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.