After years of perpetual beta (it's vogue these days), Celtx, the open source media pre-production and screenwriting application, finally earned its 1.0 status this past June. So it might seem a little odd that only eight months later, Celtx is making the jump to 2.0 (and it does seem a little sudden) so let's take a look and see if this new version worth its version number.
A new codebase
Celtx is a XUL application, and repurposes the underpinnings of Firefox for its evil machinations. In 2.0, Celtx finally makes the leap to the Firefox 3.0 codebase, bringing with it some awesome new stability updates, speed increases, and more. It's still missing movable tabs, but hopefully the next feature can help solve that...
As a user of Celtx myself (and a longtime writer and reviewer of it here and at YouMakeMedia, our sister site), I've always had a few feature requests and complaints. The ability to use add-ons and modifications is one that I've actually had since 2005, when I first used Celtx! I'm thrilled it's finally made it in the application. To be an "official" toolbox application, e.g. to use specific functions of the Celtx collaboration servers and to be listed on the Celtx website, your plugin has to be approved by Celtx, however I've been assured that you are still allowed to make and distribute your own plugins as long as they don't use functions that plug into the Celtx server (the proprietary aspect of the Celtx ecosystem). That brings me to the next big new thing:
Until now, Celtx has used Project Central, an online site, to facilitate collaboration between writers. Project Central is great, but it doesn't offer a lot of granular control, and is mainly designed for showcasing your work to others.
Celtx Studio is designed to augment Project Central, allowing folks to upload their projects and set sharing permissions and other necessary settings for managing a project. It's different from Project Central because a project isn't inherently public if you upload it. In fact, the only way to make it public is through the "preview" function or by uploading it separately to Project Central. They've also added a long-requested backup feature, which will let you go back to any save point in your project history. Never worry about accidentally deleting that great line again - you'll always be able to go to your archives and recover safely!
Celtx Studio, being proprietary, is where Celtx has revealed they plan to make money. It's currently free during the beta period, but after the kinks are ironed out they plan to charge $50/year. Interestingly, they haven't specified whether that's Canadian or American dollars - Celtx is based in Canada but the majority of professional users are likely to be in America (Hollywood and all) so that's a decision that will be important.
Of course, moving Celtx Studio and the collaboration features to a paid model is ideal for Celtx - it's finally a business model, and shows that Open Source can find ways of making money. However, the move diminishes one of Celtx's core functions; Celtx has always diversified itself from the pack based on its all-in-one convenience and its collaboration. With the collaboration stripped unless you're willing to pay, does Celtx's all-in-one convenience make it worth using?
I'd suspect the desktop client won't disappear anytime soon, primarily because there are very few free applications for managing the pre-production of a media project, or writing a screenplay. However I do bet that Studio won't catch on as quickly as they hope. It's not too polished, and it seems very narrow in scope. Perhaps I'd be looking at this differently if I hadn't been using Celtx with collaboration easily for the past four years for free, however it seems that taking away features from users is not ideal - adding features is the way to go. Admittedly the new archives feature is pretty awesome, but I'm not sure if it's enough to justify Studio to existing users.
Maybe we'll be seeing some alternative collaboration options from add-on developers in the near future. Perhaps an app that allows FTP-syncing of scripts (another long requested feature, and one that was in early versions of Celtx) or one that automatically emails scripts to the other collaborators when they are saved.
Either way, I know there will be a lot of users (myself included) who won't find enough value in the $50/year fee to begin paying. I hope I'm wrong for their sake - the Celtx team is comprised of some awesome people who I've supported strongly over the past four years - but ultimately I'm not convinced that Studio (at least in its current form) will be the sole monetisation solution for Celtx.