Open-source Mambo project faces rift

Struggle over who steers development of the content management software underlines the promise and the pitfalls of collaborative work.

Backers of Mambo, a content management system used to publish Web sites, are deeply divided over how to govern the open-source project--a split that could send the software's development in two separate directions.

On one side of the clash is Miro International and the Mambo Foundation. Miro is the company that originally released Mambo as open-source software, and it helped establish the foundation earlier this month to govern the software as an open-source project.

On the other side is the entire team of Mambo developers.

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What's new:
Developers are breaking ranks with the foundation that oversees Mambo, meaning that development of the content management software might fork into two separate directions.

Bottom line:
The struggle over who steers development of the open-source software underlines the promise and the pitfalls of collaborative work.

More stories on open-source development

The parties are wrestling over who should control the direction of Mambo's evolution. It's not clear what the point of disagreement is, and the developers declined to give details to CNET News.com. But from their public statements, it appears their general claim is that the Mambo Foundation amounts to a power grab and shuts them out.

"We believe the future of Mambo should be controlled by the demands of its users and the abilities of its developers," reads a statement by OpenSourceMatters, a group formed around the issue by about 20 key Mambo developers. "The Mambo Foundation is designed to grant that control to Miro, a design that makes cooperation between the foundation and the community impossible...We, the community, have no voice in (the foundation's) government or the future direction of Mambo."

Both sides have pledged to continue development of the Mambo software, meaning that the project might well split--or "fork"--into two different versions. The developer group insists Mambo development will be unchanged--except that it will have a different name. On the other side, the foundation says it's a good time to assemble a fresh team of contributors.

The possible fork shows both the promise and pitfalls of open-source software. On the one hand, disgruntled engineers have the freedom to do what they believe is right despite disagreements with corporate sponsors or other programmers. On the other, such splits can dilute the efforts of programmers and force software users to grapple with incompatible products.

"If people don't agree with the way a project is going, they have the ability to strike off and produce something on their own. It really is a Darwinian environment, where the best products will succeed," IDC analyst Al Gillen said.

The drawback is that customers might get confused, if they're faced with a range of competing products with similar roots, he said.

For their part, Miro and the foundation claim the power grab is in the other direction. The idea of the foundation began with the developers themselves, but Miro soon concluded that the developers' rationale for it "was to gain control over the intellectual-property license, not protecting the project," foundation board member and Miro general manager Justina Phoon said in an e-mail interview.

The criticism of Miro may have had some effect, though: The company on Monday agreed to release some control over the Mambo intellectual property. Miro founder Peter Lamont reversed his company's earlier position and committed to transferring the Mambo trademark and copyright to the foundation.

Mambo, governed by the General Public License, or GPL, is used to control the content of Web pages. Numerous modules have been added, providing features such as shopping carts, banner advertisements, customized maps and chat forums. Miro, an Australian company that builds Mambo-based Web sites and funds development of the software, released the once-proprietary product as open-source software in 2000.

The developers departed this month, after Miro announced the Mambo Foundation's formation at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. Miro said Mambo project leader Andrew Eddie, among others, was on the foundation's board.

Fault lines soon appeared in exchanges on Mambo's discussion lists. The biggest blow came Wednesday, when the Mambo development team, including Eddie, who hadn't joined the foundation board after all, broke ranks with Miro and the foundation.

The Miro contingent is choosing to see the glass as half full. Phoon said that a new developer team for Mambo would have advantages.

"Changing development teams is always a setback, not something anyone would typically look forward to," Phoon said. But "we do believe that the setback will become a benefit, as we recruit new blood and build a Mambo team that will focus on the core goals of Mambo, to be a high-quality, easy-to-use content-management system."

The new structure means that members of the community who were unable to be involved before can now join the team, Phoon said, adding that the foundation is actively recruiting development team members as well as organizational and third-party developer members.

And in the first place, Phoon said, the idea of the foundation came from Eddie and fellow Mambo programmer and OpenSourceMatters signatory Brian Teeman. When Miro concluded the developers just wanted control over the license, they chose to go ahead with the

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