The future of Magento Open Source

The future of Magento Open Source

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Context and history

Speculation on the future of Magento is actually nothing new.  Magento started life way back in 2007 developed by a small company named Varien who released their first open source product in 2008.  Community Edition as it was called then overtook the popularity of it's predecessor osCommerce by early 2009. So the open source nature of early Magento, along with it's better versatility were the primary reasons for the rapid popularity of the framework.

In 2011 eBay acquired Magento, and because of the huge popularity of the product even then, there was massive speculation into the future of the framework under new ownership - particularly Community Edition. Actually eBay took a largely hands off approach in terms of any fundamental changes to the direction Magento was going in, but there was a definite push to make the framework more commercial.  So we saw the introduction of things like more paid certifications both for individual developers and agencies, an increase in the price of Magento Enterprise edition, and the introduction of new paid versions like Professional and Go.

Magento went independent again in 2015 which the community largely welcomed, and they remained independent until they were once again acquired in 2018 but this time by Adobe.  Even before this acquisition was finalised, Adobe were public in saying the long term plan was to integrate Magento into their Experience Cloud suite of products, but back then they weren't making any distinction between open source and paid editions.

So this kind of thinking was largely on the backburner for many people using Magento since Adobe's acquisition, and with no announcements about it, most people just carried on and largely forgot about it.

That is until Adobe Summit 2021.  During the conference, the talk titled 'Extending Magento Commerce with Adobe I/O' sparked a resurgence of this whole conversation.  Why?  Not because the integration with Experience Cloud was a surprise, but because the talk was only about Commerce edition, with no mention of Open Source.  So what does this announcement mean for Open Source edition?

Differences between eBay's and Adobe's acquisition

At this point it's important to add a bit of context as to why this talk got alarm bells ringing, and this context can be found by comparing the approach eBay took to Magento, to Adobe.  The acquisition by eBay some may argue was much more motivated towards pure monetisation of the software, with little intention of altering the direction of development of the product.  As far as the users were concerned, little changed in terms of using or developing the product, and the primary changes remained around external points like gaining certification or the introduction of new versions to make the software even more accessible.

When Adobe acquired Magento, at first things looked very similar with little changing in terms of day to day use of the software, however in the last year or two it's been clear that Adobe have fully invested in Magento, with the intention of bringing the software much more in line with their other offerings.  So one of the most visible changes is the complete rebrand of the product to Adobe Commerce, and ditching the hugely recognisable Magento logo.

Most recently the domain now even redirects to Adobe Experience Cloud, and there is absolutely no mention of an Open Source edition that I can see at all.  You can find it with a Google search, but they certainly aren't making it easy to track down.

So what is the future?

To me, it feels like there is a definite separation of concerns in the mind of Adobe between the paid and free editions of Magento, and this is demonstrated even by things like the way the products are referred to.  The paid edition is always now referred to as Adobe Commerce by Adobe themselves, whilst they refer to the free edition as still Magento Open Source.  The domain became heavily rebranded to Adobe Commerce some time ago, and now the redirection to Adobe from really confirms this separation.  To me this step suggests Adobe are quite advanced with the implementation of Commerce edition into Adobe I/O, and may even be close to making a further announcement on progress around this, and possibly even the future of Open Source edition.

If we also consider points like the fact that Adobe really don't do open source software, and the fact they haven't made any official statement saying that the Open Source edition of Magento will continue, we can probably draw some pretty strong conclusions as to what we think is going on.

The communities response

The Magento community responded to the talk at Adobe Summit with the intention of branching off Open Source edition into an independent, community maintained project.  This is a highly supported proposal,  but I would imagine still could not go ahead without the consent of Adobe themselves.  They may block a move like this if they see that it may impact further commercialisation of the paid edition, but we can't know what will happen here until Adobe make some kind of announcement.

Adobe did kind of respond to this on the Magento Devblog with a post titled 'Building the Future of Magento Open Source Together' but actually the content of the post makes no promises on the future of Open Source being maintained by Adobe at all.  Some wording also seems to support the idea that the future of Commerce edition is going to see significant change.  There is however light at the end of the tunnel when the blog post states that 'Adobe will continue to partner with the community to ensure that the core open source codebase is secure and high quality' which is a positive.

My opinion on the future of Open Source

The first thing I'll say is that these kinds of large scale plans take significant time to implement in a huge organisation like Adobe, and they probably currently see Magento as a bit more a pet project that needs expanding and building on in the future.  Even though they have the resources to implement these changes quickly if they want to, I don't think that they'll be throwing huge resources at it immediately because they don't want to alienate the current paid users by quickly introduciung huge sweeping changes.  Instead they will want to take things more slowly and make changes incremental over a fairly long period of time, so this is likely to be much more of a mid to long term plan for Adobe than anything else.

As such I would anticipate Adobe continuing to develop both Commerce and Open Source editions together for some time.  However I would expect Adobe to begin to lean on the community for more support in the development of Open Source edition as Commerce moves more into the Experience Cloud family which will create a divergence between the two codebases.

From the evidence available, my opinion is that Adobe will certainly be fully integrating Commerce edition into Experience Cloud.  I think eventually access to the Commerce edition codebase will be removed entirely with customisation only possible via Adobe I/O.

For Open Source edition, I think that Adobe will continue to want to be involved in development at least in the medium term, but actual development will increasingly move to be the responsibility of the community.

What I hope will end up happening is that eventually there will be such a difference in the codebase between Commerce and Open Source edition that Commerce really won't any more be just additional functionality built on top of Open Source edition, they'll instead each end up as there own individual, distinct products.  At this point I would hope that Adobe would be happy to cut ties with Open Source edition and hand responsibility to the community, or perhaps an interested company who wants to head up development.  Commerce edition will likely evolve into another probably subscription based Adobe product, and Open Source edition will continue much as it is now - still open source but maintained by the community.  At least until the next venture attempts to monetize it again!

Should I panic?

Whether you operate a Magento store, or you are a developer - no on both counts.  Even if what my opinion of what could happen, actually ends up happenning, it's certainly not going to happen overnight.  We are probably talking about even years rather than months for Adobe to fully execute their plan for Magento and over that period you will have plenty of time to see the steps Adobe are taking, see how the future of Open Source pans out, and decide whether Magento is still the product for you.

So my advice would be to carry on as before, but just keep half an eye on Adobe's progress every now and again.  And you can be sure that any significant news on this front will makes it's way through the Magento community pretty rapidly.


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