Joomla is the New Mambo

What happens when a corporation tries to restructure (or even power grab) an open source project? Miro found out the hard way, when they tried to reorganize the development of Mambo. The case could prove to be a warning for all open source projects that have associated corporations.

LinuxWorld, Harbinger of Death?

In San Francisco, the LinuxWorld 2005 Conference & Expo packaged both good and horrible news for the open source community that develops Mambo software, an extremely popular CMS (Content Management System) that web developers use as an easy interface to build websites. As for the good news, Mambo received the 2005 award for Best Open Source Solution.

However, the bad news from the conference is fragmenting the whole Mambo community. Miro International, the corporation backing Mambo, had formed a new entity to restructure the entire development effort. The new entity is a nonprofit organization, called the Mambo Foundation. The foundation had just been approved during the conference, and it was not what the core developers had expected. The development team saw it as a strike against their open source principles and involvement in Mambo. The community quickly splintered; the core developers took Mambo’s code and started their own CMS project apart from Miro. The new CMS, Joomla, is becoming a Mambo “counterculture.”

That LinuxWorld announcement was on August 10th. Now, a month later, the dust has started to settle and we can see how things are panning out. Let’s take a look at what the new Mambo Foundation means to the community and for open source corporations in general.

{mospagebreak title=Mambo Backstory, a Very Brief History}

The Mambo Backstory, a Very Brief History

Miro International is an Australian company which started developing the Mambo CMS in 2000. It released the code almost immediately as open source, forming a community of developers that helped it to flourish. Miro then forked the project, taking Mambo’s code and making a commercial CMS; they called it Mambo 2002 and later renamed it to Jango. For quite a while one volunteer, Robert Castley, oversaw the Mambo open source project. The rest of Miro’s focus was on Jango and selling CMS related products.

Since then, Mambo solidified itself as a superior CMS, with more brand-power and larger user base than Jango. The CEO of Miro, Peter Lamont, says that Robert Castley resigned due to “work and family commitments, combined with the increasing responsibility of a growing open source project.” Castley was replaced by Andrew Eddie, Mambo’s second Director of the Mambo Project Team. The bonds between Mambo and Miro were very loose. Mambo’s evolution was determined by the developers’ needs, and it was coordinated by the MSC (Mambo Steering Committee). According to Eddie, “Miro had merely played a back seat roll, providing Mambo with valuable infrastructure and sometime legal support.” Miro was left out of the formula, but it had contact though the MSC. This loose structure works for small development teams, but Miro may have decided it was not working any longer.

Miro started Mambo, but after a few years its primary (and perhaps exclusive) involvement in Mambo was financial. The company held Mambo’s copyrights and trademarks, paid for Mambo’s web hosting and downloads, funded its promotion, and hosted the Mambo community. The company also was in the line of fire when Connelly filed copyright lawsuits against Mambo for reportedly using his code. Aside from the legal problems, however, the costs of maintaining Mambo were not unreasonable. Still, it isn’t exactly surprising that Miro executives have a feeling of ownership and responsibility about the successful project.

However, the community of developers, who work for the love of the software, also feel responsible for project. They took the initiative to guide, code, and debug Mambo. Each developer spends roughly 4 or more hours each day working on the software; because the work is done for free, they feel very personally about it. The software was directed and developed with the blood and sweat of the community, not Miro.

With Mambo’s accomplishments in CMS software, Miro definitely saw the importance of the project growing. Many third parties wished to contribute financially to the project. However, they did not wish to contribute to a corporation like Miro. The lawsuits also showed everyone that Miro, by holding Mambo’s intellectual property, was subject to any lawsuits against the software. Also, the way trademarks were drawn up, Mambo advocates could not even print their own t-shirts. Brian Teeman and Andrew Eddie, the two developer representatives on the MSC, presented the idea of a nonprofit organization to collect these contributions and hold the intellectual property. This is how the foundation was proposed originally. It was to be a link between Mambo and Miro that made these things less complicated.

In addition to this, Miro may have viewed the development effort as poorly organized, as the community may have growth beyond its ability to manage itself. This was not an express purpose of forming the nonprofit organization, but offering more structure was an open possibility.

