Google releases EtherPad as open source to calm users

Users can now download the word processor's source code, ahead of the discontinuation of Google's hosted service

Google has released the source code of EtherPad, a Web-hosted word processor designed for real-time workgroup collaboration, in a move aimed at appeasing users of the product who complained about plans to discontinue it.

Google acquired EtherPad's creator, AppJet, earlier this month to add AppJet's technology and team to Google Wave, a real-time, hosted collaboration application that combines e-mail, instant messaging and document sharing.

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At the time, Google announced that the hosted versions of EtherPad would be shut down at the end of March, triggering an outcry from users.

Google subsequently decided to release EtherPad's code as open source, so that anyone could install it on their own servers. That code is now available for download.

"Our goal with this release is to let the world run their own EtherPad servers so that the functionality can live on even after we shut down," wrote Aaron Iba, former AppJet CEO, on Thursday in an official blog.

In fact, those with entrepreneurial inclinations could even take the EtherPad code and offer the application in a Web-hosted fashion to others, just like AppJet does today, he wrote.

Before the Google acquisition, AppJet offered EtherPad in three versions: a hosted "Free" starter edition; a hosted "Professional" edition priced at $8 per user per month; and a "Private Network" edition priced at $99 per user and designed to be downloaded to on-premise customer servers.

Initially, Google said it would stop charging for the Professional accounts and stop accepting new EtherPad accounts, but then it also backtracked on the latter decision. However, Iba wrote on Friday that a spike in EtherPad sign-ups after the Google acquisition has overloaded its servers, causing recurrent downtime at

"We are doing our best to keep the site up and running, but it's clear that we will not be able to do so indefinitely. Our plan remains to discontinue the hosted service completely by March 31st, 2010. New public pad creation may need to be shut down sooner, depending on whether traffic continues to grow or taper off," Iba wrote.

AppJet provides ways for users to export data in EtherPad "pads". Google will honor support commitments for Private Network customers but will not renew those contracts once they expire.

Google Wave, announced in May and still in limited release, has garnered a lot of attention because of its potential to disrupt consumer and enterprise collaboration software by consolidating elements from various applications in a single interface.

However, the jury is still out on whether users will embrace Wave or be confused by it, relegating it to the industry's bin of clever and bold ideas that never caught on.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.