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How open source is Mahara?


anonymous profile picture
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Posts: 30

05 May 2011, 5:20 PM

In the first Mahara newsletter, it is written:

"Gregor Anželj is "the" Mahara plugin developer."

Does that mean that means that Mahara opts for a very centralized (command and control) model of development... distantiating itself from the usual open source values?

"A main principle and practice of open source software development is peer production by bartering and collaboration, with the end-product, source-material, "blueprints," and documentation available at no cost to the public. " (source: Wikipedia).

I posted about jQuery and the addition of new plugins and all way through, I was told, don't bother, Gregor is doing our plugins.

Is it a misunderstanding on my part or does it reflect your approach , meaning that I shouldn't take that "open source" tag attached to Mahara too literally?

anonymous profile picture
Deleted user
Posts: 808

05 May 2011, 6:42 PM

Hi Marielle,

The more plugins the better!  Gregor's written a lot recently, but there are quite a few floating about by others as well.  We don't really have a centralised place to store them yet, but we are starting to gather a list on the wiki at http://wiki.mahara.org/Plugins.

R.

anonymous profile picture
Deleted user
Posts: 30

05 May 2011, 8:10 PM

Hi Richard, 

Thanks for that. Yes, it would be good if there was an easy way to give better visibility to the plugins that exist. The plugin page seems to only list team contributed ones and searching on mahara.org or on google for plugins doesn't return anything useful.

As a result, the implicit message is that there have been no plugin contributors other than Gregor. There is little motivation to write any plugin if nobody in the community gets a chance to know that it exists Frown.

François Marier's profile picture
Posts: 411

05 May 2011, 6:54 PM

Hi Marielle,

When Kristina referred to Gregor as "the" plugin developer, it was simply to recognise his multiple contributions to the list of Mahara plugins. It was certainly not meant to imply that he should be the only one writing them :) The more the better as Richard said.

You are free (and we encourage you!) to write your own plugins and hopefully share them with the community. Other people were mentioning Gregor's plugins in case they would be useful to you, either to solve your problems or as a basis/inspiration for your own work.

Mahara is and will remain a community Open Source project. We have no plans of closing the project to new contributors :) In fact we have recently introduced a new code review system (https://reviews.mahara.org) to try to make it easier for people to contribute code to Core Mahara.

Cheers,

Francois

anonymous profile picture
Deleted user
Posts: 30

05 May 2011, 10:15 PM

Hi François,

I have read the part on code reviews, on Contributing to Mahara. This is perfectly justified for any alteration of the core code. Anything that ends up in the official distribution, sure, it should be peer reviewed as it is likely to affect (a) the stability of the deployment and (b) your reputation.

But in the context of plugins, you are taking unusual precautions.

"And if you are able to develop a plugin, you should definitely get in contact with the core developers - we will be able to suggest how your work could be architectured, and developed in such a way that it has the best chance of getting into the Mahara core distribution."

I can write a jQuery plugin, a Drupal module, a word press plugin, a firefox extension, a google gadget and make it available to the community without it ever being merged into the core source. It is likely to be reviewed if I submit it to the official plugin repository, but the process is more often peer review (comments under the plugin that indicates that it doesn't work as expected or causes conflict) than official approval process ala Apple. 

If the plugins becomes very popular or seem to meet very general need, it may come to be included into the official distribution. But that's the exception instead of the rule. I have ideas of plugins that would be useful to the end user. It's open, you are free to add them to the official distribution if you see value in them. But I have no reason to want them to be included in the core distribution. There are about 400+ jQuery plugins available. A good 100+ that are likely to add value to the MyPortfolio environment. It doesn't make any sense to add 100+ blocktypes to the core distribution.  As little as possible should be added to the core distribution. With the current size of your developer team, it would take months or years to get all plugins reviewed.

 


 

Alternatively, I can provide a single plugin that makes it possible for end users to add extra jQuery plugins without their admins having to physically install the plugin (something similar to jsdo.it, html-js-css). That means that the plugin gets approved, but once it has been approved, the developer team loose any opportunity to control the quality of the plugins. 

Which then brings up the problem of possible conflict between different  jQuery-based blocktype. All the more that the jQuery-based blocktype in your official/approved distribution are currently written in a way that is bound to cause conflicts to happen (you should really systematically use the jQuery plugin boilerplate).


Then there is this problem. The challenge of open is that any development costs money. In education, open only really works when managed by professional companies like Catalyst. But at the same time, this inevitably creates some form of conflict of interest. 

"If you're an organisation that is selling services that use Mahara - whether that be hosting, support, integration or any other kind of service - you are not allowed to use the word "Mahara" unless you are a Mahara Partner [...] Partners receive several benefits along with being able to say that they sell Mahara services, such as being featured on mahara.org, gaining access to partner-only support and having increased ability to contribute enhancements to Mahara."

