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Mambo was an Open Source Content Management System written in PHP. At one time, it was the most popular software of its type on the internet, running over 40% of CMS-driven websites.
Do you remember what the internet was like in 2001? Facebook didn’t exist. WordPress didn’t exist. Wikipedia was less than a year old. Craigslist only operated in a handful of cities.
Most web sites at the time were being written in HTML. The idea of “content management” backed by a database was still fairly new. A few systems existed, but not many. The idea just really hadn’t caught on.
That year, a handful of developers in Australia invented Mambo, a new content management system that would eventually dominate the internet.
For a while.
Mambo was easy to use and powerful. It featured a simple web interface for adding and editing content, which was revolutionary at the time.
What happened to Mambo CMS?
By 2004, Mambo was winning awards. Linux Format named it the “Best Free Software Project” of the Year, and Linux User and Developer named it “Best Linux or Open Source Software.”
But that same year, the troubles started.
Legal problems, PR problems
A business owner asked a developer to make some modifications to a Mambo theme. One of those modifications, a two-column headline span, eventually made it back into Mambo Core.
The visual idea here is very simple, and hardly original: a headline that extends across two columns of text (like in a newspaper).
The code that made it happen was also somewhat pedestrian: a
colspan attribute inside an HTML table.
But the business owner who had asked for the modification in the first place felt that the coder, in implementing the same design idea a second time (a different way, it turns out), had somehow stolen the idea or infringed on his intellectual property.
These allegations were never brought to trial and most knowledgeable commentators seem to think the accusations against Mambo and the coder were, at best, uninformed.
However, the ensuing scandal did significant damage to the Mambo community.
The business owner who thought his property had been stolen wrote a number of public letters to the user and developer community, warning that they might somehow be in danger if they were to begin or continue using the software. Many people heeded these warnings.
The situation was made worse by a nexus of confusing circumstances. There was a commercial and an Open Source version of Mambo. The Open Source version changed its name from Mambo Open Source (MOS) to just plain “Mambo.” The company relationship between the commercial company that initially launched Mambo (and sold the commercial version) and the community-oriented project were not clear to many people.
Finally, non-technical business decision makers were not particularly well-versed in the legal considerations and freedoms associated with Open Source Software. In the face of even an unlikely risk, alternatives seemed much more attractive.
_Not with a bang, but with a fizzle__
Shortly after the trouble with the copyright issue, the lead developer left the project. By the end of 2005, the company that had launched Mambo and supported its development dissolved.
Over the next few years, a handful of lead developers came and went, and some attempts were made at restructuring the team and the organization. But a handful of new versions were released, mostly little more than bug fixes and security patches. The original dev team all went on to other projects, and no new talent really wanted to get on board. At the same time, newer solutions, like WordPress, had become popular, launching a whole new era of Content Management.
Where is Mambo today?
In most respects, the Mambo project is dead. The last stable release was in 2011, and before that there had been one in 2008. As of this writing, a message on the Mambo website announces that development might resume soon, and asks for interested volunteers. But it isn’t clear how long that message has been there. Most of the pages on the website are broken.
But the spirit of Mambo lives on.
Many members of the original Mambo development team regrouped and launch Joomla, which started life as a fork of the Mambo project. Joomla, which is probably the second-most popular CMS on the internet, has been extensively rewritten since then — but the soul of the internet’s first wildly popular content management system is still there.