Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

Summary: Important examples are to be found in the world of open source. Linux crossed the chasm on servers. It failed to do so on desktops. Yet Android, a Google-developed Linux distro, seems fated to succeed.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Matt Asay has a piece out today that praises Facebook, whose open source bonafides are under attack in the wake of its deliberate exposing of user data to advertisers.

I don't want to get into the Facebook argument. The results will be seen in the market over time.

I'm a lot more interested in the chart he got from Geoffrey Moore of The Chasm Group. Moore has been building a consulting practice on his 1993 book, Crossing the Chasm. (No discount from the paperback price for buying it on the Kindle. Sorry.)

Moore's subject is how products break out of niches and become mass market hits. We can all cite examples. The Apple Macintosh failed to cross the chasm, while the iPhone did.

The chasm is that point in the "s" curve where a product is known and liked by experts or aficionados, poised on the brink of mass market success or failure. Most products fall in. Why do some cross and others don't? That's Moore's study.

Important examples are to be found in the world of open source. Linux crossed the chasm on servers. It failed to do so on desktops. Yet Android, a Google-developed Linux distro, seems fated to succeed.

What gives?

Matt's point is there is a difference between what enthusiasts want and what the larger public will accept. There is an element of truth in this, although a consumer lemon can also be turned into b2b lemonade, as Harbinger EDI proved. (I helped write its first manual, when it was a home shopping system called The Promise.)

Some obvious elements in crossing the chasm are marketing, ease of use, and a compelling back story. All these are created through proprietary means, by investing heavily on Madison Avenue.

So how then do you explain Firefox? OK, the logo's cool, but the browser drew a 24% market share without any of the Madison Avenue elements you'd think would be essential. It was mostly word of mouse.

It should also be noted here that many open source projects have no need, nor desire, to cross the chasm. The companies behind them are happy with a business sale, based on features and functions. Most Adobe and Eclipse projects are of this type.

So what does it take for open source to cross the chasm? The Android story is illustrative. Android has a Sugar Daddy (Google), it has an obvious need (created by Apple) and it has friends (everyone who couldn't get into the iPhone game) who can get it across.

How many open source projects do you think might cross the chasm in the next few years, and why?

Topic: Open Source

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19 comments
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  • Tell Us What You Think

    I think I don't use ZDNet Talkback forums at all anymore. They waste pixels, make navigation difficult and time consuming.<br><br>Bye bye ZDNet... :'-(
    jacarter3
    • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

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    • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

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  • Firefox, and other thoughts

    You seem to forget that Firefox has (had?) a sugar daddy in Google as well.

    The iPhone succeeded because smartphones, up to that point, were basically useless, and the iPhone tapped an under-served market.

    Macs, on the other hand, have direct competition in the PC market. Although maybe not "mass market", I would certainly call the Mac line a success.

    Android is basically a reaction to the iPhone, and currently the only real competitor to the iPhone OS. We will have to wait and see if Windows Phone 7 or whatever it's called will be a factor.
    aep528
  • There is no mystery here

    The product has to have mass appeal. Linux and most software fails because it is written by geeks. The iPhone was tremendously successful because Apple is just about the only technology company today whose CEO was never a programmer.
    frgough
    • However, the Linux kernel is 2nd to none, and, as with Android, you can

      layer a non-geek user interface on top of it. Please note that this is ALSO what apple did for the iPhone / iPad, where there is also a unix kernel.
      DonnieBoy
      • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

        @DonnieBoy Except that Linux is a unix-LIKE kernel. Just wanted to clarify that before the arguments start over unix, BSD, and Linux.
        pdickey043@...
      • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

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    • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

      @frgough Personally, I think Linux failed on the desktop for two reasons. 1) FUD by Microsoft (and other entities) and 2) (A partial agreement with you) the fact that it was written by geeks, and never made any easier to understand for the masses.<br><br>Although now, you're seeing companies like Canonical who are trying to make it easier for the masses to understand and use. So, hopefully things will change. Because in the end, it's about choice and finding the right solution for the problem at hand (whether that be Windows, Linux, or OS X, or your own).

      I do want to add this also. Windows USED to have the same functionality as Linux (the "Geeky stuff"), but Microsoft hid it and dumbed it down completely. Their theory was the average user didn't want to know DOS, so we'll do it in the background. Now, that's not a bad theory.

      However (and this is why I think Linux is better in this regard), in the end, whether you use DOS (CLI in Linux) or not, do you want some company deciding what functions you have available to you, or do you want to have the choice yourself? Because essentially Microsoft is deciding which of the "DOS Commands" you should be able to use, where Linux is allowing you to use whatever commands YOU think you should be able to use.

      Have a great day:)
      Patrick.
      pdickey043@...
      • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

        @pdickey043@...
        "do you want some company deciding what functions you have available to you, or do you want to have the choice yourself? Because essentially Microsoft is deciding which of the "DOS Commands" you should be able to use, where Linux is allowing you to use whatever commands YOU think you should be able to use."

        Oh, if only that were really the case with Linux. I'm ready to switch, but can't since what I need and want just can NOT be found! I've been looking for two years now.
        twaynesdomain-22354355019875063839220739305988
  • Posibilites are: Android for tablets, Chrome OS for netbooks, Chrome OS for

    larger form factors such as desktop and full sized laptop.

