AppJet said it will open-source the code to EtherPad and the AppJet Web Framework in an effort to quiet the irate chatter from users in the wake of Google's purchase of the startup.
EtherPad is a document editing application that lets users edit word processing documents, Web pages, PDFs and text files at the same time. When multiple people edit the same document simultaneously, any changes are instantly reflected on everyone's screen. These sessions are saved as "pads."
Google acquired AppJet Dec. 4 to improve document editing in its Google Wave real-time collaboration platform. AppJet said that it would not accept new customers and not allow users to create new pads and would shutter the service for good by March 31, 2010. Existing users would have to export their pad data or lose it.
Many existing users blasted AppJet for this behavior, prompting the startup to rethink its exit strategy.
AppJet CEO Aaron Iba said in a Dec. 5 blog post the company turned pad creation from the EtherPad homepage back on and is working with the Google Wave team to open-source the code to EtherPad and the AppJet Web Framework. Users will be able to create new pads at least until AppJet open-sources the code.
"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," Iba wrote Dec. 5. "The team we are joining already gets open source, and 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 real-time collaboration technology. I am sorry for disrupting your productivity, and I hope that this new transition plan helps you out."
Iba's characterization of user resentment to the original plan to discontinue the service is slippery and understated. Users often treat acquisitions of companies and services they use with wariness and skepticism, but the way people reacted to the original announcement, you'd think AppJet and Google committed some sort of conspiratorial sacrilege.
Most of the 168 comments in AppJet's initial blog post on the deal were vitriolic toward AppJet and Google. Many users also said they prefer EtherPad to Wave for their real-time collaboration sessions.
Sue wrote: "Really bad news-etherpad is great-Wave is no substitute for it. Please keep etherpad or something similar as a tool in its own right."
Haruspex wrote: "This is the worst news ever. Google Wave is NOT an alternative to EtherPad. The clean design and, above all, the task specificity of EtherPad make it vastly superior. 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. Boo."
Still, AppJet is trying to push its users to join Google Wave, which has been rolled out to more than 100,000 users to preview since Sept. 30.
"We are working with the Google Wave team to get all EtherPad users a chance to try out the Google Wave preview within the next couple of weeks," Iba wrote. "We do realize (as does the Google Wave team) that Wave doesn't yet have all the functionality you rely on, and isn't yet as mature as EtherPad. We are confident that in the long term you will be really happy with Google Wave, though. That's why we decided to join them!"
That certainly sounds as though EtherPad's technology and features will be situated in Google Wave, which also provides e-mail, instant messaging, file sharing and social networking. Moreover, as Iba alluded to in his post, Google Wave is available under an open-source license, so programmers can already tinker with the code.
EtherPad is now heading down the same road. Users cheered this news in the comments section to Iba's post.
Ian Danforth wrote: "Yay! Very impressed at the consideration displayed toward your userbase here. I wish more companies were this responsive."
Tom Morris added: "Thank you! This is fantastic news. I really think that EtherPad is a superb product, and the paradigm of multiple people editing the same document is a good one that needs to be spread. Open sourcing EtherPad may just do that!"
No harm, no foul after all, though AppJet was clearly out of touch with its user base. Users let them know how they felt, and AppJet extended an olive branch.