{mospagebreak title=Creating the Mambo Foundation}

Creating the Mambo Foundation

The idea of using a nonprofit organization to direct Mambo, while keeping it separate from Miro International, started in April. In discussions, the idea sounded good to core developers Brian Teeman and Andrew Eddie. Reportedly, they decided something like the Mambo Foundation was very useful and could help keep CEO Peter Lamount involved with his project.

To create the structure of the foundation, Miro held a meeting for the MSC (Mambo Steering Committee) in Australia. Brian Teeman and Andrew Eddie flew themselves there so that they could contribute. The MSC formed an agreement that Miro would file a letter of intent to transfer copyrights and trademarks to the foundation. It was also understood that the foundation would do fund raising activities to help support Mambo. It was still undetermined if Miro would have any direction in governing Mambo’s development, so the matter was left open ended.

Andrew Eddie backed the idea of Miro becoming more involved in Mambo. He described Mambo as rising steady in popularity, but it was reaching a plateau of users (mostly hobbyists and open source activists). He said in an interview:

To give Mambo credibility as a serious open source solution for government or education markets, it needed commercial support and training facilities. I think this is were Miro saw to the opportunity to be able to actively give back to the project for the betterment of Mambo. It’s really a win-win situation for all involved. (source)

He also viewed the foundation as a very positive thing. In providing direction for the project, it would keep developers from changing things users wanted to remain and to provide better focus in the development, instead of constantly changing APIs and interface tweaks. He believed Miro was not trying to pull Mambo back “into the fold,” and he emphasized Mambo’s involvement:

It is a misconception that Miro actually “left the fold”…They have always been there but gave the project it’s own free will to go as it please, for better or for worse…There is a misconception that Miro is taking over the project. This is simply not true. They are adding a layer to Mambo that is attractive to a particular area of the market. The code, the features, the release plans are still all in the Open Source camp. (source)

In short, the Core Development Team originally saw a lot of promise in Mambo Foundation. They had been fully involved in drafting the foundation documents. As Miro proceeded through the legal process to form the nonprofit, developers assumed that the foundation documents they agreed on remained unchanged.

{mospagebreak title=Development Team Abandons Miro}

The Development Team Abandons Miro

The trouble seems to have started with Miro taking their own spin on the MSC’s agreement. Of course, the Core Development Team was not informed that anything had been changed or added, so they did not find out until LinuxWorld Expo. Brian Teeman explained to me his reaction to the situation:

Foundation documents were drawn up with the full agreement of the entire MSC as the result of a two day long meeting held at Miro’s offices in Australia. As far as Andrew Eddie and myself were aware, it was these foundation documents, drawn up by a highly respected IP lawyer, that were registered with the Victoria State in Australia. Every time we checked on the progress of this application for the creation of a non-profit foundation, we were informed that it was working its way through the legal process. During the San Francisco LinuxWorld Expo, the Victoria State website showed that the Foundation’s application for incorporation had been approved. I brought this to the attention of the rest of the MSC with an announcement of joy that the application was successful. The following day the Mambo Development team received the news from Mr. Lamont that the actual foundation that had been created was not the one that the MSC had approved.

The Letter to the Community

On August 17th, the entire Core Development Team responded to Miro’s creation of the Mambo Foundation. They felt as if Miro had undermined their agreement and had omitted from the process of shaping the governing organization, and they saw the foundation as opposing fundamental open source principles. Every one of them resigned, and they signed a letter to the Mambo community explaining why. This is the second half of it:

We believe the future of Mambo should be controlled by the demands of its users and the abilities of its developers. The Mambo Foundation is designed to grant that control to Miro, a design that makes cooperation between the Foundation and the community impossible.

The Mambo Foundation was formed without regard to the concerns of the core development teams. We, the community, have no voice in its government or the future direction of Mambo. The Mambo Steering Committee made up of development team and Miro representatives authorized incorporation of the Foundation and should form the first Board. Miro CEO Peter Lamont has taken it upon himself to incorporate the Foundation and appoint the Board without consulting the two development team representatives, Andrew Eddie and Brian Teeman.

Although Mr. Lamont through the MSC promised to transfer the Mambo copyright to the Foundation, Miro now refuses to do so.

What we will do: We will continue to develop and improve a version of this award-winning software project currently released under the GNU General Public License. We wish Miro and the Mambo Foundation well and regret that we are not able to work with them. (source)

It seems that the major problem for the developers was that the MSC’s agreement was not stricktly followed in how the foundation was formed, and they felt Miro was pulling control of the project away.

