Mambo – Not the Dance

When I was at LinuxWorld Expo, I was able to meet Mitch Pirtle of the Mambo development team (they won the award for Best Open Source Solution) and I have been carrying on an e-mail correspondence with Brian Teeman, another Mambo developer and our host at the .org Village at Linuxworld UK. So I felt a more personal connection than normal when the Mambo developers posted a letter to the community.

From what I can understand, Mambo was started by a company called Miro. It managed to attract a large number of developers (larger than our own OGP) who worked outside of Miro, and those developers helped make the Mambo product what it is today. Now there has been a split between the non-Miro Mambo contributors and Miro.

I tried to find a history of Mambo, but the only link I came across via Google on resulted in “The page you are trying to access does not exist.” Gotta love the revisionist history that is the web.

From what I can tell, Miro wants to retain tight control over the software known as Mambo. It is their trademark and they own the copyright. It also seems that they are moving to a more commercial revenue model, as evidenced by a recent name change.

This split has caused a lot of tension, and I empathize with the volunteers who gave up a lot of time and effort to support the application, and now at the very least seem to be marginalized and at the most, exploited.

I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about how this may impact OpenNMS.

I strive very hard to keep the .org and .com aspects of OpenNMS separate. Except for a small graphic on the right of the web page, we try not to tout that there is a small commercial institution behind the project. The business of the OpenNMS Group is to supply services and support – i.e. we sell time – and not to provide software.

It appears that Miro uses or wants to use the same dual-license scheme that MySQL uses. Since the GPL is based on copyright law, it is possible for a copyright holder to publish the same material under two different licenses. In other words, there can be a GPL’d “free as in freedom” version and a commercial “you pay us for it” version. Thus commercial software products can imbed MySQL, as long as they pay a fee.

This seems to work fine for MySQL, and the database is a nice one. Plus there is lots of good documentation and features that I am certain the commercial side of MySQL helped pay for.

But I have some reservations with the model. It tends to drive away contribution, as any contribution that gets included in MySQL comes with the caveat that MySQL gets the copyright.

With network management, the success of OpenNMS lies in the willingness of the community to add to it, to discuss the best ways for OpenNMS to work, and to tell the development community what’s most important. If the OpenNMS application was commercialized, I would bet that the enthusiasm to contribute would wane. It would make OpenNMS less of a solution than it could be.

It also helps that no one company owns the OpenNMS copyright. Up until version 1.0.0, the copyright was held by Oculan. Almost all of the considerable changes made in the last three years are copyright the OpenNMS Group. And the copyright only exists to keep the program under the GPL (we have no requirement that features added by other parties give up their copyright, as long as they are GPL or LGPL). There is no danger that OpenNMS will be published under a separate commercial license.

I also personally believe in the “spirit” of open source. People are always suspicious of “free” things, and I am constantly confronted by people who claim you cannot be successful if you don’t sell your software. They’ll say “open-source won’t be recognized until there is an open-source billionaire”. I always reply that there already is one: Jeff Bezos of

The critics always sputter “but he doesn’t sell software”. Exactly. Open-source isn’t about selling software, but it’s about using the best tool for the job, and if Bezos had to buy Windows or Solaris licenses he would not be able to survive on his tiny margins. He would not exist without open-source, and thus I feel justified in calling him an open-source billionaire.

My own thoughts on the open-source community often center around a scene from “A Beautiful Mind”. This movie about the economist John Nash demonstrates some of his theories on cooperation. In the scene I always remember, several young men want to approach several attractive young women in a bar. Nash points out that by working together, they can all be better off than working alone (for details, rent the movie).

That’s the heart of my feelings toward OpenNMS. By having an open and cooperative community, we can all be better off. That’s why all software development done for hire by The OpenNMS Group is done on the Sourceforge CVS. We charge our customers a price they think is fair, and the community as a whole gets to benefit.

I think we are about to witness an interesting experiment with Mambo. Since Miro owns the Mambo trademark, the software that those 20+ developers create will have to be called something else, and six months to a year from now I will be curious as to who has the better product.

My money’s on open-source.