How To Kill A Community

If you don’t understand Open Source licensing, don’t start an Open Source project. Keep your code! ExtJS, a JavaScript framework for building business forms, recently made big news, the bad kind, when it changed it’s license from LGPL to GPL. ExtJS started as an extension to the Yahoo! UI library.

ExtJS had been in my radar for a long time, but I never downloaded it, used it, wrote about it, or contributed to the community in any way because since its foundation the licensing of the library seemed awkward to me. If my memory serves me right, earlier releases of ExtJS had interesting clauses that prohibited you bundling ExtJS in frameworks. For me, I keep on using jQuery and YUI.

Open Source is not so much about the code, it is about the community and how that community interacts with other communities. Open Source is community building. In this Age of Meetoo, companies are sprung with VC money simply by cloning services and products of other companies. Look at all the ‘social viral video sharing’ sites are just imitations of YouTube. In this age, the real value of code does not lie in the source code, the value lies in the knowledge and expertize of the community. The same can be said of a service, the value lies in the user base.

The folks behind ExtJS feel that this license change to GPL adheres to the quid pro quo principle. This is true if all you want is code, but community evangelism is worth is worth more than its weight in code. Look at the spectacular growth and good will around jQuery. For every one line of code in jQuery, there is at least one plugin written by a third party. For every one line of code in Ruby on Rails, there is at least one coder-blogger-evangelist promoting the framework.

It is true that you can shoot yourself in the foot with just about any programming language, but with changing the license of an Open Source project you can shoot your whole community, execution style.

Graeme Roche, project leader of Grails, said, “What they have effectively done is built up a community, taking full advantage of the open source model by accepting user contributions and patches and then turned around and kicked their own community up the backside.”

Jack Slocum, the lead developer and founder of ExtJS, responded to all the criticism on his blog. Jack complains, “Shortly before 1.0 is released, there numerous Ext “clones” started popping up that were hacking Ext themes.” Other developer hacking, learning, promoting, evangelizing, and cloning is the great benefit of releasing an Open Source application, ExtJS itself was a ‘clone’ and a hack of Yahoo! UI.

What I find interesting of the whole event is that this is history repeating itself. This is not the first time nor will it be the last time that some organization has leverage a license for some perceived monetary benefit.

What follows is a pretty comprehensive list of articles that talk about the recent ExtJS license change.

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