Abstract, because my reply to this thread(s) became way longer than
originally intented during the last few hours:
When SME-Server is being transformed into a "commercial" product
(foundation based or not), there is a chance that the project will
significantly lose momentum both development- and community-wise.
Forcing people to pay for the product, documentation or access to
community support IMHO is a step in the wrong direction, also with
regards to the highly competitive market situation it would place
SME-Server in. Efforts should instead be focussed on increasing
donations to keep up the project and community infrastructure.
<long version below:>
interesting (and a familiar sounding) discussion, prompting me to do my
first post on the devinfo-list...
I am rather a long-time user than a long-time developer of SME-Server
(and not a native speaker), but please bear with me :-) From the view of
someone offering commercial IT support for small to medium enterprises,
here's my 5 ct:
I started using SME-Server for my own (one-man) business and family
somewhere around version 6. Up to that point, I had been rolling my own
FOSS based solutions for the functionality SME-Server was offering
(mail, gateway etc.), but realized that over time this grassroots
approach simply took up too much of my own (business and life) time.
I have happily been using SME-Server for my purposes since. Recently I
decided to get a bit more involved with bug-hunting and eventually
-fixing for SME-Server, initially because I encountered a few lose ends
and rough edges while migrating to version 9 and wanted to help sort
them out, but also because I felt it was time to "give something back"
to a project I have enjoyed using for quite some time, now that I
considered myself "skilled" enough in terms of understanding a bit how
things work under the hood in SME-Server (I may be woefully wrong there,
though :-) )
Two years ago I deployed a SME-Server to a medium size business for
which I do IT support contract work. So admittedly I do generate some
small revenue out of supporting an SME-Server installation by now
(nothing to phone home about, though, due to the fact that SME-Server
once set up usually requires very little attention apart from regular
This client recently asked me how he could "give back" to the folks who
are developing SME server, because he was so pleased with the stability
of the product - obviously he was being aware that although I was
providing the paid IT support, I was not the one developing and
"selling" SME-Server as a product. I happily directed him to the
donation page of the SME/Koozali website.
For me, these are two sides of the same coin, of a freely available open
source project, receiving developer/bughunting/documenting time and
donations from people who think the resulting product "is worth it".
Probably I am not the only one using and benefitting from (and
occasionally contributing to) the SME-Server project in this fashion and
if my contribution so far in terms of community involvment or monetary
effort have not been sufficient so far, I duely apologize.
Maybe I am being naive here, too.
Anyway, my key reasons for chosing SME-Server over several other
available OSS alternatives back in the day were (in order of personal
- open source, standard based (a must-have)
- unrestrictedly available documentation and community resources (wiki,
- sound, long-term oriented update and upgrade strategy
- extensibility (through contribs, apps, 3rd party software...)
- hackability (ie. explore and modify the system at own risk in order to
understand how things work)
Would I back then have chosen SME-Server over "competing" FOSS solutions
if any of these key items would have been paid/restricted options only?
Would my client have taken my recommendation to use SME-Server instead
of a "commercial" offering seriously if I would not have been able to
advocate the benefits of the key items mentioned above? With the client
coming from a windows background and having been socialized in his
business with closed source, commercial software: not very likely either.
Now don't get me wrong, as a freely (also as in "free beer"!) available
solution SME-Server absolutely delivers, software and documentation
wise. It is not the sexiest SBS solution out there (sorry guys!). But it
does its job, and does it very sound, elegantly and well.
For me, it is a - not so small anymore - niche that SME-Server more than
aptly fills, but (realistically) still a niche, that would be opened up
to a very competitive market once SME-Server goes "commercial".
I am definitely not sure if this somehow "going commercial" idea is the
right direction to turn to for SME-Server (and it makes me reconsider my
recently spurred motivation to become more involved with this community
project, sorry to say, but that's how it is).
Some thoughts on some of the aspects mentioned in these threads so far:
a) offering paid only access to (parts) of the wiki, forae and
that would be a showstopper for me and probably many others.
Documentation is key, not only for using, but also for evaluating a
product in the first place.
I cannot estimate to what degree SME-Server depends on "quality micro
contributions" in form of constructive bug reports, intelligent
questions asked on the forums, small edits to the wiki documentation or
the like, compared to the vast efforts of a - probably too- few
enthusiast main developers.
But if these micro contributions are of any significance, be prepared to
lose them to a significant degree (and instead get an increase in the
more agressively and demanding requests people sometimes get rebuffed
for on the contrib forums if they do not recognize that SME is a
community effort :-) "But hey, I _paid_ for it...").
b) keeping up the generally high community and volunteer commitment to
the project once it goes commercial may become unlikely.
Once people have to pay for a product like SME-Server, expectations on
the level of quality of the product, its documentation and product
support will very likely rise significantly. At the very same time, the
willingness of new users to voluntarily contribute to the project will
very likely drop significantly - why should they want to, what would be
their incentive to do so?
c) In addition, while I consider core SME-Server (9) and contribs to be
mature and stable products, bluntly put there's also a bunch of contribs
which are not there yet, or are "still work in progress", and
documentation in the wiki is at least in parts out-dated or obsolete -
or at least not in a consistent state I would expect if I were to pay
real money for a enterprise product. The translations (I can only refer
to German here) contain some significant errors which I am accepting to
deal with in a community product, but not in a commercial setting where
I am eventually going to sell the product to a paying customer.
I think there will be a comparatively big community effort needed to
bring all these up to par, even if the potential revenue from "selling"
SME-Server will allow to fund 1-2 full-time developers at some time in
d) integration with cloud services: not yet a key "selling point" where
From my observation SME-Server seems to appeal the most to more
conservatively minded crowd of descision-makers (not necessarily
admins), who want a long-term in-house solution for mail, data sharing
and such, on a stable technological base. These guys are increasingly
feeling uneasy at the thought of having to put all of their business
data into the hands of some mega-corporation (let alone up into these
e) I think making people pay for "premium" contribs, apps, functionality
is a questionable approach. Will (paid) developer time in the future be
dedicated mostly towards this premium stuff, because that's where the
revenue comes from, then?
The business plan outlined in one of the previous posts IMHO seriously
lacks a kind of market analysis with regards to the competition and
where SME-Server would be placed therein. Making people pay for
downloading the ISOs will most probably rather make most people laugh -
before it makes them go away. As someone has mentioned before, this
approach is so very 80's it makes _me_ want to go away, and I _am_ a
nostalgic person :-)
f) I do not see how paid support through a subscription would work
within this business model either - I do support for other clients who
use commercial, enterprise grade Linux server applications and support
services, so I think I can put it in perspective looking at how many
people seem to be actively involved ATM with koozali and SME-Server, and
to what degree.
I am also missing the "expenses" side of the business plan - what is the
actual amount of money needed per year to keep the SME-Project
infrastructure up and running in the present form of a community based
project? I am willing to volunteer some of my own time and money (where
I am able to) and to coerce potential clients into donating to the
project if they benefit from it, but not on a "blue skies" basis, and
not for someone elses sole profit.
g) The only sensible way I can think of right now to generate some kind
of "revenue" to pay for the expenses for the SME-Server project
infrastructure is through donations to the Koozali foundation. Either
from (non-contributing) folks selling support for SME-Server to business
clients, or by these clients themselves. Morale pressure to make
(regular) donations can and should be increased on all parties involved.
Yes, it means lot of talking and explanation (free vs. "free") to
clients and userbase, and no, money towards the project will probably
not roll in in a steady, reliable flow at all times.
As I said, just my (now 50, rather than) 5 ct.
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