Open Source, Leadership and Direction

You may have seen the recent flurry of posts around the future of Magento Open Source, and talk of a posible fork. It started with the post "The Future of Magento" by a group of well respected and long time community members. This has already been followed up by posts by Adobe and the Magento Association.

As a long time Magento community member I care about the open source version and what it represents for the merchants using it. So while I don't pretend to know everything about the current debate, I have been working with Magento since the first beta release and wanted to make a few comments about open source in general and Magento in particular.


No matter the scenario with hindsight better communication is always welcome so let's get / keep talking.

Balancing Act

Open Source - giving software away for free - is the ultimate in value for money for the users. On the other side of the ledger, the organisation behind the software is looking to get something out of it too. Monetising open source is not easy. I am always reminded of my first reality shock back in the early Magento 1 days. One of our first free and open source extensions was providing automatic minification of CSS and Javascript files. I offered a moderately priced fixed installation service for it - something like $49. Minification back then was not a solved problem and as people only seemed to choose this service when they themselves ran into issues I never made money out of it (there were some business lessons to be learned). The eye opener came when I noticed people advertising on freelancer sites for jobs looking for the installation of our free extension for less than what I thought was already great value and by extension supporting my open source work. So yes monetising open source is hard and most of the more successful models seem centered around an open core with additional capability around it.

At the last check-in Magento fortunately seems to have had enough on their side of the ledger that Adobe was willing to hand over $1.7 Billion.

The ongoing challenge for a successful platform like Magento is to ensure that the equilibrium between opportunites for the ecosystem and the platform remain.

Magic of Open Source

For a while I have mentally created this analogy of Magento being a cruise ship. It's a massive ship and it's course can't be turned on a dime. With technology the only known is that things will change, ecommerce being no different. We are essentially sailing into the unknown. The beauty of open source is that lots of exploration happens independently. Some might be looking into what is happening in the AR/VR space, others take a deep dive into how PWA could fit in, while others yet work on the next big thing. This immense untethered innovation is what makes an open source ecosystem exciting to be part of. I will go as far to say that with the number of possible confgurations, themes, customisations and of course extensions - no two Magento stores are the same. Harnessing this energy, striking the right balance between the users of the platform and the platform itself is where the magic of open source happens.

As a community let's continue to encourage and support the developers in the ecosystem that make Magento, Magento.

Open Source Leadership

The challenge in dealing with an open source community is that one may never know who might raise their hand and raise an issue. Some issues may never be mentioned but affect many people, while other issues are eloquently presented by a vocal minority but don't widely affect others. Communicating with the community is the ultimate omnichannel challenge. Conversations may start on Github, Slack, Twitter, LinkedIn, on the forums or at in-person events.

If the direction of travel is unknown, leadership becomes more important. Instinctively if you trust the person at the wheels you do not question every turn. In an open source environment, open communication around vision and roadmaps are important. But as always actions do speak louder than words - paraphrasing Mark Lavelle here "the do/say ratio needs to be solid". Under Adobe's leadership there are some concerns around what the talked about microservices architecture changes may mean for the open source version. But we have also had some bright spots like the recent open sourcing of Page Builder - a welcome and much-needed feature addition for Magento to remain competitive.

Currently what is next on the roadmap for Magento Open Source is hard to find. Now that we have had the naming separation between Adobe Commerce and Magento I would like to see Adobe communicate more clearly who is the current leadership team for Magento and what is their vision how these two interlink going forward.

People Come and People Go

In any given organisation people get hired, get promoted and move on to new challenges elsewhere. Especially after an acquisition, it would be unusual for this to not happen. If you were previously used to having direct impact on the future of your smaller organisation or single product, when acquired by a larger company you might have trouble finding your product in the latest Quarterly Financial Report.

We have seen this play out at Magento with some familiar faces sadly leaving and some major changes in leadership. The Magento community at large is a complex web of personal relationship formed over mutual interests, random introductions and time spent together at community events. Virtual events are just not the same for establishing new relationships - an unfortunate byproduct of the pandemic in the last nearly two years. In summary, it hasn't been easy to form new personal relationships with the people that are filling the shoes of those who have left Adobe so far.

Hopefully coming out of the pandemic we will find it easier to connect with the Adobe leadership responsible for Magento. Until then more proactive communication around who is who would be great to see.

Magento Association

I am very grateful to everyone who has volunteered their time and effort to get the Magento Association to where it is today. From the outside, the challenges so far look like a massive undertaking. While the community's expectations for the Magento Association are sky high, we must remember that everyone is a volunteer and the assoiation has limited resources. The origins of the association are closely tied to facilitating events as those are formative to creating what makes a community. We owe all the past event organisers a great deal of gratitude for everything they have poured into them. I believe the association's main focus so far has been ensuring that events that bring together the Magento ecosystem will continue in a similar fashion.

Lots of people were hoping to see the Association take over the Magento trademark and license as well to become the guardian of the open source version. But I believe in the current set-up and funding arrangements, resourcing from events alone will not deliver an organisation that is able to take this on, yet.

I share some of the concerns voiced by Guido Jansen - even if you are given a cruise ship for free, financing its operation and upkeep, ensuring it has the right credentials and ultimately getting people onboard is a big undertaking that needs careful consideration.

Nonetheless I believe the Magento Association is best placed to take on a bigger leadership role than is has done to date. It is an existing legal, not for profit entity, with a perfectly aligned mission. What it does need are additional resources and helping hands.

Where to from here?

I am a glass half-full type person. While talking about a fork can be seen as a distraction, I see lots of people in our community that care and want to be heard. Let's harness this energy and move Magento forward.

Let's use this movement to start a productive conversation to engage with Adobe, and seek a strong direction on the future of open source Magento. For those Adobe employees reading, you see will from the strength of our community response that now is a crucial time to engage on this very important and timely topic about the future of Magento open source.

Fundamentally I believe a few initiatives around what is the open source core of Magento and discussions on how the Magento Association can take on a bigger and more independent role in the community will set us up well for the future.

Kristof Ringleff

Kristof Ringleff

Founder and Lead Developer at Fooman

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