TWiki is dead, long live Foswiki

I am absolutely thrilled. It has been some time since i reported on the situation with TWiki and the fork. That does not mean there is nothing to report, though! With the first release (1.0.0), Foswiki establishes itself firmly in the marketspace. TWiki is dead, long live Foswiki!

So for those who have not kept up to date, let me summarize the preceding events. It all started 10 years ago, when Peter Thoeny decided to create a fork of JosWiki, and named it TWiki. TWiki developed into a very powerful structured wiki platform, mainly with the help of many volunteers. Lately, Thoeny stopped development contributions, and focussed mainly on pr. Around a year ago, he decided to found a company called TWiki.NET, a venture capital in the silicon valley.

The company promptly decided to take over the entire open source project, claiming it as theirs even though Thoeny’s code contributions to the actual product had been minimal for years at that point. Additional trademark enforcement rules didn’t improve things. After months of strife, the project halted. Thoeny declared himself ‘benevolent dictator for life’, but did not show any benevolence in his dealings with the volunteer community. The culmination came in october 2008, with the lock-out of all current community members from the community site by TWiki.NET. This sparked the fork, first under the working-name Nextwiki and later under the permanent name Foswiki. The Foswiki website contains some background reading.

Rollercoaster ride

The fork took us community members on a rollercoaster-ride. We had to duplicate the project infrastructure that was built up over years on twiki.org, which we managed to do in just one or two weeks. Within moments, a new skin for the TWiki software was designed and implemented, and over the last few months we have had many emails supporting us in our actions. Developers that had been inactive for years because of the dictatorial regime Thoeny imposed on the project suddenly became interested again, new developers decided to join sparked by the radical change of direction.

Seeing the number of developers, designers, user-intraction experts and other contributors that went with the fork, it is reasonable to state that Foswiki is in fact the TWiki project, just under a new name. What is left under twiki.org, the original project website, is mostly a front for the struggling company TWiki.NET. Even though Thoeny keeps boasting the number of people that agreed to the new policy for using twiki.org, the number of actual contributions is very low, and mostly limited to contributions by Thoeny himself and one of his employees.

Meanwhile, in the short period since the fork (about 2.5 months) Foswiki has seen a staggering number of 1900 checkins, a lot of new content on the Foswiki community site, a lot of passionate discussions on the mailing lists and irc channels, and generally the feeling that we are rolling again! The crown on this work for me personally has been when earlier this week I mothballed the TWiki installation on foswiki.org, and replaced that with the Foswiki release candidate, including a port of the new skin-design to Foswiki pattern skin. An important milestone indeed.

New features, security audit and painless migration

That is all very well, and it is easy to gloat in the aftermath of the destruction that Thoeny wrought on the TWiki project. Of course it is not all roses and moonlight (a Dutch expression I believe), Thoeny’s actions have left the user-community in a split: should we stay with what is renamed to Foswiki, or should we go with the new TWiki. Of course, only in retrospect will we be able to determine what the right course of action would have been. However, given the above considerations, it is likely that users interested in innovation are wise to go with Foswiki.

Foswiki is based on an innovative new base architecture for example; as a result Foswiki can be run under FastCGI, a great step forward. Additionally, performance under mod_perl is improved. The same architecture (called FSA, short for Foswiki Stand Alone) makes it possible to run Foswiki as a stand-alone server, without the need of a webserver such as Apache. This is great for setting up a personal Foswiki on your laptop for example, or for using Foswiki in a more CMS-like fashion with agressive caching between the user and the FSA instance.

Other notable features are an improved search dialogue, giving the user much more flexibility and google-like boolean search operators. The venerable pattern-skin has been given a facelift, and is easier to customize.

And last but not least: much attention has been given to the security of the software. A lot of vectors for remote code injection have been identified and plugged, and other features have been made ‘secure by default’, eliminating the risk that a Foswiki application programmer might accidently introduce XSS issues. A further hundred-plus number of bugs have been fixed.

The Foswiki community considers concerns of current TWiki users very seriously. Migration is fairly painless, with the availability of a TWikiCompatibilityPlugin. A “pure” foswiki does not contain any TWiki-isms (such as the TWikiPreferences page) and all plugin functions are placed under the Foswiki namespace instead of the TWiki namespace. This would provide troublesome with legacy TWiki applications and plugins. The compatibility plugin makes those twiki-isms available under Foswiki, enabling old content and plugins to be used without a hitch.

The future

This is where i gather my crystal ball, and gaze at fuzy pictures of what is to come. Given that TWiki is now basically a two-man show, i think they will have a hard time supporting existing users. Both in development, where only one developer struggles to keep up with fixing reported bugs, as in end-user support. Thoeny is trying to single-handedly support the entire user base. Contrary to that situation, Foswiki has a thriving community behind it.

In an earlier post, i voiced the suspicion that TWiki.NET might become more like MySQL: a community of hired developers, with a product that is developed mostly as a commercial application and a floss version that is lagging behind in features as an afterthought. However, TWiki.NET will need money to build that hired community, and so far it does not seem they have the capital to follow through on that thought. Their ideal is the ubuntu model, their only problem is that they do not have the multi-millionaire to invest in endeavours that bring no profit.

I am biased, but I am convinced that Foswiki will prevail and TWiki will slowly die out. And without the vibrant community that made the product, the company that forced a resolution of the persisting stalemate that had locked up the community for years, will turn out to be an empty shell.

TWiki is dead, long live Foswiki!

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One Response to “TWiki is dead, long live Foswiki”

  1. Foswiki Version 1.0.0 veröffentlicht at zungu // Says:

    [...] weitere Artikel: Foswiki Pressemeldung, //seibert/media Weblog, slashdot, Andrew R Jones Weblog, SubWAY Weblog [...]

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