What Apple has in common with successful open source projects

Unswerving focus on the people who use the technology wins hearts and markets

Matt Asay hit on a fundamental - and often overlooked - point in his GigaOm post the other day: Apple is able to conquer markets by ignoring the concept of the faceless, generic "market" and instead concentrating on winning the hearts and minds of individual users.

He also notes that this is one of the main failings of enterprise software today -the focus on winning the nonexistent heart of the "market," while disregarding the people who collectively ARE the heart of the marketIt's an interesting irony: while companies like RIM and Nokia and Palm pursue the "enterprise" handset market, the iPhone is penetrating the corporate world not by selling to CIOs.

"Not all companies screw this up. The open-source world offers a few good examples of companies that understood their target market was the individual, not the tribe/company. ... This is how great companies are built: they focus on individuals and build exceptional products for them, and let these individuals determine how best to make use of the technology.""

JBoss and SpringSource are the two companies Asay mentions. (I'd humbly submit that Apache Solr/Lucene belongs on the list.)

Check out the the winners of the 2010 InfoWorld BOSSIE award : all been embraced by developers, and application programmers and, driven by the community, has continued to evolve and displace traditional technology options for mission-critical applications in the enterprise. What might have seemed like a niche technologies has expanded into the broader market across industries, from ecommerce to desktop search and beyond, in a few short years, and that's because of the individual developers who champion it.

Make no mistake, in the open source world, developers are the ones who make it possible. They're the ones who contribute great source code, commit their time and skills using, nurturing and improving it, adding value to it over time. They recognize that it's possible to appreciate a platform and at the same time continue pushing to make it even better, driving a virtuous cycle that pushes the whole industry forward.

The proof of their efforts is in the accolades and attention that open source software is getting. With any great open source project, the developer community votes its appreciation for the technical capabilities of the platform with both hands. It's the combination of that technical strength with compelling business benefits that is winning the hearts and minds-and budgets-of the CIOs, IT directors and executive management teams as well.

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