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Last year I did a three-part blog (“The Power of Brand and the Power of Product”) describing a simple model of product adoption and market share, and showed how the parameters of that model could be determined using a single survey question. I used the open source productivity suites, OpenOffice and LibreOffice, as examples. It is now time to update that analysis with the most-recent survey data. (If you want to look up the original posts, here are the links: part one, part two, part three).
To recap the methodology, I conducted a survey using Google’s Consumer Survey service, which uses sampling and post-stratification weighting to match the target population, which in this case was the U.S. internet population. In other words, the survey is weighted to reflect the population demographics, for age, sex, region of the country, urban versus rural, income, etc.
The question in the survey was:
What is your familiarity with the software application called “OpenOffice”?
- I have never heard of it
- I am aware of it but have never used it
- I have tried it once
- I use it only sometimes
- I use it on a regular basis
With 1502 responses, the results were:I have never heard of it 61.3% I am aware of it but have never used it 13.3% I have tried it once 7.6% I use it only sometimes 10.3% I use it on a regular basis 7.5%
The same question was asked about LibreOffice, with results:I have never heard of it 82.3% I am aware of it but have never used it 5.8% I have tried it once 4.4% I use it only sometimes 3.1% I use it on a regular basis 4.3%
Now these numbers are somewhat interesting on their own, but what is far more interesting are the derived metrics, which look at things like:
- What is the name recognition of the product?
- Of those who have heard of the product, what percentage actually give it a try? This is a measure of marketing effectiveness.
- Of those who have tried the product, what percentage actually continue to use it? This is a measure of user satisfaction.
- What percentage of all respondents use the product? This is a measure of market share.
Full details on how these other metrics are calculated, from this single survey question, can be found in Part One of this series.
Here are some charts to show how these metrics have evolved over the 2 1/2 years I’ve worked with this survey approach:
Those who know me know that I am partial to OpenOffice, an open source project that I contribute to. So I am extremely pleased to see it continue to advance in all fronts. Since coming to Apache, OpenOffice’s name recognition has grown from 24% to 39% and the user share has grown from 11% to 18%, while keeping user satisfaction constant. This is a testament to the hard work of the many talented volunteers at Apache.
- The Power of Brand and the Power of Product, Part 3
- The Power of Brand and the Power of Product, Part 2
- The Power of Brand and the Power of Product, Part 1
This year the OpenWorld Forum in Paris will take place the 30th and the 31st of October. I will be one of the speakers of Community Track, and I’ll be discussing the Document Foundation’s example. My co-panelists include representatives of the Eclipse Foundation, the OW2 Consortium, Red Hat and others. The main point of this panel will be to focus on the benefits and drawbacks of setting up a technical and legal infrastructure for FOSS projects. It is one of the very few panel discussions that will cover this interesting yet a bit obscure topic, and I would like to share some of my own thoughts on the matter.
A Free Software development project needs developers, a licence, and tools to be developed. This requires an original author, or a team of authors, the choice of a license (it does not need to be complicated), a decision on who owns or does not own the copyright on the code, and a set of tools that will enable the development of the software alongside communication tools, such as one or more mailing list, perhaps an IRC channel and a web page – even a website for the ambitious ones. Documentation is also handy, alongside some basic instructions on how to get the software in its binary and source code form.
Having an entity running the whole project from the beginning seems both ludicrous and of the highest importance. What comes first is what I’ve just outlined: license, copyright, development and communication tools. All this can be handled by a supporting entity; but all this could as well be managed by one or more third party: GitHub is one obvious example; but more complex cases can also be thought of: The OW2 Consortium, the Apache Software Foundation, Eclipse, and of course the Document Foundation. There are other similar entities in the Free and Open Source Software world. Why should developers care then? Isn’t GitHub the easiest choice? Why would I want to open a project hosted by a third party entity? Here’s the short answer: It depends of your project and there is no silver bullet. I will pick the four entities mentioned above, and I’ll higlight some of their specificities. It will give an idea of the different approach given by each of them:
- OW2 Consortium: European and Chinese consortium on Enterprise Software (middleware and cloud mostly), lots of Java, different licenses. The Consortium started in France with major software development and telecom sponsors involved. The consortium’s coherence does not just lie there, but rather in its strong roots as the “forge for the European industrial players”.
- ASF: They don’t need to be presented, but their specificity is the license, and everything around the Apache web server. Over the course of the years, this coherence was only upheld in its licensing scheme. The ASF basically accepts projects from corporate donors who donate code and money.
- Eclipse: The Eclipse Foundation started very much as an IBM only story, but things have changed dramatically. The Eclipse Foundation essentially hosts the Eclipse IDE, its plugins and pretty much everything built on top of or using the Eclipse Framework. There is also the Eclipse license, but I believe multiple licensing schemes are now possible.
- The Document Foundation: The continuation of the OpenOffice.org project by its community after the Oracle takeover of Sun Microsystems. The Document Foundation is centered around LibreOffice but recently opened another project, the Document Liberation. As its name suggests, the Document Foundation is interested about anything document-centric. The licenses used are a combination of GPL v3, LGPLv2, and MPL.
