A colleague at an open source company described the delicate balance of managing the vastly different needs of users within a community versus the needs of customers. This task is further complicated because some users may become customers over time, but there are no easy ways for vendors to separate these potential buyers from perpetual users. However, because users are exposed to other users, a negative community sentiment about a vendor can thwart the transition from user to customer.
As a vendor attracts more customers, it can devote more resources to developing the product. Because vendors are profit-driven, and publicly traded vendors have a fiduciary duty to make profits, it's not surprising that vendors devote resources to features that paying customers care about. Some open source vendors may make these features only available to paying customers. However, few, if any, open source vendors have been successful at growing while ignoring their community.
In short, a successful vendor can benefit both users and customers.
Differentiating between user and customer needs
With additional details about Mac OS X Lion coming out yesterday, it's interesting to consider Shuttleworth's desire for product planning early and throughout a release cycle. It's true that Apple's development approach can't be compared directly to that of an open source project like Ubuntu. However, the resulting products compete with each other on their merits, not on the software development approach used to develop them.
Knowing that a vendor ships major versions on a reliable relese schedule or has a history of including relevant new features are important buying considerations. Customers don't have the time or money to switch between competitive products frequently. When customers select product X, they do so based on the product's current merits and future road map. Canonical seems to understand this -- as does its real-world competition.
This article, "Why Canonical's commercial interests are good for Ubuntu," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Savio Rodrigues' Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.