Ted Leung is a thoughtful and not flamboyant blogger. He uses his weblog well to think out loud, and by seeing the map of his thought processes, I learn more than just about his conclusions, I also learn how he got them. This was a point that Larry Lessig made on Saturday in the great free-wheeling discussion we had at the end of the iLaw conference. He said even if no one reads your blog, you get something out of writing publicly that you can't get otherwise. Writing makes you smarter, I said, when other people expressed disbelief. But I read Ted, every time he updates, because he's a smart guy who get smarter, and helps me do that too. He makes me say Bing a lot. And then Bing Bing. And even occasionally a Bing Bing Bing.
Anyway, I can see this is going to be a rambler, because Ted's piece is the fulcrum I'm going to use to announce something important, because I want you to think about this announcement in the context of his current piece, because it exactly reflects my thinking.
As you may know, I have left UserLand. It's been almost two years, and while in some ways I wish I were there to drive the products and compete with the great companies in the blogging space, I know that I can't do it. I don't think a lot of people know that I left for health reasons, but I did.
Anyway, these days UserLand is largely a company that markets and develops Manila and Radio. My concern was when will UserLand get around to enhancing and improving the “kernel” — the large base of C code that runs Manila and Radio — the scripting language, object database, verb set, server, multi-threaded runtime, content management framework. It's been several years since there was a meaningful update of that code.
Products that Manila and Radio compete with don't have their own kernels, they build off development environments created by others. For example, Movable Type is written in Perl. WordPress is PHP. Blogger is Java. UserLand's products are different because they build on a private platform. For a long time we saw this as an advantage, the UserLand runtime is very rich and powerful, and offered performance benefits. When a new layer came on, for example the CMS, when it got stable and mature, we'd “kernelize” it, so it would be super-fast. But experience in the market said that, to succeed, UserLand didn't need to own its kernel. In fact, that it was the only developer using this kernel may well have been a liability for UserLand.
Here's another angle. In 1987 we sold Living Videotext to Symantec, and along with it, sold them our products, ThinkTank, Ready and MORE. I appreciate what Symantec did for us, I'm still living off the money I made in the public stock offering, but the products died inside Symantec. I'm not blaming them for that, because it's very likely they would have died inside Living Videotext had we not been acquired. But some good products disappeared. To this day people ask me what became of MORE, and tell me how advanced it was, and how nothing has replaced it. It's a sad story, and a shame, that the art of outlining took such a hit. I swore this would never happen again. There are a lot of good ideas in that base of software that you won't find elsewhere. If it disappeared it would be a loss like the MORE loss.
To fans of UserLand Software it must seem inevitable that the kernel will go this way, it sure did to me. But I am on the board of directors of the company, and I persuaded my fellow board members that it would be in the company's interest to let the kernel develop separately from the products that build on it. And that's what I want to announce today. At some point in the next few months, there will be an open source release of the Frontier kernel. Not sure what license it'll use. There won't be any grand expectations of what kind of community will develop. Even if no bugs get fixed, if no features get added, if no new OSes are supported, it will be worth it, because its future will be assured. That's the point Ted makes, and that's my reasoning behind this.
We decided this quite some time ago, but waited for the right moment to start discussing it publicly. It seems now is the right time, or as good a time as any.
I have to say I expected this to happen. I have enjoyed Radio but desired a few more features. Templates are easy to modify but hard to get right. Using CSS, creating valid xhtml, and scripting should be alot easier. Maybe if there is sufficient interest open source will save it from extinction. —bill