August 22, 2005 11:28 AM PDT

Open-source Mambo project faces rift

Backers of Mambo, a content management system used to publish Web sites, are deeply divided over how to govern the open-source project--a split that could send the software's development in two separate directions.

On one side of the clash is Miro International and the Mambo Foundation. Miro is the company that originally released Mambo as open-source software, and it helped establish the foundation earlier this month to govern the software as an open-source project.

On the other side is the entire team of Mambo developers.

News.context

What's new:
Developers are breaking ranks with the foundation that oversees Mambo, meaning that development of the content management software might fork into two separate directions.

Bottom line:
The struggle over who steers development of the open-source software underlines the promise and the pitfalls of collaborative work.

More stories on open-source development

The parties are wrestling over who should control the direction of Mambo's evolution. It's not clear what the point of disagreement is, and the developers declined to give details to CNET News.com. But from their public statements, it appears their general claim is that the Mambo Foundation amounts to a power grab and shuts them out.

"We believe the future of Mambo should be controlled by the demands of its users and the abilities of its developers," reads a statement by OpenSourceMatters, a group formed around the issue by about 20 key Mambo developers. "The Mambo Foundation is designed to grant that control to Miro, a design that makes cooperation between the foundation and the community impossible...We, the community, have no voice in (the foundation's) government or the future direction of Mambo."

Both sides have pledged to continue development of the Mambo software, meaning that the project might well split--or "fork"--into two different versions. The developer group insists Mambo development will be unchanged--except that it will have a different name. On the other side, the foundation says it's a good time to assemble a fresh team of contributors.

The possible fork shows both the promise and pitfalls of open-source software. On the one hand, disgruntled engineers have the freedom to do what they believe is right despite disagreements with corporate sponsors or other programmers. On the other, such splits can dilute the efforts of programmers and force software users to grapple with incompatible products.

"If people don't agree with the way a project is going, they have the ability to strike off and produce something on their own. It really is a Darwinian environment, where the best products will succeed," IDC analyst Al Gillen said.

The drawback is that customers might get confused, if they're faced with a range of competing products with similar roots, he said.

For their part, Miro and the foundation claim the power grab is in the other direction. The idea of the foundation began with the developers themselves, but Miro soon concluded that the developers' rationale for it "was to gain control over the intellectual-property license, not protecting the project," foundation board member and Miro general manager Justina Phoon said in an e-mail interview.

The criticism of Miro may have had some effect, though: The company on Monday agreed to release some control over the Mambo intellectual property. Miro founder Peter Lamont reversed his company's earlier position and committed to transferring the Mambo trademark and copyright to the foundation.

Mambo, governed by the General Public License, or GPL, is used to control the content of Web pages. Numerous modules have been added, providing features such as shopping carts, banner advertisements, customized maps and chat forums. Miro, an Australian company that builds Mambo-based Web sites and funds development of the software, released the once-proprietary product as open-source software in 2000.

The developers departed this month, after Miro announced the Mambo Foundation's formation at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. Miro said Mambo project leader Andrew Eddie, among others, was on the foundation's board.

Fault lines soon appeared in exchanges on Mambo's discussion lists. The biggest blow came Wednesday, when the Mambo development team, including Eddie, who hadn't joined the foundation board after all, broke ranks with Miro and the foundation.

The Miro contingent is choosing to see the glass as half full. Phoon said that a new developer team for Mambo would have advantages.

"Changing development teams is always a setback, not something anyone would typically look forward to," Phoon said. But "we do believe that the setback will become a benefit, as we recruit new blood and build a Mambo team that will focus on the core goals of Mambo, to be a high-quality, easy-to-use content-management system."

The new structure means that members of the community who were unable to be involved before can now join the team, Phoon said, adding that the foundation is actively recruiting development team members as well as organizational and third-party developer members.

And in the first place, Phoon said, the idea of the foundation came from Eddie and fellow Mambo programmer and OpenSourceMatters signatory Brian Teeman. When Miro concluded the developers just wanted control over the license, they chose to go ahead with the

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Miro and Open Source
"We put Mambo on Source Forge in order for people to help get the code 'straightened out' so that it could be re-released commercially."

