Ext Discovers Step 2 of the Slashdot Business Model?
For many years, step 2 has eluded the slashdot community:
1: Start your project.
1: Start your project under a LGPL/commercial license model.
2: Switch to a GPL/commercial license model.
The model works because step 1 allows you to build a community around the more liberal LGPL license. In particular, as the LGPL is commercial-friendly, the community will include many people building commercial applications. Once the community is suckered in and committed, the license is changed, leaving them high and dry. Well, not quite: they can continue to use new versions of the library by buying a commercial license. Hence the profit!
Not surprisingly, this sudden license switch has caused a large community backlash. People don’t like to feel that they have been baited in this way. The defense from Ext runs along a couple of lines:
- They are just applying the “Quid-Pro-Quo” principle: i.e. if you get something out of Ext, you should give back. This is fine: Ext have created a great library and have every right to charge for it if they wish. But it isn’t the use of a commercial model that is wrong here: it is the sudden switching of models. Ext have massively benefitted themselves from liberal licenses, both in terms of the libraries Ext was originally built around (e.g. YUI which is BSD licensed) and the community that appeared around Ext itself, submitting bug reports, patches and extensions. What are they now giving back to these communities they have used?
- The previous licensing was confusing and criticised for not being “open” enough. Simplifying the licensing scheme is fine, but there was no need to change to the GPL to do this. In fact, switching to the GPL has caused more problems for open source projects built around Ext than it has solved. Because of the viral nature of the GPL, those projects must now reconsider their own licenses to be able to upgrade to the latest version of ExtJS. The Ext team surely realise this, so trying to give this reason for the license switch is misleading on their part.
The backlash has been all the greater because of how the switch has been handled:
- The community was given no warning or consultation, despite this change being ostensibly for their benefit.
- Ext were not forthright with the real motive for the change.
- Ext are claiming that a fork of the existing 2.0 version is not legal, due to the way they applied the LGPL. This is likely to be incorrect, and if correct then their use of the name LGPL was grossly misleading.
- There is still confusion around the licensing. For example, the commercial license does not clearly spell out what happens when upgrading. Debates continue around the applicability of the GPL to hosted applications and those that generate code. Ext have been far from responsive on these matters.
- This is not the first major license change for ExtJS, leaving many anticipating similar upheaval in the future.
The saddest part about this is that the Ext team really have built a fantastic library, and a vibrant community around it. The library had all the hallmarks of an open source success story. Now, however, Ext have committed the cardinal sin of an open source project: they have undermined the trust of their own community. I can see the strategy making a short term profit, and perhaps even a long term business. I cannot, however, see the community returning to full strength. In the long run, although Ext may have a successful commercial offering, they will lose a large part of their current and potential community to competing and still-open projects. The power of the community will see those competitors flourish.
This entry was posted on Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at 12:08 am and is filed under Opinion, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.