Open Source Strategies

A blog about open source software and business models, enterprise software, and the opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM Suite.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Selling Manuals

Two weeks ago I spoke with someone who still doesn't believe you can make money with open source software. (Maybe the $350 million that JBoss sold for is just not enough for him?) Finally he conceded:
"Now Red Hat, they sell manuals. That business model I can understand."

Which is a very curious comment indeed, since Red Hat's manuals are right there, free to download off the Internet: see

In reality, documentation is a very important part of what Red Hat sells, even if you can get it for free. First and foremost, it empowers more users to take advantage of Red Hat software, and with more users, there are more contributors and more potential customers. Second, good manuals establish a bond between Red Hat the company and the end user. By educating users, Red Hat convinces them that it cares about them and can make something as complex as Linux make sense to them. And when those users want to pay for service and support, to whom would they naturally turn?

So, rather than saying "Red Hat sells manuals," it is far more accurate to say that "The manuals sell Red Hat."

(Closer to home, a few months ago I wanted to set up Mambo for the website of our opentaps open source ERP + CRM suite. I found an excellent manual by, chose them over the other Mambo service providers out there on the basis of this manual, and have been very happy with their work.)

In the spirit of things, then, today we're releasing a set of free documentation for opentaps version 0.9. These documents are culled from internal papers and documents we've created and maintained while building our applications, and we hope they will be helpful to you as you work with opentaps. While these documents, taken together, probably are over 100 pages in length, we realize that they are very incomplete and do not begin to describe all the features and potentials of our application. Nevertheless, they are a beginning.

Our long term plans for documentation is to find a collaborative platform where all the members of the opentaps and OFBiz communities can help create first-rate documentation together. We realize that this would involve a few dedicated individuals who would write the bulk of it, and commentary, additions, and proofing by the entire community. To incentivize those core documentation writers, I plan to put together a book on the opentaps ERP + CRM suite. In addition to possible royalties, such as a book should serve as a powerful advertising vehicle for the writers and their organizations . . . just like Red Hat's manuals are for Red Hat.

So that means I have to go pitch a script. Hey, I'll be like everybody else here in Los Angeles.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Merci Beacoup pour Notres Amis Francaises

Life can be stranger than fiction.

On Tuesday I was on a MySQL/SugarCRM webinar, and Jacob from SugarCRM mentioned that their first translation was to French. Then, Wednesday morning, I got a translation of the opentaps CRM module into French . . . from the developers at Nereide and creators of Neogia, a sister project of opentaps developed in France.

What can I say?

Merci beacoup! Viva la France, la terre de liberte, egalite, fraternite . . . et logiciel libre!

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Monday, May 01, 2006

My Sequel for Open Source ERP

Pardon the pun. This is not about how to install MySQL for an open source ERP application. If that's what you're looking for, please read our Using opentaps ERP + CRM with MySQL installation guide instead.

This is about some further thoughts on the future of open source ERP and CRM applications. We were at MySQL Users' Conference last week in Santa Clara, CA and had the opportunity to speak with many different people about our open source ERP and CRM project. During those conversations and during my presentation about open source ERP, I had talked about the open source ERP proposition being the following:
  1. Lower cost - commercial ERP software is simply too expensive
  2. Greater flexibility - with the source code, you can really create a solution that works for you, rather than relying on ugly workarounds on top of an inflexible commercial solution
  3. Freedom from vendor lock in - obviously no longer an issue with open source solutions.
All of the above is still true, of course, but I now think there is more to it than that. Hence, "my sequel" for open source ERP.

What I realized is that for open source to succeed, it needs to be more than just a cheaper and better alternative to commercial software. It needs to serve a need which commercial software simply does not address right now. (Tim O'Reilly pointed out a related phenomenon in his keynote at the conference as well: open source software has not replaced commercial software so much as enabled new business models.)

When you look at the most successful open source projects, this is exactly what they have done. Apache, MySQL, and PHP have become successful not by replacing commercial alternatives, but by becoming the preferred tools or platforms of choice for new web-based applications. Similarly, I now realize that open source ERP and CRM applications need to address a currently dormant need. What that need is, though, is not too clear yet. Maybe I'll think of it at some point. Or, maybe somebody in our community will come up with it first--or better, yet, implement it and send in a patch.

Whoever does would be the one who writes the sequel for open source ERP.

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