Customers versus users: a distinction

I just got around to reading Stephen O’Grady’s post on the relative openness of open source vendors and realized I had failed to be as clear as I could have been in my original post on the subject.

Responding to my note about Milking the GNU’s suggestion that a new independent organization could be formed to judge vendors on their level of openness, Stephen wrote:

“Those in the industry that might care have, I would argue, already formed their opinions on whether or not a project such as MySQL’s is or is not open source. And those outside the industry, well, I don’t expect they’d care. At all. Most of the enterprises I speak with are still struggling with the basics of what open source is and what it means.”

He is of course right that most enterprise adopters would not care about an openness index, and in fact such a thing could actually cause more harm than good by confusing potential adopters. However enterprises were not the potential audience that I (or I believe MTG) envisioned for what MTG called the Equitable Open Source label.

The potential audience I was referring to in the post was the “community edition” user base, which is a distinct* audience from paying customers and one that needs to be addressed differently by vendors. It is this audience that Stephen was referring to as “those in the industry that might care”.

As to whether they have already made up their minds about the openness of specific vendors, things can and do change and that is why vendors may find that a self-imposed social contract or externally-imposed openness index becomes a ongoing factor in community (as opposed to customer) relations.

*They do, of course potentially overlap – one can move from being a community user to a paying customer and back again, while a paying customer can also simultaneously be a community user, depending on the implementation – however the needs of that customer/user differ depending on the nature of their relationship with the vendor with respect to that implementation.

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