Yesterday Varien announced Magento Enterprise Edition, which is a commercially-licensed e-commerce platform built on their free open source version. From Varien’s standpoint, I can understand their need to monetize their product, however I feel this is a big disappointment to the growing Magento development community. With over to 750,000 downloads in less than a year, Magento’s growth has been quick and has gained a ton of momentum from developers and critics. What better way to totally reverse that momentum by locking up the best features in a premium version and slapping a huge pricetag on it ($8,900 A YEAR?!).
From a developer’s standpoint, I was really looking forward to a lot of the features that were being hyped up by the team on the roadmap and/or forums (specifically the gift cards). Now that a lot of beneficial features will be locked up in an expensive premium version, I expect to see that excitement and momentum from the community fade.
I liken Magento Enterprise Edition to Trickle Down Economics. Varien will argue that developing these new features for the premium version will have a positive impact on the rest of the Magento community. Those features will essentially trickle down into the free version over time and everyone will benefit from them. But I feel the reality is that as long as Varien is profiting from those advanced features, there’s absolutely no incentive for them to release them to the rest of the community until they’ve made their buck. Varien will be the gatekeeper and will control the growth of the community.
Despite the “Commitment to Open Source” paragraph in their announcement, the fact remains now they have to split their attention between their community version and their commercial version. Varien knows that its community is its biggest asset, so why alienate its passionate user base by moonlighting on a premium product? Their release of a commercial version muddies its relationship with their community. In forum discussions Magento team members are amazing resources. Now that they have premium features, can they fully support the community without giving away their premium features/advice/info? Will community demand for a certain feature result in a feature that will be released to the community version, or will Varien develop it themselves for their premium version?
It will be interesting to see where it goes from here. How many people will jump on board with Magneto Enterprise Edition? How will the community react? How will the development of Magento change now that there are multiple versions?
I continue to look forward developing websites using Magento. I think its a fantastic platform with a host of great tools and a ton of potential. But I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Mozilla came out with a “premium” version of Firefox when version 2 was released. Would Firefox 3 be what it is today? Is Varien stifling the growth of its open source community?