In the case of the Document Foundation, the LibreOffice project needed an independent, solid and meritocratic entity dedicated to support it. In other terms, the OpenOffice.org community wanted to be its own boss and stop relying on corporate – or even third party – good will. If you attend the Community Track on the 31st you will be able to learn more about the Document Foundation and the other entities, but my message here is that while there is no silver bullet in these matters, forcing a community be hosted or to bend to a software vendor never works. It bends if it wants to; it goes whereever it wishes to go. In the case of the Document Foundation, independence and community rule prevailed over convenience; today the results do not need to be proven anymore. But it does not mean we hold the truth more than anybody else: we just ensured the community was in charge.
Looking forward seeing you next Friday in Paris!
I have watched with some interest the latest consultation organized by the European Commission about funding priorities for research, software and cloud initiatives. The Digital Agenda for Europe has been a hot topic for a just a few years now and such a set of policies will create some real opportunities in Europe. Of course, the devil lies in the details, but it dawned on me that in all the years I worked on digital policies at the European level, I had never really expressed why I think that Free Software is a strategic opportunity for Europe.
Contrary to a popular belief, international trade is actually quite regulated, not just among countries but among continents and economic regions as well. On a regular basis, these regulations (trade agreements, treaties) are discussed again among governments, revised, restricted or expanded. Such has been the case between the U.S. and the European Union since the sixties. Without embarking into a lengthy depiction of these bilateral trade negotiations, let’s cut to the case and state that while Europeans pevailed in some areas (food safety standards, environment etc.) the U.S. both managed to impose standards and their influence in the field of computers and microprocessors (among other things). Independantly of these trade agreements, Silicon Valley emerged thanks to a combination of high performing and flexible universities, available capital and direct or indirect government funding. These factors enabled entrepreneurs and adventurers of all kinds to experiment, fail and sometimes succeed in amazing ways.
This left Europe as an area which had (and has) lots of talent, but where the I.T. sector was anything but priviledged. As this industry, like several others, works very much on the law of emerging returns of networks, entrepreneurs of Europe, engineers and scientists became attracted to Silicon Valley, moved there and joined the system that has been working so well for decades now. Europe did not take notice. It was only well into the first decade of the twenty-first century that the thinking in Brussels shifted from a relatively passive attitude to a more proactive stance, creating funding opportunities for the software industry and research.
Unfortunately for Europe, I and many others have felt the lingering influence of U.S. based software vendors in the decision making process of the European Institutions. In a sense it helped educating a few decision makers on the reality and the state of the art of the I.T. industry. But it also helped entrenching the already strong positions of some of these vendors.
While Free Software was not born in Europe, the relative disadvantage of the European I.T. sector compared to the U.S. can be greatly mitigated by enabling Free and Open Source Software models across the I.T. ecosystem and the industries increasignly relying on software as one of their core components. It is important to realize that the objective of building a Europe-based I.T. industry as strong or as rich as the U.S. one is a delusion. You cannot turn back the time, and the circumstances that led to the booming of the U.S. I.T. sector cannot be replicated entirely. I am aware the European Commission was sold on the idea that somehow we could replicate America’s crazy software patent system and that somehow this would strengthen our economy. I am curious to see where that will end, but I’m very pessimistic in that regard.
Now, I do believe that if we think in competitive terms, we are in a David vs. Goliath situation. The story of David and Goliath, however, is not one where David gets super-powers and super weapons in order to win over his opponent. It is the story of David who, facing a formidable enemy, gets a boost of self-confidence thanks to his faith in the Creator and fights using the weapons he knows best, in other terms, the weapons of the weak, despite the many suggestions to use supposedly more effective ones by his Court. This is a powerful idea: it suggests that in competition one does not have to use the same means as its competitor, but that one can use its own strong points.
Europe has no strong proprietary vendor eco-system. We should be happy if these vendors grow and strive, but ultimately we must know that Free Software projects and companies can create jobs and values if we ensure that Free Software and its values are “enabled by default” across the many industries using, distributing or consuming software. Choosing a more “traditional” path leads us to hedge bets we may not be willing to or could not afford.
What does this “default to Free Software” mean? Here are a few broad ideas:
- Mandatory Free Software and Open Standards for public procurement of I.T. solutions and data
- Free Software grants for developers working on critical components, such as security. After all everyone benefits from their work, including proprietary vendors, and no one feels compelled to ever give back
- Free Software mandatory in Education
- Funding for software research only possible for components licensed under a Free and Open Source Software licence
- Europe-wide legal entity model for Free Software projects, enabling flexibility and simple, transparent administration
- Dissemination and education of Free Software community practices
These broad areas are an opportunity for Europe so that we can grow the number of jobs thanks to a strong and healthy Free Software-based companies, ventures, and projects hosted and operating in Europe. I know that the European decision makers can count on the entities who help shape Free Software everyday, among them The Document Foundation, KDE, OW2, the MariaDB foundation and many, many others. We are Europeans. We are talented and proud to serve our cultures and our continent.