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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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Comments about EtherPad Open-Sourced after Google Acquisition
(Comments are closed.)

Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-12-04 13:05

I really liked EtherPad, and as much as I don't find Google Wave all that hard after getting my head around it in some real-world use, I do think Google Wave will have trouble equaling EtherPad's ease-of-use and low barrier to entry for very simple collaborative writing.

That said, the last few times I've used EtherPad with anyone outside the TidBITS staff, they've refused to change the document or make comments within it, taking it to email instead (which wasn't the point).

So perhaps Google Wave will be a better answer eventually. The main thing Google Wave needs in this regard is a way to display (read-only) a wave to anyone, regardless of whether or not they have a Google Wave account or are logged in.
Glenn Fleishman  2009-12-04 13:09
We seem to be relatively apart from others in our interests in simultaneous writing!
B Hanson  2009-12-07 04:56
I can only see the point of this as a creative "flow-of-consciousness" type of writing. When it is absolutely necessary there are apps that can achieve the same. However I don't get the point of Twitter either so I'm probably too slow all round to partake of this.
Enjoy reading all your writings though, Adam and Glenn.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-12-07 04:58
The point of a collaborative writing tool like EtherPad is that it condenses the usual writing/editing cycle immensely. Pretty much all our day-of-event coverage at things like Macworld, WWDC, or major Apple announcements happens in EtherPad, since everyone can write and edit in the same document without having to divvy up documents and pass them back and forth continuously.

If capabilities like those in EtherPad were more readily available (simultaneous editing and marking of who has done what), I think a lot of standard approaches to writing would change to eliminate the constant back-and-forth in normal editing.
Antthony H.  2009-12-04 17:37
Adam, I echo that "Noooooooo." I've just this year started working with faculty members at a college to use EtherPad for simultaneous and spontaneous classroom writing. This is disappointing. I guess I'll have to work on the Wave equivalent approach.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-12-04 18:35
Wave is very much still a work in progress, so right now, I think it's very good for commenting within a piece, but less good for editing something that's been written, knowing who did what, and ending up with a coherent document at the end.
This sort of thing is what really frightens me about depending on remotely hosted closed-source tools.

One question I have is, will new cool tools that make me switch come faster than old tools shut down? For common types of tools such as route finding, I would expect that I'll switch to the latest and greatest, so I'm not too worried about old ones shutting down.

The problem comes when I have more unique desires. I may want my tool to do something a bit different than most people. So a new fancy web app comes out that is better for 95% of people. I'm in the 5% and they can't keep providing it profitably.

I'm not sure how best to personally deal with this. This is the second time that I've heard about a really nifty sounding tool when it got bought and shut down. Web apps do lots of cool stuff. But I don't think I can fit important productivity tools into my workflow if they aren't under my control.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-12-04 18:37
I sympathize, since we've certainly been burned in this respect on multiple occasions. All I can say is that being overly cautious and avoiding things because they might not survive doesn't help them survive. :-)

And it's totally not just Web apps - this problem can and does affect normal applications as well.
Robotech_Master  2009-12-05 21:51
Right on, Google! It's nice to know that we're not going to be bereft of the best collaborative editor out there after all. Especially once it gets open-sourced and people can put up their own EtherPad servers, tweaked however they like.

Funny to think that a company's entire product, the thing on which it worked long and hard and was planning to use to make its income, is being essentially given away for FREE after Google paid $10 million just to grab the people for its Wave team.
Glenn Fleishman  2009-12-05 21:58
The open-source part is great, but there's still an income stream possible because EtherPad will work best as a hosted service (otherwise, I'd recommend SubEthaEdit).

Which means that someone might start a nice business as a high-quality EtherPad host. Open-source licenses don't restrict charging for services or even charging for compiled code!
Glenn Fleishman  2009-12-05 21:57
Many of these comments were posted before the article was revised on 5 December to indicate that Google had changed the future of EtherPad.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-12-06 17:42
My opinion has gone from highly unenthused about the loss of EtherPad to extremely excited about the concept of an open-source code base for EtherPad functionality.

Real-time collaborative editing is something I'd love to have available within our homebrewed TidBITS Publishing System, for instance, and although the mere fact of the code being open source doesn't necessarily make that trivial, it become conceivable.
Prasanna  2009-12-19 03:33
I'm an early user of etherpad and I love it.
I'm hosting and maintaining it here:
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-12-19 14:22
I'm confused - when I visit the URL above, it merely redirects to What exactly are you doing?
It looks exactly like, but it doesn't redirect me. Even creating a new pad it stays on is registered to AppJet in SF, CA; to S Prasanna in Vancouver, BC.

What I'd like to know is where the 'hg' command comes that is needed to grab the source.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-12-20 10:13
My bad for not looking closely enough - it was so close the original site that I missed the few changes.