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Movable Type becomes free again

Six Apart has decided to make their Movable Type blogging software open source. Using Google Trends you can see, almost to the day, what happened to their market share when they went commercial in 2004, allowing their open source competitor WordPress to capture the #1 spot.
Written by Ed Burnette, Contributor

When I first got started blogging, I used a popular system called Movable Type. It was free, easy to install, and it worked well. At the time it was the system of choice for most bloggers. But then in May 2004, Six Apart, the owners of Movable Type, decided to take it commercial. Bloggers revolted, with most moving to a new system called WordPress. WordPress was not as stable, and migrating from one blogging system to another was fairly painful at first, but WP had one thing going for it: it was open source, released under the GPL. I joined the exodus. Take a look at this trend graph from Google showing what happened then:

trend_all.png

As you can see, WordPress became wildly popular (we use a hacked-up version at ZDNet) and I believe it was a major factor in the success of blogging in general. The founders of WordPress created a profitable business in blog services, hosting partnerships, and anti-spam technology, but the software itself was free and open, crafted by hundreds of developers from around the world and used on hundreds of thousands of sites.

Take a look at this closeup of 2004:

trend_2004.png

The announcement that Movable Type was going commercial was dated May 13, 2004. Notice the correlation between that date and the graphs above?

Three years later, Six Apart has decided they're going to try something new and different. Starting with MT4 they're moving to, guess what, an open source license:

We’ve seen what amazing contributions the open source community makes, and how much more comfortable people feel knowing that, instead of data lock-in keeping them tied to their blog, an open process of development makes them want to participate. And that’s greatly influenced MT4’s new open source initiative: Later this year the open source version of Movable Type will be released under the GPL license.

As Six Apart co-founder Mena Trott said in 2004 (though with an entirely different meaning), "It's about time". Movable Type is unlikely to ever reclaim its lost glory. But the Movable Type and WordPress story will remain an object lesson in the economics and psychology of open source.

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