Thesis, Wordpress and the GPL

WordPress and Thesis – Can’t we all just get along?

For those that are unaware, recent events have pitted the creator of Wordpress against a Worpress Theme creator – DIY Themes, more specifically the framework known as Thesis. Chris Pearson, the creator of Thesis, refused to recognize the GPL in full. Here’s my take on this debate.

Firstly, let me state that I have no vested interest in either party. Yes – it seems that a partial GPL has been adopted. Yes, I just dumped Joomla and years of content down the tubes because I wanted to start fresh, and went with WordPress as the new framework for the site. But let me just put aside WordPress and Thesis, to look at a much simpler issue at hand – the GPL, what it means to us, and why I feel Chris Pearson is going to change minds.

Synopsis – Chris: Chris Pearson is the owner and founder of DIY Themes, a service that offers an extended framework and themes for the basic WordPress software. He believes that his code, which is separate and independent of WordPress, should not have to follow the GPL guidelines that were set into motion with the creation of WordPress.N.B. – Thesis has adopted a partial GPL , and this article outlines the overall outcome.

Synopsis – Matt: As the founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg and the other developers of Worpdress released their software under the GPL, which in short states that any software released as a derivative or conditionally built to function with their software as the core, needs to be released under the GPL.

My Take on the Argument

Let me start by pointing out that Matt and Chris both appeared in an impromptu discussion about this issue on Mixergy. I have listened to the whole conversation, and I have certainly thought about what both of them had to say. However, as a developer myself, long before either of them – I must say clearly that Matt understands the spirit of the GPL as it was intended. Let me tell you why :

Chris Pearson had to start somewhere with his software. If WordPress did not exist, and was not GPL in the first place, he never would have created Thesis. In undertaking the Thesis project, the rules of the GPL were already set into motion. This simply means that at some point during developmental planning, Chris had to take a look at the GPL and decide to adopt it or not. Since he concedes that he does not believe that the GPL is fair, one can reasonably assume that he should have not proceeded, because he did not agreed to it’s terms, which were clearly set out before he started his project.

To be fair in my analysis, Matt probably could have better explained the overall flow of the GPL to Chris better. I understand Chris to be very intelligent, and a highly likable guy, and I think with a better understanding of what it is that Matt and the Open Source GPL community at large were asking of him, then he would have be willing to meet in the middle much sooner. I find myself thinking of the numerous times that I have purchased Open Source GPL software simply because I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted with the software. In the context that Chris is delivering his message, he is simply stating that he feels he “Should be able to do what he wants…I simply couldn’t agree more, and that’s what Chris needs to hear.

No statement is more profound or matching of the overall message of the GPL. Give us software in the spirit that the software was given to you. There is no argument that can refute the basis of this statement, simply because the flow of the software creation process is always dictated by the person that created the original software. Chris wants creative control over his software, and is afraid that if he releases it GPL, others will take the Thesis framework, and undercut his sales. History will prove that is indeed true, coders are always taking pieces of others code, porting it, tweaking it and calling it their own. The one thing that Chris needs to understand, is that with people like you and I behind his solid framework, he need not worry about good coders, and ethically sound supporters stealing his work. We’re (meaning supporters) always going to want the real deal, in this case – Thesis with WordPress. Not Thesis X2, Not Thesis Nuke, Not Thesis Post Nuke. (Oh yes I did……)

Let me ask you something. Is there a spin off of WordPress that I am unaware of that just blows away the framework with some newer MVC methods or outside frame that distinguishes itself enough to be a completely different project? If so, is it GPL? Do you think that making a framework on top of anothers work constitutes a derivative work?

I think Chris did an outstanding job of sticking to his beliefs, but I feel that Matt – overall, embodies the spirit of the GPL. What’s this spirit I keep referring to? It’s called integrity, and the belief that no matter how good you think you are – you can always be better with the help of others. At least that’s how I see it.

Why I think Chris Will Change Minds

I’m not saying that I feel any ill feelings towards Chris, but it really seems to me that Generation Y thinks they own the internet sometimes. Because they are much younger, and really do fuel new technologies, I feel this sometimes empowers them to make their own rules when they can’t fit into existing ones. Chris is business savvy, a smooth talker, and you can tell he firmly believes he is right with regards towards this issue by simply listening to him. I think his actions from here forward will drive the way that software is created, and I think with him behind the GPL , rather than against it – it could possibly spark a newer movement in the right direction, especially from within his generation.

Any thoughts?

Thesis Adopts a Partial GPL

I’m really overwhelmed with a sense of relief that Chris decided to partially GPL his code. This is definitely a step in the right direction. In doing so – Chris can get back to work on Thesis, Matt can move on with his projects, and we can all learn from the experience. I hope that Thesis continues to thrive, and that Matt continues to be in the forefront for Open Source and GPL licensed software.