A while back, I replied to a post on a Joel-on-Software forum about how to compete with an open source competitor. In my reply, I suggested that the author look at usability and customer service, as these are often two weak links in open source projects.
Since then, I'm happy to say that I've come across a couple of organizations that have proven me wrong. Both of these organizations "get" what it means to be a software product. They understand that there's a lot of work to be done once the software is written. The thing that really caught my attention about both of these organizations, though, is that they both reached out and contacted me personally to see if I needed help.
What a breath of fresh air.
How many times have you had a software vendor contact you in this way - regardless of the price of the software? This little touch does a lot to reassure the person on the other end that there's help available if they need it. It's an easy way to start a relationship off on the right foot.
Watch for a couple of mini-reviews about Apatar and GroundWork Open Source - both are great examples of proactive customer service.