Dave Winer makes some “interesting points(The baby squirrels grow up)”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/crimson1/babySquirrelsGrowUp concerning the “recent furore(Jay Allen – The TypeKey FAQ)”:http://www.jayallen.org/journey/2004/03/the_typekey_faq surrounding some of the recent announcements made by “SixApart”:http://www.sixapart.com/ concerning features forthcoming in new versions of MovableType. He identifies SixApart as a company at a major milestone in its development – its shift from becoming a company that is know primarily for producing free software to a company producing commercial software.

This shift in focus brings about an inevitable change in priorities:

Basically Six Apart has been at a fork for some time, on one fork are the paying customers, and the other fork is the “community” that has carried them along. I recognize some of them as early UserLand people, and I recognize the attitude as that of software believers. These are good people, they report bugs diligently, cheer you when you add a new feature or fix a problem. They are the salt of the earth. You need to have people like this around to make good software.

But you also need the people who pay the bills, and eventually their needs conflict, and you have to a make choice, and if you’re running a business, as Six Apart is, you have to go with paying the bills. That leaves a bunch of people behind, and they are angry (justifiably) as they decide whether to stay or go.

It would be better if the users could factor this into their thinking and not hate so much and also not love so much. Software is not a miracle, it’s a lot of hard work, and it’s expensive hard work. And the funny thing is that as the anger escalates, the work gets harder, and you end up in a spiral.

I’ve seen this in action in a few situations. Some handled the transition to a full-on commcerial body very badly (see the whole Smoothwall debacle and the resulting IpCop fork), others a little better (JBoss) and select few very well (MySql). On the one hand without the original early adopters, these companies wouldn’t be in a position to be developing commercial software (or providing commercial services) in the first place – on the other hand very few of these users will be paying for development. Keeping both camps happy is something of a balancing act, and I wish SixApart all the luck in the world as they attempt to walk this particular tightrope.

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