Sunday, December 19, 2004

Avoid Licensing Dumbth

Steve Allen, noted skeptic (and the creator and first host of 'The Tonight Show') once wrote a book entitled "Dumbth: The Lost Art of Thinking." This has inspired Skeptic magazine to include a regular column on "Dumbth" and even to issue annual "Dumbth awards".

Here are my candidates: companies that choose to outsource their sensitive company data, particularly sales, persistent communications, and personal contact data. Apply even the most minimal level of thought to the problem, and you will reach the conclusion that this is the very information that should not be entrusted to third parties. Rule of thumb: never, ever place yourself in any situation where access to core data is controlled by someone other than you.

This brings to mind my second candidates: companies that choose to license software under "subscription" or "utility" licenses. Having made the decision to retain control of your own sensitive information, it's not a brilliant leap of logic to decide that this same sensitive data should never be held hostage to extortionists who might lock you out of this same data unless you pay a regular fee. Phrased this way, subscription licensing looks a lot more like a protection racket than a legitimate business model. I submit that the problem is not with the phrasing, it's with the business model itself... it is extortion. Which is, I suppose, one reason that vendors love it. It gives them an invitation to dip their hands into your wallet... and keep them there.

Fortunately, it's not extortion to which you need to accede. There are still software vendors that are willing (and feel morally obligated!) to offer perpetual licensing. VIC CRM is software offered under such a license. In fact, being Open Source software (OSS), VIC CRM is free. Download it, use it, modify it, redistribute it, all without paying a thing. Or, if your company policy absolutely precludes the use of OSS, then Cratchit.org will provide a perpetual commercial license at very reasonable rates.

One executive that I demonstrated VIC CRM to was impressed and excited about the demo. When we got to the issue of licensing, she leaned across her desk and asked in incredulous, whispered tones, "Why are you doing this?" Good question. The answer is, there are lots of reasons. First, VIC CRM solves a problem of my own. Even if no one else ever used or bought it, I would still write it. It's no skin off my nose to let others benefit from work I'm doing for myself.

Second, by opening VIC's source code, I benefit from improvements and suggestions from a broader community of developers and users. This has already paid off abundantly. If you look "under the hood" at VIC from a year ago vs. today's product you'd be amazed at the improvements in style, readablility, and maintainability.

Third, it's a showcase for project management and development skills. What I've found as a contractor is that it can be very difficult to point to a project you've done for someone else, due to security issues, or even due to the fact that the company may no longer be around. VIC gives me something tangible, ongoing, and visible to point to. It also demonstrates a high level of confidence in those skills... why would I invite you to look at VIC if it completely sucked?

Finally, VIC CRM opens other opportunities to me. Although the software itself is free, I do charge for installation assistance, customizations, and support, should you want any of the above. Normally, bug fixes and enhancements are done on my timeline and at my discretion. This is only fair for a product that is free. A development or support contract means that I work on your issues at your timeframe.

As you can see, providing the software at no charge offers me plenty of benefits. Using it also provides you with benefits far beyond the zero acquisition cost. These benefits include retaining control over your own data and a way to step off of the licensing treadmill. There's no "dumbth" in that!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

VIC CRM: Documentation Writer Needed

We have an excellent opportunity for a motivated documentation specialist to showcase his talents and build upon his portfolio with participation in an Open Source project that doesn't contain any company-sensitive data and therefore can be shown with pride to prospective employers.

OK, I know I'm spinning like a top here, but we really could use some help with documentation, and it really is an excellent opportunity for non-coders to participate in Open Source. Even if you can't contribute yourself, maybe you know somebody who's between gigs, and for whom all that "spin" in the first paragraph is seriously applicable.

I've added End-User Documentation to the project as a task, so if you are that motivated individual, all you have to do is register on OpenNTF, log in and assign the task to yourself. We'd love to have you!