I’ve been running a nifty little package called “phpGroupWare” for a few years now with great success. It’s got just about everything you would want in a groupware package: contact management, shared calendars, document storage and retrieval, e-mail, and much more.

This is a project that experienced an all too common event in open source: a fork. Some years ago, there was an argument on the future direction of the project. As I vaguely recall, it had something to do with licensing. I wasn’t around for the fireworks, but this tends to be a deeply philosophical issue and one of the most common reasons for OSS forks.
The forked project — which will go nameless — initially attracted me because it has great cosmetic appearance. As I started to work with it, I discovered some minor problems. A few web searches pointed me at the “original” development at phpGroupWare.org but it wasn’t as pretty and it seemed to have a rather dormant community around it.

So I joined the community of the unnamed fork and (nicely) asked a few questions about the problems I had encountered. Result: an unfriendly response from a lead developer. I observed that the response seemed somewhat unfriendly, and I got a hostile response. Maybe I hit some sort of hot button; maybe the English to German translation came out nasty; or maybe they were just having a bad week. Whatever it was, I have no intention of contributing where I’m not wanted. I wished them luck, expressing hopes that whatever it was that made them so unpleasant was resolved at some point in the future — possibly in their next life — and went off to install phpGroupWare.

The problems I experienced were nowhere to be found in “phpGW”, and I’ve happily used the product ever since.

But it’s not a perfect world. Despite it’s immense capabilities and what seems to be a fairly wide install base, the project has but three active developers; the community surrounding the product seems as dormant as ever, and the world has been waiting a long, long time for the next release (and the cosmetics remain inferior). This delay isn’t their fault, after all nobody is paying them for their hard work, and they have to earn a living too.

So this is a call to current and future users of this excellent product. Open source software may be free, but it carries with it an implicit responsibility to give back to the user and developer community that produced it. This could mean as little as helping a new user out in the forums with a support question, creating a new graphical “skin” that makes the product look better, or as much as making a major code contribution. It’s my opinion that successful OSS projects have a mix of talented developers, people with great online interpersonal skills, and evangelists who are willing to promote the product and get more people involved. This project really deserves to have a more supportive community, so if you can help, and especially if you use the code, drop in and lend a hand.