Automattic has released an open source WordPress.com Mac app

Calypso is an ambitious Mac app from Automattic to bring the WordPress publishing and site management experience to the desktop.

Today, Automattic released their official WordPress.com Mac app, that was codenamed Calypso during development, that allows users to manage both WordPress.com and Jetpack enabled websites using a desktop interface. The code behind the app is also the foundation for a new version of the WordPress.com browser editor.

Here’s a quick video walkthrough:

The new WordPress.com app development occurred over the course of at least 18 months, according to the press release, with input from more than 140 Automatticians. Andy Peatling, who has been at Automattic since 2008, was the project lead.

If you could rebuild the admin from scratch

Matt Mullenweg said that Automattic wanted to completely rethink the WordPress admin experience, without the burden of backward compatibility that WordPress core must hold sacred:

What would we build if we were starting from scratch today, knowing all we’ve learned over the past 13 years of building WordPress? At the beginning of last year, we decided to start experimenting and see.

Calypso was an ambitious project. Not only does it bring the WordPress editing and publishing experience to a Mac app, but pretty much the entire WordPress.com admin experience is now available on the desktop, from stats to theme shopping.

While the app is definitely geared toward the experience one would expect on a WordPress.com website, you can also manage Jetpack enabled websites with it. The Jetpack Manage feature must be enabled for it to work, and I admit I struggled to get it to function with my own (personal) website. However, I’m sure it’ll get any kinks worked out, and anyone looking for basic website management, but are on WordPress.org, may enjoy the experience.

Open sourcing WordPress.com

The most important part of the announcement is that Automattic is open sourcing Calypso and the many APIs that help drive it.

A lot of people thought we should keep this proprietary, but throughout my life I’ve learned that the more you give away, the more you get back. We still have a ton to figure out around plugins, extensibility, contributions, Windows and Linux releases, API speed, localization, and harmonizing the WordPress.com API and WP-API so it can work with core WordPress. Thousands more PHP developers will need to become fluent with Javascript to recreate their admin interfaces in this fashion. I’m also really excited to revisit and redesign many more screens now that we have this first version out the door.

I’m really glad they chose to open source it. I agree with Matt that both the app and the broader community will benefit from the decision; though I don’t doubt it may have been a tough sell to investors.

I also agree with Ben Thompson (a former Automattician, by chance), who once said that proprietary software itself isn’t necessarily what makes a company successful, but rather, “companies that are built on software but differentiated by a difficult-to-replicate complement to said software.”

In Automattic’s case, open sourcing the techniques to build the app isn’t giving away what is most valuable. What is most valuable to them is what they gain from the open source nature of the software, that will allow them to improve the experience for their vast WordPress.com user base.

Calypso is a good step forward for WordPress.com

I’ve worried for a while now that Automattic may be letting their audience slip, by falling behind the ease of use of other tools, like Medium. I think the new WordPress.com editor, and the corresponding WordPress.com app, are a great improvement to the writing experience, and I think that the investment they’ve made is a smart one.

I’ll be digging more into the code and developer components of the new APIs and the Mac app soon. I didn’t have access to that data prior to launch.

The new app is available for download from WordPress.com now, or you can of course test drive the browser version directly on WordPress.com. You can also see the developer features, code on Github, the backstory from Andy Peatling, and see both WordPress.com’s announcement, as well as Matt’s.