Six Apart clarified their license terms for the v3.0 release, which over the last couple of days has provided plenty of drama in the blogsphere. To be quite honest, I really don't give a crap about what their license looks like, how much it costs, or what restrictions are imposed, and I certainly don't buy into this 'we all love each other, we're a big happy family' vibe that is often attributed to early stage tech waves. What I do find interesting is the notion of bottom up software trends, and whether or not software that is essentially community developed or community driven can ever become commercialized in the traditional software business model.
Movable Type proliferated on a donation model where you download it for free and if you want to support it you send in your $20. They did well in terms of getting the software into production use, it's really a nice set of tools for publishing and hosting weblogs. It's also the basis for the subscription Typepad service, which of course I use for this blog. Users flocked to MT for personal and professional blogs, Mena and Ben Trott became pseudo-celebrities on the blog circuit, and so on. And I don't mean to deride the Trott's, I met Mena at Demo this year, she seem like a very nice person to deal with, nontheless, they have wrapped up their own identity in SixApart (and vice-versa) so the company has become highly personalized in their name.
I'm sure that someone whispered into the Trott's ear that they could be making a lot of money by imposing a more traditional software license model on MT and provided grown-up company stuff like services and tiered support. That's good, right? Make money, build a company, create jobs? Good? Right?
The only problem is that the "community" feels that they are part-and-parcel of the success of MT and to require them to license the software that they so lovingly embraced is like getting stabbed in the back with a rusty shank. "We made you who you are and this is how you treat us" is the common theme in the 95% negative comments and trackbacks on the new pricing announcement.
So the question left unanswered is whether or not any software package or tool that is brought into the mainstream by a community of dedicated users can ever evolve to a traditional pay-me kind of software license model without alienating the very userbase that brought you to the party? Who gets credit for the success of MT, the development team at SixApart or the user community that adopted it?
It really a very similar situation in the Open Source community, except they have the GPL which pretty much takes commercial gain off the table, at least as far as software licensing is concerned.