Eugen Mayer writes: "I am absolutely thrilled. It has been some time since i reported on thesituation with TWiki and the fork. That does not mean there is nothing to report, though! With the first release (1.0.0), Foswiki establishes itself firmly in the marketspace. TWiki is dead, long live Foswiki!
So for those who have not kept up to date, let me summarize the preceding events. It all started 10 years ago, when Peter Thoeny decided to create a fork of JosWiki, and named it TWiki. TWiki developed into a very powerful structured wiki platform, mainly with the help of many volunteers. Lately, Thoeny stopped development contributions, and focussed mainly on pr. Around a year ago, he decided to found a company called TWiki.NET, a venture capital in the silicon valley.
The company promptly decided to take over the entire open source project, claiming it as theirs even though Thoenys code contributions to the actual product had been minimal for years at that point. Additional trademark enforcement rules didnt improve things. After months of strife, the project halted. Thoeny declared himself benevolent dictator for life, but did not show any benevolence in his dealings with the volunteer community. The culmination came in october 2008, with the lock-out of all current community members from the community site by TWiki.NET. This sparked the fork, first under the working-name Nextwiki and later under the permanent name Foswiki. The Foswiki website contains some background reading.
The fork took us community members on a rollercoaster-ride. We had to duplicate the project infrastructure that was built up over years on twiki.org, which we managed to do in just one or two weeks. Within moments, a new skin for the TWiki software was designed and implemented, and over the last few months we have had many emails supporting us in our actions. Developers that had been inactive for years because of the dictatorial regime Thoeny imposed on the project suddenly became interested again, new developers decided to join sparked by the radical change of direction.
Meanwhile, in the short period since the fork (about 2.5 months) Foswiki has seen a staggering number of 1900 checkins, a lot of new content on the Foswiki community site, a lot of passionate discussions on the mailing lists and irc channels, and generally the feeling that we are rolling again! The crown on this work for me personally has been when earlier this week I mothballed the TWiki installation on foswiki.org, and replaced that with the Foswiki release candidate, including a port of the new skin-design to Foswiki pattern skin. An important milestone indeed.
New features, security audit and painless migration
That is all very well, and it is easy to gloat in the aftermath of the destruction that Thoeny wrought on the TWiki project. Of course it is not all roses and moonlight (a Dutch expression I believe), Thoenys actions have left the user-community in a split: should we stay with what is renamed to Foswiki, or should we go with the new TWiki. Of course, only in retrospect will we be able to determine what the right course of action would have been. However, given the above considerations, it is likely that users interested in innovation are wise to go with Foswiki.
Foswiki is based on an innovative new base architecture for example; as a result Foswiki can be run under FastCGI, a great step forward. Additionally, performance under mod_perl is improved. The same architecture (called FSA, short for Foswiki Stand Alone) makes it possible to run Foswiki as a stand-alone server, without the need of a webserver such as Apache. This is great for setting up a personal Foswiki on your laptop for example, or for using Foswiki in a more CMS-like fashion with agressive caching between the user and the FSA instance.
Other notable features are an improved search dialogue, giving the user much more flexibility and google-like boolean search operators. The venerable pattern-skin has been given a facelift, and is easier to customize.
And last but not least: much attention has been given to the security of the software. A lot of vectors for remote code injection have been identified and plugged, and other features have been made secure by default, eliminating the risk that a Foswiki application programmer might accidently introduce XSS issues. A further hundred-plus number of bugs have been fixed.
The Foswiki community considers concerns of current TWiki users very seriously. Migration is fairly painless, with the availability of a TWikiCompatibilityPlugin. A pure foswiki does not contain any TWiki-isms (such as the TWikiPreferences page) and all plugin functions are placed under the Foswiki namespace instead of the TWiki namespace. This would provide troublesome with legacy TWiki applications and plugins. The compatibility plugin makes those twiki-isms available under Foswiki, enabling old content and plugins to be used without a hitch.
This is where i gather my crystal ball, and gaze at fuzy pictures of what is to come. Given that TWiki is now basically a two-man show, i think they will have a hard time supporting existing users. Both in development, where only one developer struggles to keep up with fixing reported bugs, as in end-user support. Thoeny is trying to single-handedly support the entire user base. Contrary to that situation, Foswiki has a thriving community behind it.
In an earlier post, i voiced the suspicion that TWiki.NET might become more like MySQL: a community of hired developers, with a product that is developed mostly as a commercial application and a floss version that is lagging behind in features as an afterthought. However, TWiki.NET will need money to build that hired community, and so far it does not seem they have the capital to follow through on that thought. Their ideal is the ubuntu model, their only problem is that they do not have the multi-millionaire to invest in endeavours that bring no profit.
I am biased, but I am convinced that Foswiki will prevail and TWiki will slowly die out. And without the vibrant community that made the product, the company that forced a resolution of the persisting stalemate that had locked up the community for years, will turn out to be an empty shell.
Michael Daum writes: "On 2008-10-27, 21:00 GMT, just a minute before the regular TWiki release meeting, the company TWIKI.NET announced unilaterally that the best for the TWiki.org project would be for them to take over governance. With it comes a complete lock down of the community site. From that minute on, all long-time contributors have lost access to their code. Counter-reaction: the community has left the building, leaving TWIKI.NET without a contributing community. Question: is it a sensible move for a venture capital firm that depends on a healthy Open Source community to lock it out?
Access to the site is only granted if contributors agree to a set of newly installed terms and conditions dictated by TWIKI.NET, a company founded by Peter Thoeny 12 months ago. His power to do so grows out of two sources: (a) he is the sole owner of the trademark on TWiki and (b) he is sponsoring the server hardware and thus had root access.
