Movable Type is going open source. Yup. MovableType 4 Beta has been announced and the plans are to make it a fully GPL-ed, open source product. The announcement says:
…we wanted to explain why weâ€™ve made this massive investment in Movable Type and its community. The truth is, Movable Type is how Six Apart got started, and one of those ideas that motivated us from the very beginning is that weâ€™ve got a mission.
And then the rest of the post does nothing to explain clearly why they’ve made this massive investment. The rest of post explains how blogging empowers ordinary people, and that their mission is to get blogging to the masses. It also explains the role of Vox, LiveJournal and TypePad in the Six Apart world. A free version of MT was always available for personal use. So why make it open source? That’s the answer I was looking for, and did not find.
I still clearly remember the day Mena announced the new pricing structure for MovableType. A day later, I wrote up a post on how to move from Movable Type to WordPress. Then, the exodus began – with famous users, like Mark Pilgrim, Molly, and so many others shifting to WordPress. Those were busy days on the #wordpress IRC channel. The number of opinion-leading bloggers who used MT started declining, and most of the new bloggers who came after chose WordPress. While there is no reliable count of the number of WordPress Vs. Movable Type users, I dare say more folks use WordPress than MT.
At the time of the announcement of the new pricing structure, the rationale was:
In preventing web hosts from offering Movable Type for a fee, we had to put a pretty strict blanket clause on our licenses to cover all cases when compensation was earned. Buying a commercial license to perform services was a bit backwards, but at the time, it was the only way we felt we could control the situation.
So the new pricing structure intended to let personal users continue to use MT while stifling other commercial entities from “profiting” from their product. How has this changed today? Today, not many commercial entities offer MT installations, I suppose. There is no evident mass-interest, and so they probably are no longer a significant threat.
Some answers can be found at the Movable Type open source page. They say the reason for an open source release is as simple as that the users asked for it. They asked for it en-masse just about 3 years ago. So though it sounds like a valid reason, I suspect that is not all there is to it. Whatever the reasons behind the change of mind, I welcome it. WordPress needs competition. I just wish the MT 4 Beta announcement wasn’t so wishy-washy. Did they make a mistake in announcing their pricing structure earlier? Did they realize that releasing their flagship product as an open source product will revitalize their mind share? Did they do this for business reasons – if so, what is the rationale behind that move? The MT back-and-forth would make for a very interesting case study of open source products vs. products with a variable price structure. It’s a case study in the making, and I can’t wait for the results. Time will tell which worked better for them – I hope Six Apart will share the numbers and the experience in a transparent fashion.