro-ISV would be developing around a large and thriving open source product. I wouldn't say Kevin's example speaks to the general case here -- trying to survive on donations to a SourceForge project seems pretty crazy to me. Since when does the Open SOurce business model mean you don't have to have a business plan? You've got to productize and promote. Your image, name and support become the value-added aspect of your product that you can sell.

SugarCRM is an example...

Personally, I like SugarCRM's model where the new features/innovation happens in the top (paid) versions and eventually trickle down to the open source version.

After all, the main time you'd consider putting money toward a project is to get the additional features you want/need.