This is too a very unusual approach to open source! If I contribute plugins and in so doing boost the commercial value of Mahara (as the quote shows, there are commercial services attached to it), I earn the privilege to pay a yearly fee to Catalyst for the right to mention that I have contributed plugins there? There is no information on what it costs to become a partner. Only a form to fill.  

No issue with the commercial bit. Most successful open source projects finance themselves with premium services. This is the best way to ensure the sustainability of open source projects. But what they sell is "services", training, theming, customisation, integration, etc. They don't sell the right to use the name of the open source software. 

If you take this literally, that means that I cannot make a distribution of the said open source mahara on my own domain if I provide an extended version of it because I have to erase every single mention of Mahara in the source code. I cannot even mention that the work is derived from Mahara. Practically, I cannot redistribute modified version of it. 

That is making contributions difficult. Sure, you are free to reuse and include any plugin into the official distribution. That's the very spirit of open source. But the intent of providing a plugin architecture is to serve (1) the Mahara community, (2) serve my own very personal and very selfish interests  and only after that (3) serve the business interest of Catalyst and their associates. Most open source projects recognize that and keep that order. With Mahara, (3) seems to comes first. 

 


 

Contributing is simply not worth it is the only way for plugins to be visible to the community is to pay a yearly fee to Catalyst. 

What's the best way to proceed? 

anonymous profile picture
Deleted user
Posts: 30

05 May 2011, 11:46 PM

Disclaimer, I am not a lawyer. "If you're an organisation that is selling services that use Mahara - whether that be hosting, support, integration or any other kind of service - you are not allowed to use the word "Mahara" unless you are a Mahara Partner." Is this legally any correct?

The logo is protected.  But it is very rare to see a brand forbid the use of the name, at all. If you read Apple's information on the use of their trademark, you will get this: "Developers may use Apple, Macintosh, iMac, or any other Apple word mark (but not the Apple Logo or other Apple-owned graphic symbol/logo) in a referential phrase on packaging or promotional/advertising materials to describe that the third party product is compatible with the referenced Apple product or technology, provided they comply with the following requirements. [...] The Apple word mark is used in a referential phrase such as “runs on,” “for use with,” “for,” or “compatible with.” [...] The reference to Apple does not create a sense of endorsement, sponsorship, or false association with Apple or Apple products or services."

This is my understanding of the limit of the protection that a trademark gives you. 

But the text on Mahara.org is that any use of the word Mahara is forbidden. Why does an open source project, that has benefitted from public funding for its developer, choose to be ever more restrictive and more controlling than Apple?

François Marier's profile picture
Posts: 411

05 May 2011, 11:58 PM

Hi Marielle,

Thanks for bringing that up. That page is out of date and needs to be fixed. Our Trademark policy is here:

  http://wiki.mahara.org/Marketing/Trademark_Policy

It's basically the same as the one that Ubuntu uses. You will see that most uses of the word Mahara are fine.

Cheers,

Francois

anonymous profile picture
Deleted user
Posts: 30

08 May 2011, 8:48 PM

Thanks François, that one makes perfect sense.  

François Marier's profile picture
Posts: 411

06 May 2011, 12:10 AM

You are right about contributed plugins, there is no requirement for code review and if you can suggest ways of rephrasing the bits you quote to make that more obvious, please do so.

As for partners getting a free pass to get their code into core, that's not how it works. Their code goes through the same code review system. We probably need to rephrase that too.

In terms of plugins, they are featured on the wiki and so anybody with a mahara.org account is free to edit that page and add their own.

We have also created a project group on Launchpad (https://launchpad.net/mahara-contrib) and would be happy to create a sub-project for anybody who asks. Anybody in the core team (https://launchpad.net/~mahara-core/+members) can do that for you (i.e. it's not just people employed by Catalyst).

In any case, this is a very productive discussion and I do appreciate all of the flaws you are pointing out in our documentation. Clearly we are sending the wrong signals! If you'd like, feel free to send me an email (francois@mahara.org) with links to any other places that seem wrong from an Open Source point of view.

Cheers,

Francois

anonymous profile picture
Deleted user
Posts: 84

06 May 2011, 12:51 AM

Hi Marielle,
Just a quick correction for your interest - the Mahara Partner program is not managed by Catalyst nor do they receive revenues from it directly. I personally manage the Mahara Partner program on behalf of the Mahara project and all revenues are identified in our chart of accounts and directly invested back into the project. Certainly, Catalyst does receive a good proportion of that, in the form of further commissioned work.

cheers
Richard

 

 

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