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Thursday, 06 April 2006 13:24

Open Source gives power to code cutters


Also see Ansearch acquires Mambo Communities
One of the benefits of the Open Source software phenomenon that has not been given a great deal of attention is how much power it puts in the hands of the software developers at the coalface. 


To understand what we are talking about, try to imagine a scenario at say a Microsoft or Oracle, where the core development team of a major proprietary product has a dispute with the management of the company. Let’s say, regardless of what the issue is, the development team bands together, digs in its heels and decides to resign en masse. What happens next is the interesting part.

The company, although probably shaken at losing so many talented developers in one hit, shrugs and says, “Oh well, they’re not the only code cutters in the world. We’ll put in an order for some more.” Meanwhile, the recently departed software developers find themselves on the open market looking for jobs. The only thing they take with them for their good work is their severance pay and the experience they gained on the job.

In the Open Source world, things work somewhat differently. To provide a real world example, in 1999 a Melbourne-based software company called Miro developed a killer diller website content management system later to be called Mambo, which it subsequently offered to the Open Source community in 2001. Although Miro remained a sponsor of the Mambo project, all subsequent development passed under the control of a team of Open Source developers and advocates headed by a peak group called the Mambo Steering Committee.

Ownership of the Mambo trademark eventually passed to an incorporated not-for-profit organisation called the Mambo Foundation. There are five seats on the Mambo Foundation Board, two of which are occupied by Miro directors, two by members of the Mambo Steering Committee and one by an independent outsider, skilled in software law. Around August 2005, things started to get interesting. Miro and members of the core development team got into a dispute over a number of matters, including who from the development team should be represented on the Foundation Board.

The details of the dispute are convoluted and largely irrelevant; however, the outcome is the important thing.  The entire core development team decided to walk away from the Mambo project. In the proprietary world, they would have then all looked forward to sipping coffee and perusing the jobs boards for the next few months. In the Open Source world, they took the freely available Mambo source code and created an identical content management system called Joomla. In developer’s parlance, they created a fork, which means that right now Joomla and Mambo are virtually identical, but in future releases they will probably be incompatible.

The story does not quite end there, however. Knowing that the best time to convince Mambo users to migrate to Joomla is when the products are identical, the Joomla developers went to town on the Mambo forums lobbying users to make the change. An interesting thing about Open Source projects is that you can generally judge how popular they are by the number of users that visit the home website and the official forum. Based on the intelligence we have, the Joomla website and forum traffic surpassed that of Mambo in late 2005 and has been trending up, while Mambo traffic has been trending down.

This is not to say that Mambo is dead. The project has brought in a new team of developers and recently won an award at LinuxWorld Australia (although it is yet to go up against Joomla). However, the story illustrates just how much more power technical software exponents have in the Open Source world than they do in the proprietary space, where they have none. If I was one of the pony tail and sandals set (as Brian Quinn, former CIO of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has called Open Source developers), I know where I would rather be.
Also see Ansearch acquires Mambo Communities



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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.




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