Why upholding the GPL might be so important to Matt.

For those of you who don’t follow WordPress news and updates as I do, over the weekend Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg wrote a post accusing WordPress competitor Wix of stealing code. The CEO of Wix responded shortly thereafter. It’s been an interesting few days for WordPress and the GPL, with some people supporting and praising Matt for his post, while others have suggested that his post indicates a lack of leadership or that he was foolish calling out Wix publicly.

I’m not going to comment on either side. Nor will I be able to successfully comment on the legalities of different open source licenses. What I would like to do is offer some insight as to why I believe Matt is such a strong defender of the GPL.

Last night I started reading Milestones: The Story of WordPress. It traces the history of WordPress all the way back to the b2/cafelog days. In chapter 2 it talks about the original b2 developer, Michel Valdrighi, and his reasons for choosing the GPL license.

“It was important to Michel that b2 remain free, even if he stopped working on the project. He also wanted his code to remain free if other developers took it and used it in their own project. He recalls now that “at the end of that elimination process, GPL remained. It helped that there were already some projects using it, as I didn’t want the code to end up abandoned and forgotten because of the choice of an exotic license.”

Michel’s choice of license was prescient. Under a GPL license, software can be forked, modified, and redistributed. If development stops (as it did with b2), the ability to fork, modify, and redistribute can prevent software from becoming vaporware.”

It is vital to note that the freedoms provided by the GPL meant that Matt and Mike (the co founders of WordPress) were not only allowed to fork b2, but were allowed to study it, edit it, improve it and release it back to the community for further study, editing and improvement. All that had to be maintained through each iteration of the software was that it retained the GPL license and the freedoms it provided.

It’s probably safe to say that without the GPL license, Matt and Mike may not have chosen to fork b2, WordPress may never have existed, 25% of the web would be run on something else and the millions of people around the world (including me) would not have jobs today.

So, thanks Matt, for having the moral character to stand up for the GPL and it’s freedoms, the same freedoms that allowed you to create WordPress in the first place.

Sometimes the right thing to do isn’t always the popular thing to do.

Please, copy my ideas!

An open letter to all Divi plugin developers:

Please, copy my ideas!

I am, first and foremost, an open source developer. That means I believe that if you have a piece of software, either purchased or obtained freely via open source repositories, you should be allowed to ‘study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose‘ (definition of open source software from Wikipedia). Secondary to that, I am a problem solver. I get great satisfaction when I can solve someone’s problem, specifically if it is with a piece of software I develop.

With that in mind, if I develop a plugin for Divi and you are developing/planning to develop a plugin for Divi that does the same thing or think you can do it better, please don’t stop. Build it, ship it, make it happen.

One of two things will occur.

  1. Your plugin will be superior to mine
  2. Your plugin will be just a copy of mine, with little to no added benefit.

Let’s consider both options

If your plugin is superior to mine, I will (silently, or maybe even publicly) congratulate you. If we ever end up discussing it, I’ll probably even share my original source code with you, if it helps you improve yours. In fact I’ve done this before with the developer of the Image Intense plugin. Image Intense does so much more than my little Image Overlay plugin every will. When I recently ended up in a discussion with the developer (over a totally separate post I shared and he found use for), he mentioned his soon to be released plugin with me. I shared my source code with him on the spot, should he ever find any use for it. Don’t believe me? Ask him yourself.

If your plugin is just a copy of mine, I’ll simply shrug it off and move on with my life. I’m actively working on new plugin ideas every week (literally, I was working on one this week and another plugin idea came to me, via a conversation with a previous client, which I started on the prototype for) so if you make something that copies anything I do, I’ll take it as a compliment. After all, they do say that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

There are some things that I do find reprehensible.

I personally feel that if you are a developer/designer/site builder and you are using a piece of software for a client project that requires payment to obtain, you should at least pay for that plugin. I’ve seen sites where premium plugins and themes are listed free to download, citing the GPL is the legal reason why they can do this. Legally they are not wrong, nor ethically, as the GPL allows for this (see my definition of open source above). But I do feel that if you are selling your services as an expert, but part of your expertise is using a specific plugin to achieve a desired result, you should at least buy that plugin for your arsenal of tools. Having said that, because it’s GPL, there’s not really much anyone can do about it. You’re allowed to, so if you have no issues with doing it, then so be it.

I also do not agree with the concept of just copying and re-branding someone else’s code as your own. So if you buy any of my plugins, or obtain a copy of them via some other means, copy all the code verbatim but give it a new name to sell on your website (and I find out) I will call you on it. However, again because it’s GPL, there’s not really much I can (or will) do about it.

Competition is a healthy, natural part of being in business. As far as I am concerned, competition breads innovation. So please, compete with me, show me what you can do and I’ll show you what I can do. If you can do it better than me, great. My motto is not to be better than anyone else, but just to be better than the person I was yesterday.

At the end of the day the people who really win are our customers. And isn’t that the reason we got into building products in the first place, to solve our customers problems?