FOSS Solutions


Article from Issue 203/2017

We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.

One of the points I try to make in any presentation is that people pay money for perceived value. If they do not perceive any value, they typically do not part with their hard-earned money. The more value they perceive, the more money they pay.

Value is often generated through a transformation. Food is grown, and a transformation of water, earth, sun, and work generates the food. This is why manufacturing usually generates a lot of money. The transformation of raw materials (wood, glass, rubber, cement) into a house or car is something that generates a lot of value; therefore, people pay a lot for those things.

Modern manufacturing, with many processes automated or produced by inexpensive labor and combined with high levels of competition, mean that many products are reduced in cost and that margins are squeezed to a relatively low level. Large volumes of manufactured goods generate the large profits of some companies, and if your products are unique or protected by patents or other methods, you may gain even higher profits. In the end, however, it is the customer's perception of value that generates the sales and profits.

These days, many companies complain about the commodity pricing of laptops and low-end servers. This is one of the reasons why IBM sold off its laptop, desktop, and low-end server businesses over the years to Lenovo. Although these business lines were profitable, they were not profitable enough for a company like IBM to survive. What was profitable enough was the sale of "solutions."

Another statement I typically make in my talks is that people never really buy computers or software. Unless you are someone like Steve Wozniak or Larry Ellison, you probably do not have a computer or a box of software glued to your wall with a candle on either side like a shrine. You buy a computer and software to solve a problem. Even if the solution is only to play a game, that is why you are using the computer.

People buy solutions, not just hardware and software.

Therefore, as long as Free and Open Source solves a problem, it really makes little difference whether the total solution is a "product" by itself, particularly in the area of distributed, web-based applications.

Creating the total solution for the customer using open hardware and FOSS is one way of making a lot of money. You sell the solution to the customer, they buy the hardware, and you then install FOSS, help them set up the solution, teach them how to use the solution, and pocket the money that you (and the customer) would normally have paid for a "commercial solution."

What types of solutions might you sell? What about an application of PrestaShop, software that allows people to set up and manage an e-commerce platform. You can download the software, learn how to use it, and then sell that knowledge and skill to other people. More than 270,000 online sites use the software, and it is quite comprehensive.

Another example of a "solution" is to help an organization set up a training or an education environment. It is not only schools and universities that train people; companies and even small businesses often need to train customers or employees. OpenOLAT, a web-based learning environment, or Moodle can be used to set up a training site.

Along the same lines, companies are more and more distributed these days, and with software such as OpenMeetings or, companies can set up video conferences or have virtual meetings. Sometimes it takes some expertise to get things going, and you can bring that expertise to the customer for a fee.

Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems used to cost $20,000 or $30,000 for the smallest, basic systems. All those times you were requested to "hit button 1 for sales, button 2 for support, … ," you may have been interacting with a very expensive piece of telephony hardware. Asterisk (and later FreeSWITCH and Trixbox) made it so that relatively inexpensive PC hardware could be used to deliver sophisticated PBX features, and thousands of people around the world started earning their living setting up these systems and helping customers use them.

Almost every problem has a Free and Open Source Software solution. Some people think FOSS is difficult to use. This can be an opportunity for someone like you to become familiar with the software and make a living out of helping people use it efficiently.


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