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”.