Don't just be a clone...

I’ve been thinking recently about how some open source projects are much more popular than others. And in some cases even more popular than proprietary. However, some are just terrible, even though they are technically the same as their rival software products. I think the answer lies in the vision of a project, and what it actually wants to be. Let us take some examples…

Mozilla Firefox: Yes, it started off as just a browser, so people didn’t have to use IE, but it created things to make itself better. It added tabs, extensions and customisability of the user interface many years before IE. It worked on getting fast, and usable. It didn’t just want to be the same as IE, but open source.

The Gimp: Arguably popular, but I would think not. You can do pretty much everything you can do in Photoshop, and the Gimp, however the Gimp looks ugly, is very confusing and it offers no advantage over Photoshop to the average user.

Edit Thanks to sealne for pointing out that the Gimp can be used on linux, whereas photoshop can’t officially, therefore constituting as an advantage over photoshop.Edit

Android: Started off as a project to rival iOS, but added many features such as multi-tasking, live wallpapers, copy and paste, and an open (ish) marketplace. It isn’t just a clone of iOS, as that would be kinda pointless.

I guess the point of what I’m trying to put across, is don’t just be a clone. You can be the most awesome clone of a proprietary product ever, but if you offer nothing extra, then what is the point? Normal users won’t come to use you just because you are open source, especially if you don’t have all the features of the proprietary alternative.

Innovate! It is what the open-source community is so great at. I could give examples, but I’m sure I don’t need to. If you innovate, they will come…