{mospagebreak title=How Miro Angers the Core Developers}

The Board of Regents

The core developers assumed they would have a chance to be part of the board, but only Andrew Eddie was made a board member (though for some reason he was never told about this). Miro claims that only 2 of the 5 Board members are Miro employees, so Miro is not trying to use the board as a tool to take control. They also said being on the board will be so time consuming that it would require developers to leave the core team, but they never really gave any developers the choice.

On a quick side note, Miro invited Robert Castley back to be one of the board members. He accepted and stuck with the Mambo board, even after Joomla was formed. However, he soon re-reigned. Miro supporters say his reason for this was the ridicule and harassment from those who supported the developers, some calling him Miro’s “Golden Boy.” However, Joomla supporters disagree and point to the foundation using more of his time than he expected and not being originally informed of what the foundation was.

How Miro Angered the Core Developers

The developers felt isolated from the decision making process. This was an area they once had control, but it is now difficult for a developer to have any input. Becoming an “ordinary member” of the foundation carries a $10 fee. This $10 allows the person to have a voice in voting for who is on the Board of Regents. To be involved in decision making, they need to be in the upper levels of the Mambo Foundation. This can be accomplished two ways. First, they can be nominated and then approved by those on the board, or they can pay the Mambo Foundation $1,000.

Miro claims that the $1,000 fee is for those who have a commercial interest in directing Mambo to suit a need, and that developers need to pay nothing to work on their own free plug ins. However, this does not satisfy many in the community. They demand a voice over the architecture they use. They want to be the ones to gauge what is most feasible and beneficial from a developer’s perspective, and allow everyone to contribute to the process. This is why the core developers were concerned that this was a departure from open source philosophy.

Contributors who code, write documentation, and help in other ways can become “active members” for free. But because it is financially free does not make it openly free. To become an active member, a person must go through an application process and be approved by the Board of Regents. This removes power from the lead developer, who should be able to appoint community developers that have proven their ability to work on the project. Existing members of the community also have to go through the approval process, possibly being judged by people who do not know Mambo and the community as well as they do.

Finally, the developers expected Miro to hand over all Mambo copyrights to the foundation, but that didn’t happen. The original agreement of the MSC declared that the intellectual property would be fully transferred. However, when the development team asked to see Miro’s letter of intent to transfer the copyrights, the response they received was vaguely, “Don’t you trust us?” Miro executives became suspicious that the developers wanted to take control of the copyright and revised their plan; they are granting the foundation an irrevocable license to the copyrights instead of giving them up. It’s not clear what made them believe the developers were trying to do take this material or how they could accomplish it under the terms of the MSC’s foundation documents.

{mospagebreak title=Developers and the Mambo Community React}

The Developers’ Immediate Response

To oversimplify things, these conflicts sound like a result of horrible communication. Both Miro and the core developers seem to have good intentions, and both could have done a little more to recognize that. The problem seems to arise from Miro revising the foundation documents without developers in mind. But Miro says the core developers did not voice their concerns about how the foundation was implemented until they wrote the resignation letter. Needless to say, this isn’t a way to resolve differences. Miro did listen to objections that people presented after the developers left. On August 22nd, five days after all the lead developers resigned, Peter Lamount announced that he had begun to transfer Mambo’s intellectual property to the foundation.

Over the past few days, a few people in the community took the time to come to me directly to help me understand why it was so important that the Foundation should own Mambo’s copyright and trademark outright, and not just a license. Transferring the copyright was an easier decision to make now that there is a responsible structure to manage it. (source)

Perhaps more could have been accomplished if the developers had tried to communicate the problems to Miro. Brian Teeman commented that he and other developers saw no reason to try working with the company, because their trust in Miro was destroyed when the company changed the Mambo Foundation from the MSC’s plan.

Also, in a way, the Core Developer Team failed the developer community just as Miro did not meet the developers’ expectations. The core developers did not consult or discuss anything with the community to resolve what they should do. The developers’ lawyers, The Software Freedom Law Centre, advised them not to disclose certain things, but it is still unfortunate that decision was not more of a community effort. In short both sides have made questionable changes, despite their intentions.

