Interview with Rob Clayburn from

GPL WeekThis week we’re publishing a series of interviews here at

Every day this week we’ll be talking with a Joomla developer who works with a commercial GPL business model.

In the second interview of our series, we talk with Rob Clayburn from

1) Could you explain a little about your Joomla product?

Fabrik is a form and database management component. Our aim is to provide a flexible WYSIWYG environment in which our users can easily create forms, manage data and write mini applications tailored to their own needs. Users can implement a wide range of form elements (fields, checkboxes, drop down lists etc), and data can be imported and exported into a various formats such as CSV, RSS & email. The use of templates allows users to quickly customize the forms and applications they create.

2) What subscription packages do you offer currently?

We currently offer an annual subscription of ?20 (GBP), which provides
subscribers with access to a PDF user manual and support.

3) What extras do you offer to people who subscribe?

Inclusive of the PDF documentation our subscribers have access to a series of flash video tutorials, and a forum board dedicated to the support needs of our subscribers (the other boards on the forum are open to everyone). With the release of Fabrik 2.0 we will be introducing a new plug-in architecture as well as pre-built Fabrik applications for our subscribers.

4) You started on the subscription model before the recent decision by the Joomla core. Why did you decide to offer subscriptions instead of selling your product?

Fabrik first started life as mosForms, which at the time was my first open source project for Mambo. I was new to the idea of open source software and quickly fell in love with the idea and the community, so didn’t really think twice about licensing mosForms under the same license as Mambo. Two years ago the company I was working for went under and I decided to create my own company, Pollen 8. While it was a great experience, Pollen 8 didn’t really allow me to give the time to mosForms that it deserved, so the project really slowed down in supporting its users and in improving it?s code base.

It was only when Graylan King (now a moderator on the Fabrik forum) got in touch with Pollen 8, requesting a large amount of code changes and generously threw in his support to the project, that I was able to start dedicating more time to mosForms. Graylan?s enthusiasm for the project and his business knowledge really convinced me that we could improve things for our users by creating a business model around a new and improved version of mosForms (Fabrik). At the same time I was still adamant that the code and the license should remain the same, and after knocking backwards and forwards several ideas we decided that the subscription model seemed to best fit our needs.

5) How did you handle the introduction of subscriptions? Were people willing to subscribe or did you need to educate people about the benefits?

Subscriptions came in with the launch of Fabrik; our aim with the launch was to re-brand mosForms into Fabrik and to implement an improved level of support and functionality for our users. We tried to write an honest history of the project, what had been a success and where things had not been so great. We laid out the direction in which we intended to move the project forward and we made people aware that the project would only really get there with their support. There was obviously a wide range of reactions when we did this, ranging from incomprehension & mistrust to enthusiasm and lots of good will. Some people were actually angry that we were not selling the software instead of making it freely available under the GPL license. Perhaps the most understandable gripe we have is that we charge in British pounds and the exchange rates are not great for people outside the UK.

6) Do you mind us asking about the level of subscriptions? How many of your users subscribe?

Well, without giving out too much information, I can say that I’m really pleased with the response the subscription plan has received – of the users who have registered on the Fabrikar site, 28% have subscribed.

7) Do you think that now or in the future it will be possible for you to make a full-time living from a GPL business model?

Currently I don’t have this as an end goal, but I do think it would be possible with Fabrik.

I work best when moving between different projects so I don’t envisage concentrating 100% on purely selling subscriptions. What I’m increasingly looking for is external projects that require Fabrik but which also involve improving and updating the code base to meet the projects goals. It?s really been these types of projects, with their real requirements, that have advanced Fabrik to where it is today.

8) Do you have any other thoughts or advice about Joomla moving to GPL compliance?

I’ve not been following the debate as closely as other developers because Fabrik’s business model isn’t directly affected by the Joomla teams current view on how the GPL relates to third party components. However, my understanding is that Joomla has always been under the GPL, and the current debate seems to be more about what the relationship that third party code has with the core – whether extensions are seen as a plug-in or a derivative. My gut instinct is that they (extensions) really should be treated as a plug-in, and I’m sure a lot of other developers see it like this as well.

What I’m hoping for (and what I?m sure will eventually happen) is a comprehensive debate between the Joomla team and commercial developers about finding a solution that will allow everyone to move forward in an equitable and secure manner.

Developers need and should be able to make a living from their work, but that living is dependent on the Joomla eco-system, both in terms of the Joomla code and the community that has built up around it, so I would like to see a vibrant Joomla community that allows for both commercial and non commercial code to exist side by side. The Joomla team should encourage Open Source development to ensure that end users have a wide choice of both commercial and OS products to match their requirements.

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