All software does 80% of what you need

Over the last two days I’ve been heads-down on analysis of open source (and some commercial) software for multi-user blogging, content management, wiki’s and forums. Like I’ve said before, none of this software is truly click-n-configure and does only 80% of what is needed. Lots of customization is required.

I can’t find this quote or the context of his remarks, but Marc Benioff (CEO of once remarked something along the lines of knowing that they could only deliver 80% of the functionality customers would need in a hosted offering and the true value would lie in the 20% of a customer’s requirements and would need customization to be truly useful for any given organization.

Salesforce built a robust API (Sforce) and have delivered appexchange. The latter enables customers and partners (who’ve used the API and built applications) to sell/license them to Salesforce customers.

I’ve found the same 80% thing with open source packages. They *almost* do it all but not quite. In the case of phpBB and SMF, they’ve got all the functionality one would need to support a community of users (with granular access control of forums or private threads) but modifying the look-n-feel, having a landing page when you first log on that looks like a Web home page, are simple elements I know…but they require technical acumen to customize.

99% of small-to-midsize businesses or individuals are NOT going to do that.

Herein lies an opportunity and many Web 2.0 companies are focusing on API’s as a core part of their value propositions. It will enable mashups and web services to actually flourish (instead of being something pontificated about in analyst reports). They’ll also enable something which I see as even more important.

At some point in the not too distant future, there will be more new presentation layer paradigms like Ajax, OpenLaszlo or what Microsoft is planning with Expression. Perhaps we’ll see open source programs delivering functionality through their API’s that can be consumed by these richer user interface approaches. Interfaces that superusers (vs. technoweenies) will be able to click, configure and operate with little or not technical intervention.

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  1. F. Otterbeck on March 24, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    My understanding was that he was using Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 rule to say that 80 percent of software users only use 20 percent of the software’s functionality. I could be wrong. I did not find a link associated with Benioff either. I believe most of the open source companies are generally are catering to a majority of people who only use basic services.

  2. JSas on March 30, 2006 at 9:01 am

    On the subject of OpenSource, what about open source CRM offerings, such as ?
    Will the difference in pricing (lack of) be enough to convince people to go this way, despite concerns and uncertanties of open source in general ?

  3. Steve Borsch on March 30, 2006 at 12:29 pm


    Wasn’t aware of vtiger (thank you!) but have been all over SugarCRM and Compiere for some time.

    Here’s what I believe: certain categories of open source software — regardless of feature and functional parity with commercial offerings — will not be successfully until there are support models in place.

    Maybe you’ve heard the old joke about a mission-critical application crashing in an enterprise company. The CIO says to the VP of I.T., “How are you going to fix it?” The VP replies, “Oh…I’ve sent an email to ‘the community’ and am awaiting a reply or a patch.”

    Yeah…right. CIO’s pay for software that they can bet on, have one-throat-to-choke (i.e, the vendor) to obtain a fix, and to get cutting edge features and support for them.

    Until Spikesource, HP and others began to fully support the open source stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP or LAMP), even those components had minimal adoption. It’s taking a long time to grow.

    On the other hand I see offerings like Civicspace (built on the content management system Drupal) that is offering an financially challenged group (i.e., non-profits) with world-class infrastructure that is architected to work with other Civicspace users.

    One more reason for slow adoption (which would fix the support problem if done right) would be software-as-a-service. Hosting vtiger like they are or any other packages — and coupling them with a support model — is the only way this is going to work.

  4. Oracle Employee on May 31, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    The 80% comment was made by Larry Ellison.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.