And now he has triggered the trademark gun and fired the TWiki community. He even repeatedly threatened people on the #twiki IRC channel that "[he has] been advised by one of [his] investors, [[http://www.wsgr.com/WSGR/Index.aspx][Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati]], that [they] need to protect [their] trademark". Clearly, their VC people have no picture of the situation other than their own return of investment. Sure, protecting a registered trademark is what it is all about. But threatening the community that has been working on TWiki on a volunteer basis for the recent 10 years that way is a bit strong. Too strong for the TWiki community.
If there was ever any hope to re-establish a relationship of trust and faith to create a win/win situation by combining community & commerce, this is totally gone now. Thoeny installed himself as BDFL (Benevolvent Dictator for Life) again, despite being rejected by a community vote during the TWiki Summit in Berlin last month.
During the TWiki Summit in Berlin 4+5 September 2008, it became clear that Thoeny has sold part of his trademark rights to his venture capital funded company. Part of that deal was that while he remains ownership on the trademark itself, TWIKI.NET gained the sole right to exploit the brand on a commercial basis. This created a completely new situation for the Open Source project and all of its already existing commercial eco-system. As a consequence, TWIKI.NET was asked to grant a perpetual license to the community to secure the legal situation for contributors and commercial stakeholders, a license that would only have formalized the way TWiki has been running for more than 10 years with Thoeny promising to "take care of the brand".
As faith in him as a leader diminished over the years, and the foreboding of a trademark problem increased, the community asked Thoeny to write down the rights he has granted orally before. Which he didn't. Instead he pulled the trademark trigger in a move he calls "relaunching the project" to "weed out" the good and the bad. Trust in Thoeny as a leader diminished last but not least when his role as a community leader became more and more mixed up with his interests as a CTO of TWIKI.NET, up to the point where he obviously showed more interest to cement a genuine marketing advantage for TWIKI.NET.
The rise of his newly created company continually eroded willingness to contribute to TWiki as an Open Source project. People were more and more irritated by the changed rules of the game. The community has been watching the actions of TWIKI.NET with a lot of interest, in the hope that they would add significant value to this very successful project. Unfortunately, they took an approach of recasting the success of the product, created with years of volunteer work, as their own success.
That's where Open Source shows its ugliest face. And there's definitely no beauty in this shock therapy, even though Tom Barton, CEO of TWIKI.NET says: "the beautiful thing about open source is you don't need to recognize the authority of TWiki.net". What an irony to close another very sad chapter. The last one for TWiki.org as we knew it before.
The appearance of TWIKI.NET on the scene forced a governance crisis TWiki was not able to overcome, despite the good progress that was made up to a couple of hours before. On the TWiki Summit in Berlin last month, a democratically elected Interim Board of Directors was founded whose sole agenda was to negotiate the conditions under which this governance crisis could have been overcome.
The plan was to create a TWiki Association consisting of a Board of Directors and a General Assembly following the example of KDE e.V. The board itself would have created so called Task Teams that manage the operational part of the project to a finer granularity.
The members of the Interim Board of Directors were in the process of creating the Articles of Association and were prepared for the next logical move in an ever growing project, organizing it similarly to other projects in the Open Source business. This formal body would also have been an entry path for sponsors and other organizations willing to partner with TWiki as a project. No such thing was available before. The only way outside parties could have made donations was to give them directly to Thoeny and thereby TWIKI.NET.
This was the case when Sun donated server hardware to power the TWiki.org community site. Sun sponsored TWiki as an Open Source project, not TWIKI.NET. However, there was no entity other than Thoeny and TWIKI.NET to handle these opportunities and resources. It now is clear that the access to these server resource has been used against the TWiki community itself by locking it out.
The democratically elected Interim Board of Directors of TWiki has been displaced by the trademark holder of TWiki as a final chord on the governance crisis. Now, Thoeny is sending around emails to high profile contributors individually to invite them to come back subordinate to the governance of TWIKI.NET. He obviously seems to be in hope that people will do so once the situation has settled. Quite far-fetched and not very likely to happen. Those same contributors who implemented the features he is praising aloud as the shiny new TWiki, are far too displeased by his hostile behavior to be willing to go back to business as usual.
TWIKI.NET is striving to repaint their move as a "new opportunity". What they don't see is that they have put their own business case into severe danger. They just lost the horse power for a product that they were selling. They have been signaling to the community that they don't have the manpower for certain developments and were seeking for help, even willing to pay work for hire. Another error. Adding money as an incentive to Open Source is changing the game completely. Before, people volunteered as part of an act of free speech. Add money to it and nobody will work for free anymore. This poisoned the dynamics.
The current situation is that all core developers have left the ship and joined a new undertaking with the working title NextWiki. This is a fork based on the current code in TWiki that will soon be released under a new name. The goals of NextWiki are clear. Basically, the plan is to found an Association as a formal body for the project, including the reorganization of its governance down to all operational questions, as was in progress for the TWiki project.
The result will be a much strengthened new player, much more agile as it just got rid of the reason for TWiki's ongoing paralysis.
There remains a message for TWiki's users: no worries, we continue working, faster and more productive than ever before, embedded in a volunteer-friendly environment. Sure, this fork now introduces a new choice that was not there before. Well, it _was_ there before and it was introduced by TWIKI.NET, not those guys that "asked for a fork". TWiki users already had the choice between TWIKI.NET's product (a rebranded version of an old TWiki release, packaged as a VMware image), or Open Source TWiki, most recent stable version. This choice more or less remains available with the difference that you will get the real thing from a new site, reworked to be real Open Source, backed up by a large and highly motivated community as a guarantor for continuity and innovation."