definately not the case with something like Redis, OpenSSL, or PyPy – all very high-profile products of great quality, that have made commercial efforts to various degrees at one point or another
I may have chosen too loaded a term with “product.” What I mean by the term (in this context) is more that the team thinks of their work as a thing that they’re “selling” (maybe for free). That includes the marketing (messaging, market segmentation, value propositions, outreach, etc.), the design (brand, website, UI, API…), the documentation and onboarding, contextual examples, quality assurance, support, and everything else that someone considered when you buy a pair of pants, let alone enterprise software.
Like I said, I need to figure out that I have this specific problem, then guess the industry jargon that lets me search for other people with the problem, then find the tools that solve the problem, then evaluate them, then figure out how to set the winner(s) up and hope the documentation is sufficiently precise, accurate, and up-to-date that I can solve my problem. I’ve worked for some hilariously crappy companies, but none of them would ever let a product out the door where the customer needs to come find them. Compare OpenSSL to something like Kubernetes where, sure, they’re commoditize-your-complements territory and OpenSSL isn’t, but they’re everywhere they can be to find the people who need them and make sure they’re able to get moving.
A more head-to-head comparison might be Linux distributions. Apart from the big-two (RedHat and Ubuntu), only CentOS, Trisquel (of all things), and to a lesser extent elementary OS seem, on a very quick review, to have considered the possibility that visitors aren’t already experts who know what they’re looking for, so they’re what I’d call the “products.” Everything else is very project-y, where you can thrill to the latest release notes or getting the subscription information for the mailing list. Seriously, check out Trisquel’s website; they could stand to do some outreach and the interface design stinks to high heaven, but when I say “product,” that attention to convincing people to be interested is exactly what I mean.
It’s a huge, multidisciplinary ask, of course, but so is asking for people to fund you in a market with effectively infinite competition and people/companies who might be willing to do the same work without asking for money in return, for whatever altruistic/sleazy reasons might be involved. But I don’t think that the free/open source community can play the “we’re just programmers doing this in our free time” game when it comes to things they/we don’t feel like working on, but ask that we (by “we,” I mean rank-and-file users, not monopolistic corporations) pay them to do just parts of the job they enjoy so that someone with infinite money can use their work for free.
And the unpopularity of the licensing issue, honestly, might be a big part of why I’m so stingy on this front. If a team makes a big deal about their license of choice being “freer” than the GPL, I’m very unsympathetic when some large company forks their code off behind a paywall without any compensation. If the goal is popularity, that’s how popularity works. And there’s a related reason that so many famous actors burn out.
Now I kind of wonder what it’d take to overcome the long-term attacks on the GPL and similar licenses. I note that, in the non-software space, things have gone too far in the other direction, with too many people slapping non-commercial licenses on their work instead of realizing that the copyleft clause is more than enough to handle what they mean by “non-commercial.” Like, what’s the optimal ratio of Eric Raymond to Cory Doctorow to…not Richard Stallman, since nobody listens to him, but…Bradley Kuhn, maybe? And if that ratio is fixed, how does that change the calculus of people and companies supporting software they use.