Open Source, End Users, and Product Management

One of the most interesting aspects of free/open source software is its relationship with end users, which for the purpose of this post I’ll define as users who are not also developers. Paul Young of Product Beautiful presents an thought-provoking case.

Open source developers have created products so good, that they are nearly indistinguishable to an end user from commercial software. This has changed the mindset and expectations of users to think that they are the persona that the developer is writing code for, but are they? Some applications, such as Firefox, have made the leap and are clearly developing for an end user. For an example of a FOSS project that hasn’t, look no further than Pidgin… a free and open source instant messaging (IM) client… Obviously, there is a huge gap between the expectations of the users and the developers. Who normally bridges that gap? Product Management.

As a once (and future?) product manager, I found Paul’s post particularly interesting. The comments are also good, including the ones that pointed out that Vista has a product management and a gap separating it from its users.

Perhaps there could be some sort of certification of free/open source projects. Some could wear the badge: our users are our customers (e.g., Firefox). Others could wear: our users are us, the developers, and others with the same tastes (e.g., Pidgin?).

I saw Paul’s post via Matt Asay’s Open Road blog. I find it strange that a blog about openness has a partial feed, rather than a full feed, and requires registration for comments. In other words, it’s more like Pidgin than Firefox. And so, with some sadness, I’ll unsubscribe from it.

One thought on “Open Source, End Users, and Product Management”

  1. Could it be that the “partial feed” is not inimical to open source and openness, but rather helps to feed those who contribute the content? It’s CNET’s decision how it displays my content, but I can’t really fault it for this policy. CNET gets paid on page views. No one is going to click through if the feed doesn’t require it. Why would you?

    Sometimes we don’t really want the consequences of what we want. In this case, you might find that many of your favorite blogs would go away if they weren’t funded by ads, ads which require a partial feed.

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