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Friday December 12, 2008

TWiki and Foswiki: the road ahead

TWiki has been around for about a decade. It is an "Enterprise Wiki", offering a number of features that work well in corporate environments (eg, access controls, forms, scripting, skins, webs). It is a solid and mature piece of technology, with a substantial user base.

Recently, a rift in the TWiki developer community caused the project to fork. Peter Thoeny retains the TWiki trademark and web sites, but most of the developers have joined Foswiki. (For details, see the Foswiki and TWiki versions of the story.) This essay attempts to predict where things will go from here and suggest how developers and administrators can cope with the inevitable dislocations.

By way of full disclosure, I have been using TWiki for a number of years. I have performed contract "wiki gardening", written TWiki applications, and even customized a couple of plugins. However, I'm not a TWiki developer and I really don't have a dog in this fight...

Near Term

The effects of the fork are already being felt in various ways. The #twiki IRC channel is largely inactive, but Peter Thoeny is often around to answer requests for help. The #foswiki channel is a lot busier, but much of the traffic comes from build reports and developer discussions.

No major changes are imminent in either branch of the code base. In the short run, TWiki will simply be making minor releases, while Foswiki will be busy "rebranding" and setting up infrastructure. The Foswiki Release Plan and the TWiki RoadMap both promise interesting developments, but real changes appear to be months away.

The user community is also unlikely to move very fast. The typical TWiki administrator is probably taking a "wait and see" attitude. Which fork will survive? What differences will show up in features, support, etc? TWiki 4.2.x is reasonably stable and bug free, so deciding which branch to follow is not exactly an urgent decision.

Longer Term

Over time, however, TWiki sites may be faced with some decisions and hassles. For example, none of the Foswiki developers will post their patches on twiki.org, if only because they are unwilling to accept the new ground rules (eg, TWiki Community Governance).

Ground rules aside, developers may not make any effort (in code, documentation, or testing) to ensure that their code works on the "other" branch. So, some plugins may "break" on one branch or the other. If nobody else (eg, another user, the other project) provides a compatible version of the patch, administrators will be forced to adapt the patch or do without.

Similarly, some bug fixes and new features will appear for one branch or the other. Because both branches are licensed as Open Source software, either one could (in theory) adopt the other's changes. However, as the branches diverge, this may become less feasible in practice.

Although the fork will present administrators with increased hassles and risks, it also offers the prospect of interesting and useful features showing up. In a year or so, we'll have a much better idea of its costs and benefits...

Strategies

Both branches would like to convince existing TWiki sites to "join up". The TWiki branch has the easiest job here, because it retains name recognition, trademarks, and web sites. On the other hand, the Foswiki branch has a lot of motivated developers, so it may be able to produce a clearly superior offering over time.

One way for the branches to compete is in their level of support for historic TWiki versions. If the best bug fixes, documentation, downloads, and enhancements consistently show up on one branch's site, many administrators will "bet that way" when upgrading. So, I'm hoping that both branches compete in terms of user support, as well as marketing and technology.

TWiki and Foswiki: the road ahead in Computers , Technology - posted at Fri, 12 Dec, 17:44 Pacific | «e» | TrackBack

Comments

While normally I'd say that a year or so is necessary to gain perspective to determine which tree will bear more fruit (even the "obvious" Mambo/Joomla split took some months), this one seems determined right from the start.

*All* the developers went with Foswiki, minus Peter Thoeny and apparently one paid employee. And despite the huge labor of rebranding, their manpower enabled them to stabilize from the trunk of the development tree and incorporate lots of new infrastructure, whereas TWiki's latest release was far more modest, only polishing off some low-hanging fruit from a branch made some time ago.

The two online "release meetings" held by TWiki have the air of staged formalistic kabuki theatre, minus the poetry. Peter and his employee conduct a two person meeting, with Peter "moderating", and tasks being put up for allocation, with the employee "volunteering". Surreal.


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