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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