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Marketing is the billion dollar question in open source

The conventional wisdom is advertising doesn’t work well in open source. Many high-quality vendors can’t afford it. Users are skeptical of advertising claims to the point of cynicism.
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Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Covering open source has the feel of an unending political campaign.

The pronouncements made by people like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison have the feel of political statements. I am constantly bombarded by PR people wanting me to interview folks about their latest-and-greatest open-and-near-open source discoveries. (I appreciate those calls and e-mails, by the way.)

Others get around my filter entirely. Jason Matusow of Microsoft offers an excellent blog giving Microsoft’s view of what’s going on.  Jonathan Schwartz at Sun does the same thing for his company.

Here we often get the 30,000 foot view, but not always. Matusow’s latest is about relations with IBM. Schwartz wants HP UX customers to switch to Solaris.  It’s good stuff.

But is it marketing?

Of course it is. Despite the immense size of the world software market (as much as $600 billion) open source has squeezed budgets as never before, and practically squeezed-out marketing entirely.

Besides, the conventional wisdom is advertising doesn’t work well in open source. Many high-quality vendors can’t afford it. Users are skeptical of advertising claims to the point of cynicism. The idea is you can always get it, free, thus where would that ad money come from?

So we have PR. And blogs. And PR people responding to blogs, and user groups. Marketing budgets go into resource centers, into software repositories, into training aimed at turning downloaders into users, and users into people hungry for services.

How is that working for you? What might be more effective? I’m not the only person who wants to know. I suspect that, for the open source vendor community, this is (at minimum) a billion dollar question.

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