January 4, 2006

PHP Content Management Vendor Turns Five

Adam Sackey writes "Anyone who says Open Source can't work as a business model has another success story to counter their claim as this month the PHP Content Management vendor Simian Systems turns 5 years old. Simian are the makers of the PHP CMS called Sitellite, which offers a more business and enterprise-oriented solution than many other Open Source PHP-based systems.

According to their website, Simian Systems was started in January 2001, just after the technology bubble had burst, putting it in a challenging sales climate right off the get-go. Simian founder John Luxford chose to look at this in a positive way however. "Starting when the going is tough for many businesses means you'll find out sooner rather than later whether your business model works. I think that's why our model, which was perhaps more conservative in some ways than usual, was able to weather the storm when many businesses that appeared to be doing extremely well just a year or so before that quickly went belly up when the going got tough."

Simian's business model is a hybrid of two popular Open Source business models. The first is the dual-licensing model where one version is licensed under the GPL and users have a choice between that and a traditional commercial license, which allows for some commercial uses that the GPL forbids, such as combining the software with proprietary applications. The second is the services model, where the software is free but companies still need services such as support, customization, and training.

Sitellite, Simian's flagship product, wasn't initially an Open Source project however. "We started as a strictly commercial company, and although we've always offered a free version for charitable use, we were merely users and not contributors to the Open Source movement until a few years in" adds John Luxford. The Sitellite Open Source community also has its 2nd birthday this month, alongside the company's 5th. "Initially, when a company goes Open Source, you hear people wonder at their motivations. Do they 'get it' about Open Source or are they just in it for the money? That sort of thing. As a business, everybody's in it for the money at some level, but I think we've established a trust that comes with time between ourselves and the community members now."

As a birthday gesture to the community, Simian have released as Open Source a whopping 8 add-ons previously only available in their commercial version of Sitellite. These include a blogging add-on, a photo gallery maker, a podcast maker, a visual presentation builder based on S5 (think Powerpoint for the web), and various project management-oriented tools as well. Simian has also announced a 25% off sale on the commercial edition of Sitellite for the month of January.

"We wanted to do something to say thank you to the people outside of Simian who've had a hand in making Simian what it is today. Users and customers have a big influence on our software, and by supporting us as the makers of Sitellite the software gets better. That causes new users to take interest in the community, which helps the community grow. Without that support and influence, Sitellite as a product and as a community project wouldn't be as good as it is today" says John Luxford.

Sitellite as a CMS is in fact quite an advanced system, now in its 4.2 release, boasting features like version control, workflow and complex user privileges which are often only found in higher-end commercial systems. Still, upon installing and playing around with the system (for the record, I am a Sitellite user), it is both highly polished and fairly easy to use. The main interface is called the "Web View" which is your website itself with edit buttons to let you edit pages or sidebars or news articles. The editing interface has many options centering around a WYSIWYG editor that works equally well in both Internet Explorer and in Firefox, with much of the editing details such as metadata and permissions tucked nicely away behind dynamic tabs.

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