Do yourself a favor and go read Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier’s brilliant article on what your attack vector should be in convincing users to use your FOSS app. At least, that’s what it comes down to. He says that there’s a mentality among the FOSS community to either lead with, or I would say, rely wholly on the fact that the app is not just free but Free Software. As if that factor alone should make any normal person, drop anything else and switch.

Unfortunately, real, normal people are mostly ignorant of the holy war that is the FOSS movement. In fact, I bet most people, if they became aware of it, would think it odd. Odd, first because they didn’t realize that there would or should be ethics surrounding the creation of computer software. Second, odd that anyone would be so partisan about it.

A normal user should be thought of in more practical terms. To rationally convince someone, you would need to show that

  • Your app can do everything the app they’re already using can do
  • Your app can do some additional things that will make their life easier

Not Convinced?

Not convinced that Free isn’t what you should lead off with? Let’s look at some ‘successful’ open source projects. I’ll go with Firefox and OpenOffice. For good measure I’ll throw in some other great apps like Songbird and Miro. I think these haven’t made it yet, perhaps, but are well-poised for huge success.

Firefox

Firefox Website
A simple search shows that nowhere on the http://getfirefox.com website does it say Open Source. In fact, there’s a curious link about organic software. It says Free only once, in the phrase “Free Download”. Any shareware site could say the same. Lots of stuff on what Firefox can do. There’s emphasis on speed and safety- things Internet users want.

OpenOffice

OpenOffice Website
Does anyone else think it’s stupid how .org is part of the product name? When you write “Download OpenOffice.org” does that make you dumber since they already did or they couldn’t see the page? I digress.

OpenOffice leads off with the faint tagline “The Free and Open Productivity Suite”. Aside from that, the only free is again in conjunction with the download being free. In general, there’s not a lot on their homepage that inspires either, so…

Songbird

Songbird Website
No Free. No Open Source. Features are the name of the game.

Miro

Miro Website
Open Source halfway down and again at the bottom of the page. No rant on why it should be. Three mentions of Free- once in regards to it being 100% free (in small type) and the other two mentions being about the content you can watch with it.

Zonker says it like this:

Logic leads to conclusions, but emotions lead to actions. You can make the logical argument about Software Freedom until the proverbial cows (or gnus…) come home, but if people aren’t buying it emotionally, they’ll stick with their existing stuff.

Be Unforgettable

So what is it about your app that would make someone want to use it? If it has achieved feature parity with the commercial competition, that’s great but it’s not enough. The $0 price tag might make someone take a look. But the thing that will make them download it and switch to it immediately is if it covers most of what they need and has some additional benefit that makes your app unforgettable.

In regards to your marketing strategy, instead of a dogged reliance to FOSS dogma, Zonker writes:

  • Introduce them to the project
  • Explain the benefits of the project, including Freedom
  • Educate them on how to switch

So in your bughunting and coding, don’t forget- how can I knock their socks off? What’s the thing I could list or have a demo of on my website that would just drive people insane with jealousy.