Everyone makes mistakes now and then; the hard part is admitting it. Yet that seems to be just what Google did on Saturday following its acquisition of AppJet, maker of the EtherPad collaborative word processor.
The news first broke last Friday, when it was announced on the EtherPad blog that Google had acquired San Francisco-based AppJet.
AppJet’s EtherPad is sometimes likened to Google Docs, but with the addition of real-time collaborative capabilities.
Along with that announcement, meanwhile, came word that EtherPad would no longer be available after March 31, 2010, and that no new free public “pads” — or collaborative documents — could be created. EtherPad’s team, the announcement read, would begin focusing its efforts on Google Wave instead.
Google Wave is an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration in which people can discuss and work together using richly formatted text, photos, videos and maps.
‘The Worst News Ever’
Such announcements are nothing out of the ordinary in the world of mergers and acquisitions. This time, however, close to 180 customer comments appeared on the blog in short order, most of them expressing varying degrees of outrage at the news.
“This is the worst news ever,” wrote haruspex, for example. “Google Wave is NOT an alternative to EtherPad.
“I’ve been using Google Wave for over a month now and it just doesn’t compare to the months of wonderful service and growth from EtherPad,” haruspex added. “Boo.”
In fact, faced with an overwhelming chorus of “boos,” Google and AppJet did something all too rare in the corporate world: They listened and changed their plan.
The new course of action: EtherPad is being open sourced, and new pad creation will be maintained on the EtherPad site at least until that happens.
“Many of you were not super thrilled with the transition plan we announced in our last blog post, which I guess is really quite flattering,” wrote former AppJet CEO Aaron Iba on the EtherPad blog. “I am sorry for disrupting your productivity, and I hope that this new transition plan helps you out.”
The Google Wave team, meanwhile, “already gets open source,” Aaron added. “We hope that by releasing the code to EtherPad we will not only help you transition your existing workflow, but also contribute to the broader advancement of realtime collaboration technology.”
Users were quick to give their stamp of approval.
“Yay! Very impressed at the consideration displayed toward your userbase here,” wrote Ian Danforth, for instance. “I wish more companies were this responsive.”
Similarly: “What great news!” BambisMusings agreed. “EtherPad users get a reprieve, Google gets to use EtherPad on Google Wave and the Opensource community gains a new feather in its cap!”
Google declined to provide more insight into the acquisition or the revised transition plan.
AppJet’s EtherPad seems to have been acquired at least in part for its real-time editing capabilities, RedMonk analyst Stephen O’Grady told LinuxInsider.
“While credit goes to Google for remedying the situation with a commitment to open source the product and a limited reinstatement of functionality, it is certainly reasonable to ask why this response was necessary in the first place,” O’Grady asserted.
“Transition when SaaS offerings are acquired is inevitable, but this one seemed particularly graceless,” he added.
‘Pressure to Be Open’
Graceless it may have been; nevertheless, the about-face is “further evidence of the inherent pressure to be open in enterprise IT today,” 451 Group analyst Jay Lyman told LinuxInsider. “It’s not always necessarily open source, but it is in many cases, as well as truly open standards.”
Such pressure is evident in mobile software, cloud computing and development, Lyman noted.
“The reason is that the advent and continued pervasiveness of open source software creates an overall climate that favors openness, certainly among developers,” he explained. “So it is not surprising to see cases like this where developers, communities and customers expect and demand openness, oftensooner than vendors plan on providing it.”
How those vendors and organizations respond to that pressure, meanwhile, has emerged as “a significant differentiator,” Lyman added.
"…the advent and continued pervasiveness of open source software creates an overall climate that favors openness, certainly among developers, … so it is not surprising to see cases like this where developers, communities and customers expect and demand openness, often sooner than vendors plan on providing it."
RMS is a controversial person, granted, and I disagree with many of his varied views. But I’m struck by how well this explanation matches his original vision in 1983 that people should demand freedom and openness in computing. Whatever his other faults, thanks to RMS for being such an unrelenting nag on the topic of computer freedom. I personally appreciate it.