More on Free Software, MT, and Fair Play

In the comments to my earlier post on this whole Six Apart/MT/free software affair, a reader writes that Six Apart isn’t alone in turning a “free” product into a “commercial” product:

As an example, look at Nick Bradbury’s software. His FeedDemon was originally free during its beta phases and then went commercial product.

Agreed, but the difference with Nick’s (excellent) FeedDemon product was that he never pretended the final release version would be anything other than a commercial product. Six Apart’s problem is that it has this group of angry people — MT users — who think that a) they were part of a social software community, and b) that community’s evolution has been arrested because they were “tricked” into relying on a product that has become commercial software.

To be fair, I’m not necessarily faulting the Six Apart folks for what they decided to do. MT is a yeoman piece of work, and I’ve long assumed they would do something more than Typepad to recoup their costs. I’m just surprised that they took this particular path, as opposed to forking MT and creating a commercial version alongside, say, a stripped down product. Or, following the ActiveState model, creating a commercial support service that they wrapped around free software to mollify nervous Fortune 500 IT departments.

More broadly, I only really got thinking about all of this because I’m interested — VC hat on — in the larger question of what all this says about the “finance-ability” of open source projects. Granted, Movable Type isn’t an orthodox o/s project, but it shares many of their characteristics, from being free to being innately community-driven, so this episode will make financial sorts sit up and say “Hmmm”.  

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Comments

  1. Kevin Stecyk says:

    :::Agreed, but the difference with Nick’s (excellent) FeedDemon product was that he never pretended the final release version would be anything other than a commercial product. Six Apart’s problem is that it has this group of angry people — MT users — who think that a) they were part of a social software community, and b) that community’s evolution has been arrested because they were “tricked” into relying on a product that has become commercial software.:::
    I disagree somewhat with your post. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that Six Apart would create a commercial product. On their web site they even announced that any donations provided would be credited in some fashion towards their professional or commercial release of MT. So anyone who believed that MT would always remain free should look to themselves rather than to Six Apart.
    Some beta testers were caught off guard. They willingly took MT 3 beta and upgraded their site(s), fully expecting that they could simply roll it over to MT 3 final release. When the fee structure came out, there were unhappy because a) they weren’t told of this upcoming change and charge, and b) according to them, it is difficult to roll back the blog to a pre MT 3 beta status. I think they have a legitimate gripe.
    :::To be fair, I’m not necessarily faulting the Six Apart folks for what they decided to do. MT is a yeoman piece of work, and I’ve long assumed they would do something more than Typepad to recoup their costs. I’m just surprised that they took this particular path, as opposed to forking MT and creating a commercial version alongside, say, a stripped down product.:::
    All that said, I think some people were surprised that MT 3, without a lot of new whistles and bells, is the commercial release. And I think some people, particularly those with a number of blogs, were turned off by the fee structure. But some might not fully understand the fee structure as Brad Choate alluded to in his post (http://tinyurl.com/2wmlg). Further on the fee structure, for those who have three or less blogs and are the sole authors, they can use the latest version MT 3.0, just without the support and promotion from Six Apart (see MOVABLE TYPE FREE, http://secure.sixapart.com/ ). So in some respects, I think they have created a stripped down version, which is what you suggested earlier.
    Undoubtedly there are some lessons to be learned as to how to transition from a free early release version to a commercial release. Given their management team’s pedigree ( http://www.sixapart.com/about/ ), I am surprised this transition was not handled better.