The Mambo Community Reacts

The Core Development team, as they mentioned, decided to simply take the Mambo code they had been working on and keep developing it on their own. The code is issued under the GPL, and the team confirmed with their lawyers that they could start their own project using it. The only things they have to remove are the Mambo logos and the Mambo name. Everything else is starting out the same and continuing the way it would have originally.

The letter-writers started their own website as a platform to rally support, OpenSourceMatters.org. Advocates of their cause posted links, arguments and flames on Mambo’s message boards to direct people away from Mambo. It’s also worth mentioning that none of the signatories of the developers’ letter were involved in this. Miro responded by deleting all posts related to the renegade site and banning offending users. This only caused further outrage.

Some forum users managed to talk to Miro employees about the Mambo Foundation, but after a couple days, Miro got tired of responding and stopped. Peter Lamont told interviewers that Miro still welcomed feedback, but so far only 2 people had contacted the company outside the forums. Meanwhile, they never announced other means to contact the company, leading the developers to feel like they were being shut out.

As Miro was deleting posts, banning users, and ignoring questions directed to them, they launched MamboLove.com. The website was a love-filled attempt to advocate Mambo, and was basically a copy of SpreadFirefox.com. This was a means to bond the community by giving them “love points” for link referrals, and it was also a means of cementing the Mambo brand.

The core developers recruited factions on OpenSourceMatters, and within a few days over a thousand people had joined the site to express support. The new community received free server hosting and software from donors. The site has since announced the name of their new project, Joomla, and recently found a new logo. The site has also published extraordinarily simple directions for upgrading to the new Joomla 1.0 CMS.

Now is the time for Mambo and Joomla to differentiate themselves from each other, without losing current Mambo users. How the two groups develop their product in the next few months will help determine which is more distinctive and useful to users. Let’s see what the companies have announced they will prioritize.

{mospagebreak title=Future for Mambo and Joomla}

The Future Direction for Mambo and Joomla

The Mambo Foundation held a poll to see where everyone wanted to begin development. The results of this democratic approach have just been released:

480 responses were received, the vast majority from developers. The responses showed a clear preference for developing Mambo functionality along more robust lines. Respondents seemed to indicate a desire to see an increase in functionality, even if it came at the cost of additional complexity.

The most commonly requested new feature was, perhaps not surprisingly, an increase in the capabilities of the Mambo user management system. Another hot topic was the inclusion of enhanced multi-lingual abilities, reflecting Mambo’s increasingly strong role overseas, in non-native English countries. (source)

Joomla is a bit vaguer on their exact areas for development. Suffice it to say, their roadmap says the next few months will be spent in these areas: “UI Enhancements, Administrator Translation, New Features.”

This is also a time for the two parties to promote their brand, and Mambo has gotten heavy handed in this aspect. Besides releasing MamboLove.com, Miro has tried promoting more Mambo Days and community events. Joomla promoted each step of their creation, from the announcement of their name to the contest for their logo. The contest has finally finished, and Joomla is ready to re-brand their software.

A Test for Both

This will be the test for both companies. Mambo stands the test of completely restructuring and starting with an all new team; if the foundation lives up to expectations though, it will allow Mambo much more flexibility and usefulness than Joomla to commercial uses. It could more easily allow investors to request features, and perhaps the foundation could offer certification classes.

Brian Teeman also says that the Joomla developers are very excited to own the project’s copyrights and not have to go through a corporation to get needed money; their slight restructuring resembles the purpose of the original Mambo Foundation that the MCS had agreed on. An important aspect of understanding Joomla is that it is not a fork in the software. Joomla has all the core developers working in the same structure as they did before. They are only using a different name. As confusing as it sounds, Mambo is effectively the fork from Mambo. The Mambo everyone knows has been repackaged as Joomla and will continue as it always had. If Joomla succeeds in its attempt to re-brand Mambo, they may pull over the user base with them.

However, most people will be watching the first several releases of both to determine which one will be a stronger CMS. Still it’s sad to see such an issue rip apart a thriving open-source community. In the past, some project forks have rejoined. However, Mambo and Joomla sound so polarized that it seems unlikely. The people who are really losing are those who rely on the software. Many have already declared that they are now avoiding both CMS makers, since this makes the community appear very unreliable.

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