Feng Office's tag line is: Unleash your team's potential. It's an open source collaboration platform for teams and businesses that began as an academic project at UdelaR University. Interested students worked on the initial research and development, and today it remains an open source project.
Conrado Vina and his team considered what making the platform closed would do—to their users and to their vision, based on the belief that such an important component for any organization should be available and open source. They decided on a mixed bag. Offering some solutions on top of their core business, the open source platform, has helped finance further development and service for Feng Office as a whole.
Read on to find out more from Conrado in this interview.
Tell us about the subscription model. What challenges and opportunities does it present?
Great question. At first, when all we were offering was an open source option, many clients with a technical background or in technical positions found it hard to justify an investment in a system that they could download for free, install on their servers without any help or additional software, and manage themselves. We offered our expert support, system maintenance, custom configuration and development, and hosting and backup services. But, that wasn't perceived as a great value to our early adopters, so they found it hard to make a purchase. They felt that those tasks were their job, so we missed a lot of opportunities and were not producing sufficient revenue. Talk about a challenge!
The opportunities the subscription model presents is that it allows small and medium-sized businesses and organizations to access an enterprise-class solution but without a cash-intensive initial investment. Larger corporations and bigger organizations still favor, on average, more traditional licensing and support agreements. We are also providing that option for larger clients, as it is a good model and works for us too.
How do you educate clients on the benefits of open source software?
Most clients do not yet know or fully understand the benefits of open source, or even how it works. Sometimes it feels that clients equate open source to getting everything for free. That is not where the advantages are for a system like Feng Office.
For software that will become the core of your business, you want:
- a Service Level Agreement with a trusted provider
- tons of features
- a process to keep it up to date
Trust, through transparency and independence, is the biggest advantage of choosing an open source software solution for business operations. Honestly, most clients don't seem to care if it is open source or not. We don't ususally need to explain much or even tout the advantages of open source. To me, it's like buying a luxury car and not understanding all the amazing things that make it luxurious. You just know you prefer that car.
We have a lot of clients who come to us through a reference, from a colleague or friend who is happy with our service, products, and customer support.
Why did you choose the AGPLv3 license?
At the time that we chose the AGPLv3 license, most of the open source software we already used was licensed under GPL, though we weren't experts in all the other possibilities out there. This license allows us to maintain compatibility with the other components we use.
Many businesses are unsure about the security of open source software. What would/do you say to them?
To that I ask another question: "Why do you think that?"
I don't know if there are any independent studies on the average security levels of open source vs closed source, but what is a fact is that popular open source projects receive a lot of eyeball time from security experts and, most frequently, they will report any security concerns immediately.
What's new with Feng Office?
Our latest news is the release of version 2.3.1 this week.
You can read the blog post here. We are conservative in version numbers. We have been making very frequent releases for the past five years and if compared, you will see a great evolution from the 1.X series and even from early 2.X versions. Series 2.X allowed Feng Office to support multi-dimensional management of any type of data. This is like taking the data warehousing and BI dimensions concept that used to be applied to measured data only, but using it for any type of information. This is very cool, powerful, and state of the art technology.
I think we are pioneers in this area. We are also working on a new edition, with more corporate-focused features. This will allow us to provide new offerings that will be more compelling to corporate clients, and will justify greater investments, which in turn will mean more revenue, and more research and development. Our goal is to develop the best collaboration platform!