This, taken directly from archives of the Mambo web site, seems to be the continuing motivation for Miro in regards to the Mambo project.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wishful Thinking
""If people don't agree with the way a project is going, they have the ability to strike off and produce something on their own. It really is a Darwinian environment, where the best products will succeed," IDC analyst Al Gillen said. "

Not really. It can mean a division of effort in an energy-impoverished ecosystem such that weaker competitors eventually win. The web is not Darwinian (that's too simplistic) and code is not an evolving organism (self-directed). He is confusing community and product.

A code fork is bad. A community fork can be worse depending on the size of the available and willing labor pool. The web is not an inexhaustible source of labor although it is replenishable.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Same award winning product
This is not a fork. This is the same award winning product. Same award winning development team. Same community. If anyone will be forking the product it will be Miro's shadow foundation.
Posted by osm56 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Miro corporate spin of course
This is just more corporate spin from Miro. The truth of the matter is the developers are not the only people who left Miro. When the developers broke ranks with Miro, they took the project and the community with them.

The Mambo development team did not resign from the project. They simply moved the project to a different server. The project remains on track. The Mambo community has followed suit. Now, the project, it's award winning development team, and the active community are busy setting up temporary quarters at www.opensourcematters.org.

Soon Mambo will have a new name and a new permanent home devoid of corporate greed. And Miro's shadow foundation and *ambo web sites will soon be nothing more than an empty shell.

These are indeed exciting times. Something wonderful is about to happen. Stay tuned.
Posted by osm56 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: spin
Meanwhile the development team announced they'll be starting up a foundation of their own to fill their pockets.
They're nothing more than a bunch of hypocritic power-starved children.
Posted by Jan Modaal (40 comments )
Link Flag
This is a strength of Open Source
In a closed system with a closed code base if the developers or community disagree with the management then the customers that bought the code are screwed. It takes time to get a new dev team up to speed and to maintain quality. The company may even go out of business with out continued development and support of the core dev team.

With open source when there is a disagreement then the code can be forked and both parties can continue to develop it. While it may make for uncertain times for the customers while they decide which fork to chose they will still have a choice. In fact they have the choice to follow the forks or even take the code and hire their own programmers to maintain their investment.

Forks are not always bad, they can be painful and they can lead to uncertain times but they give the consumer/customer that is actually using the code the greatest opurtunity for success in the long run.

BTW, I use Mambo on several sites. Good luck guys!
Posted by albrown (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One thing about open source...
... is that you have a group of people developing products like toothpaste. Once the product is "perfect", the product can be repackaged, labeled and rebranded not necessarily by the same group of people who developed it. Many brands may become available but they're all toothpastes to the core.

I don't think there should be a fork. There should be an agreement of the core version with which the two groups may use as base for their respective brands.

There should, therefore, be a committee or body concerned in making sure that the core is maintained and managed... if I am seeing it right, I think this is just like how Linux is doing it.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Developers Acted Hasitly
The Development Team had no right to unilaterally decide to derail an entire community with their decision to abandon the Foundation. They have acted in a childish manner, instead of restraining their youthful enthusiasm and trying to work together with Miro for a result that would best benefit the community. This sets back the commercial development of Mambo in a big way and hurts all commercial developers who have invested in the system.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A smoother track
"The Development Team had no right to unilaterally decide to derail an entire community with their decision to abandon the Foundation."

The team had every right to do what they did, and did so because they felt it was in the best interest of the community and the team. Their decision has not derailed the community, it's simply moved it to a smoother track.

"They have acted in a childish manner, instead of restraining their youthful enthusiasm and trying to work together with Miro for a result that would best benefit the community."

Outside of providing infrastructure support for the project, Miro has (in my opinion) done little or nothing for this project. Removing Miro, the overbearing parent of a child they abandoned in hopes it would grow up stronger if raised by others, will have little or no negative effect on the project.

"This sets back the commercial development of Mambo in a big way and hurts all commercial developers who have invested in the system."

I don't think commercial development is the primary goal of the project, just a welcomed side-effect.

The bottom line is that the developers listened to the community, they provided the talent and time to create what the community wanted, and they'll continue to develop a successful, award winning, project - without the dead-weight of Miro to drag along for the ride.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
"Abandonment"???
How can you chastize the development team for "abandoning" something they were never a part of?

The only "invitation" they got to be a part of the "Foundation" came with hefty price tags - that's not something you do to a group of people who FREELY gave their time to the development of this project.

To assume they abandoned the foundation (which again I state they were not welcomed to be a part of without paying fees) and derailed the project is not only incorrect, it's ignorant of the facts behind this story.
Posted by (1 comment )
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