    Android on tablets because it will give just as good of an experience, while offering more variety in sizes, functionality, and carriers (for 3G).

    Chrome OS because it will allow for much simpler OS that requires less processing power, less memory, enables Arm for lower power and lower cost, AND, finally, the Google brand.
    DonnieBoy
  • Oh, another posibility, WebOS for smart phones and tablets.

    HP should work with Google to make applications compatible between the two.
    DonnieBoy
  • Don't laugh: Desktop Linux!

    This is very interesting. I think there must be a genuine desire for an alternative. There must be an awareness for the alternative and a couple of early adopters must have shown that it works. This is when the tide turns.

    Most people have a love/hate relationship with microsoft. Many would like to have a competitive alternative that does the job for them. Apple is an expensive life stile product many people cannot or don't want to afford. So there is a general desire. Early adopters exist, like PSA or the city of munich. But there doesn't appear to be a general awareness that a competitive alternative exists.

    Linux has crossed the threshold in servers, embedded devices and smartphones. But for some reason, the desktop OS seems to be the toughest part. Why?

    Desktop distributions are ready for mass adoption. They feature everything a standard user (not a power user) may wish. So it is not a technical problem. Usability is on par with or better than windows. What is missing?

    Public awareness. The naive consumer does not have the technical expertise to know whether a particular software suits his needs. He will choose according to recommendations by friends and anything that is familiar to him. It is like going to the doctor. How do you choose one?

    Public awareness exists in the other linux markets. Someone setting up a server or designing a mobile phone or embedded device can judge an OS by its merits and doesn't need external advice. This is IMHO the main difference.

    Linux has a very bad reputation as a geeky OS. It has earned this reputation in the past. But today, this is no longer the case. Nevertheless, the standard recommendation someone will get is: Don't use linux! It's for geeks only!

    So building up a new image for linux is the main obstacle for linux adoption. Please note that google doesn't market android or chromeOS as linux operating systems. They market them as google products.

    Due to the success of these google products, public awareness of linux as an alternative may change gradually. Changing the general attitude and reversing the bad image of desktop linux is the tough part.

    It is happening now and it may well succeed. Once the tipping point is reached, the market can change extremely fast. Android is a prime example. Microsoft is going to spread FUD and accelerate product developement... These are interesting times;-)
    kikl
    • Well, also the problem of applications that desktop users have come to

      depend on, and also the resistance to learn new things, even if they know about it.
      DonnieBoy
  • Linux Mint could make it if it were advertised more

    and possibly slightly tweaked a bit more. Its almost as easy to use as windows and had the advantage of not being windows, oh yea and its free which automatically gains it points. that's what I use on my laptop, although I also use Ubuntu, another great linux distro. Just you wait, in a few years, more than geeks will be running linux. all we need now is the gaming industry to jump on board.
    KBot
  • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

    The reason that Linux fails on the desktop is that there is no single point of install of even the most simple standard application. Come on! A distro without basic movie playing capability built in, pitched at the new user? Bleech! This is why Adroid will succeed along the path where MAC OS/X/BSD led the way.
    tburzio
  • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

    Linux has been taken over by politics, and the creation of FUD regarding anyone who does not toe the Linux mantra.

    As for Microsoft generating FUD about Linux, perhaps you need to take a bit of a eyes open look at the real world.

    If you do you will see that FOSS/Linux is far smaller than MS, yet they are able to generate vast quantities of anti-Microsoft FUD. Even directly from 'official' bodies such as the FSF. And Stallman.

    We were all a bit shocked to hear GWB say to the world "If you are not with us, you are against us!"

    Is that the attitude with FOSS/Linux, if you use Linux you must automatically hate Microsoft. Is the world not big enough for more than 2 or 3 players in the field ?

    What's wrong with MS anyway, they appear to not engage in the bitter, gutter fighting that FOSS constantly do. Instead they seem to work on providing product that people like, and are willing to pay for.

    And what the heck is so bad about that, what is evil about it ?

    Why is it that if I drive a Honda car, Im supposed to consider Ford the Evil anti-christ?

    Ever watched the Doco "Code Rush" it's about netscape in the early days, with Jamie Zawanski. His classic statement was "open would is all about people who want to 'you know' write code".

    Now days its about people using open source, "free" as a political tool. It's no longer about people 'who just like to write code'. It's about what you can gain by waving the FOSS stick, and begging Microsoft.

    (if you're not with us, you are against us).

    Mabey we would prefer to be with you, AND with anyone else we want to be as well. We dont want or need the likes of FSF, or Stallman dictating policy to us, playing politics, seeking power, and not focusing on 'just writing good code'.

    Foss / Linux lost it's focus years ago, and now is largely considered just a tool for groups to promote their own ego's.
    Aussie_Troll
  • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

    Nonsense. The reason are two, and are very simple
    1. Linux users aren't interested in whether you can use it or not. We can, it works for us and that is all we care about.
    2. Retailer, business, education and manufacturer antitrust behaviour monopolistic lockin with illegal backhanders and bully boy marketing strategies.
    JuliaX111
  • RE: Why some open source crosses the chasm and some falls in

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