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EtherPad Open-Sourced after Google Acquisition

EtherPad is a Web-based tool for simultaneous writing and editing, in which multiple people can see keystrokes as other people type them. It was slated to disappear after the acquisition by Google of AppJet, the firm that developed EtherPad. After a day of feedback, however, the former AppJet developers changed the path entirely. EtherPad will stay alive, and its code will eventually be released under an open-source license.

On 4 December 2009, AppJet said EtherPad would continue to operate until 31 March 2010 for free and paid users, although AppJet would stop charging fees to paid users. Free public pads would no longer be available, nor could new accounts be registered for a fee.

On 5 December, the former head of AppJet (or is he the head of the former company AppJet?) wrote on the EtherPad blog that the developers had worked with Google to change what would happen to EtherPad based on extensive feedback.

Public free pad creation was re-enabled, so you can create editable documents without an account. The site will still not allow new professional accounts to be set up, however.

The EtherPad code base and the underlying framework used to create it will be moved into an open-source project and released under open-source licensing terms. While the open-source transition is underway, and until there’s a viable new home – at least that’s implied – the EtherPad site will remain available.

Nonetheless, paid users can download all their current documents via the account page. Public pads can be downloaded from their individual URLs. Freestanding versions of the software will be supported through current contracts.

The AppJet programmers are joining the group behind Google Wave, the invitation-only service in testing by Google for simultaneous and sequential writing, discussion, and interaction. I’ve been using it for some weeks, and still find it baffling, whereas the much-simpler EtherPad was instantly explicable and useful (perhaps because it was so similar to SubEthaEdit, which pioneered simultaneous collaborative editing). I hope the AppJet team brings its approach with them. (Two of the three AppJet developers were previously Google employees, reports GigaOm, which notes the deal was worth “less than $20 million.”)

I wrote about EtherPad early this year (see “EtherPad Brings Simultaneous Writing to the Web,” 16 February 2009) after we at TidBITS started using it extensively. While SubEthaEdit has some advantages, EtherPad allowed ad hoc and program-free collaboration and had become our tool of choice for simultaneous collaborative work.

AppJet, EtherPad’s creator, started up to develop a Web applications platform – a simplified way for companies to build rich browser-based programs. EtherPad was a bit of a proof of concept that turned into a separate line of business.

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