I was recently asked whether Launcher was open source. This warranted a bigger question, “why should for-profit companies open source”?
Companies often open source for a variety of reasons. Here are a few. However, I firmly believe that open source is a great strategy to help the bottom line. The gold is in the ecosystem. Here are the reasons why I think companies should open source and how it helps them reduce costs or generate new revenue.
No vendor lock-in is a competitive advantage. When building any kind of service people (companies in particular) are worried about lock-in. If your product is open source, you can tell your customers ”We provide the best service, but if you don’t like it, you can run it yourself”. This will force you to think about your value proposition too. It’s generally not a good idea to consider your code or IP as your unfair advantage (unless you are in pharma).
Creates promoters. Customers are the best marketers and you don’t even have to pay them. You have to turn those customers into promoters. This can be done with any product, but there additional ways of turning those customers into promoters as an open source solution. You need to enable the community to contribute (this is very hard and I see this screwed up all too often). But if you do, you will have created champions out of those developers.
When customers win, you win. This is one thing that WordPress kicked ass at. Look at the huge ecosystem WP has created. There are businesses formed around WP, like plug-ins and themes. If you enable contributors to win (financially), they will bring you the customers. You should always think about how you can help your customers win, open source happens to be a great option.
Outsource development. If you build the right support framework, you can get the community to contribute to your product. This is huge. Developers are expensive and yet there are developers who will do this for free (as far as money goes). This is tricky because you do need to support them technically as well as giving them the social credit.
Outsource support. When a product is open source, many people try it out. They will find bugs, they will find solutions, and they will discuss those solutions. StackOverflow is an awesome community for such developers. So when you have a customer who stumbles across a problem, they won’t need to depend on you exclusively for help; they can ask the community.