Although DotNetNuke had experienced a healthy growth rate through its open source philosophy, it had largely done so by appealing to the needs of grass-roots developers. Although these stakeholders represent an integral part of the high-tech marketplace, there is another group that is far more influential in terms of market impact. The so-called "decision-makers" represent the management interests in serious enterprise-level business organizations. For DotNetNuke to make the transition from a developer-oriented open source project to a serious enterprise software contender, it needed to appeal to the decision-maker mentality.
Where developers think in terms of short-term technical decisions (that is, "What tool can I use to get this job done as quickly as possible so that I can impress my boss?"), decision-makers think in terms of long-term business decisions. They are interested in the future support of a platform or product. They consider solutions in terms of "investments," "security," and how much "risk" is associated with adopting a particular technology as part of their company infrastructure. And regardless of the technical superiority of a software solution, the adoption criteria always come down to basic trust and consumer confidence. So the challenge for an open source project like DotNetNuke is establishing the necessary level of credibility to be taken seriously.
In the commercial world, customers get a sense of confidence based on the fact that they have paid licensing fees to a vendor that generally provides them with a certain level of future support. Obviously nothing is guaranteed, but this financial model provides both parties with a sense of security and responsibility. Another thing that the financial model affords is the ability to market the product through traditional channels — channels that "decision-makers" tend to monitor on a regular basis.
In the open source world, there are no licensing fees, which helps contribute to the lower cost of ownership but also leaves the investment/security aspect somewhat lacking. If you look at Linux, for example, you will notice that the broad industry buy-in for the operating system did not occur until after some serious market vendors (Sun and IBM) pledged their support. As soon as this happened, many medium-large companies began to take Linux more seriously. And this was not because Linux received any product improvements through these relationships, but rather because it reduced its risk perception in the general marketplace. And without traditional licensing fees, open source products generally do not have the budget to leverage traditional marketing channels and must instead rely on grassroots and viral marketing techniques.
So let's consider some of the ways in which an open source product can improve its credibility and reduce its risk perception for decision-makers. Clearly one way is that it can align itself with large, respected vendors who lend credibility (that is, "If vendor X thinks its good, then so do we."). Another way is to have mainstream books, magazines, and mass media distributors publish information about the product, contributing to the overall community knowledge base and providing recognition. Yet another option is to identify reference implementations that exemplify the best qualities of the product and impress people with their performance, elegance, or extensibility. Another way is to demonstrate a proven track record and history for supporting the community, especially through platform transitions where the likelihood of project failure is high. The overall size of the community ecosystem, including the open source participants, consumers, and third-party service providers, is another critical aspect in demonstrating credibility.
DotNetNuke definitely made some significant advancements in credibility in 2005. The strong working relationship with Microsoft reaped rewards with the Hosting program. The publication of Professional DotNetNuke ASP.NET Portals by Wiley Publishing, Inc. and Building Websites with VB.NET and DotNetNuke 3.0 by PackT Press provided some excellent recognition through traditional publishing channels. Articles and references in mainstream magazines such as Visual Studio Magazine, ASP.NET Pro, CoDe Magazine, and .NET Developers Journal also provided some great benefits. The showcase on dotnetnuke.com contained many diverse reference implementations and we had proven through three years of product upgrades that we were committed to supporting the community. The membership and download metrics continued to grow exponentially, as did the number of independent software vendors (ISVs) providing products or services within the DotNetNuke ecosystem.