Alex Barnett blog


What does open source "mean" in a SaaS world?

In March 2007, this article by Bryan Richard discussed the the implications of Software as a Service (SaaS) with respect to the GPL licence.

"Conservative estimate: In the future 75% of your applications will be delivered over a computer network and you will interact with them with no "transfer of a copy." For evidence of this trend just look to the popularity of Gmail and the creation (impossible 10 years ago) of Google's document and spreadsheet apps; analyst suggestions that the importance of operating systems is fading; the success of web apps like SalesForce; wiki culture; the popularity of Web APIs and application mash-ups; Adobe building an online version Photoshop.

The future is networked. The GPL isn't."

In April, Matt Asay posted his recognition of the same issue after visiting Bungee Labs (as a member of our Advisory Board):

"I believe we're on the cusp of a hugely disruptive change in the way open source software is licensed. The OSI, of which I'm part, is against license proliferation. But the community and OSI will need to figure out how to make open source relevant to the online world, without stifling the creativity that has built it. This is a non-trivial problem, and it is a problem."

And I agreed:

"..the cloud-based future we're heading to will cause an invigorating and necessary debate within the industry on the topic of licenses in a purely networked computing environment:"

Today Tim O'Reilly chips in, concluding

"This is still an unsolved area for both open source and Web 2.0. I believe that there will come a time when we will need to rediscover for Web 2.0 the freedoms that led Richard Stallman to the GPL, but I don't think it will grow out of the current crop of free software licenses. It will be closer, perhaps to Wesabe's open data bill of rights."

And in response, Matt Asay picks up on the thread again this morning:

"There's no point in complaining about what might have been. The real debate should be over what we do now: we need a new crop of licenses to help make open source relevant for the web. It's actually surprising that we have almost nothing so far...." 

The question is: What does "open source" mean in a networked, SOA / API-based world as SaaS becomes the dominant computing model?

It looks like this will be the main topic of conversation at this O'Reilly event next week in two week's time (I'm going to try to make it given the topic's pertinence to the future of our own business). My own (and maybe obvious to some) prediction is that the effort by the community to answer the "What does "open source" mean in a SaaS world?" question will become the center of a highly controversial and popular topic of conversation for the wider technical community in 2008.


Alex Barnett blog said:

About a year ago, I took part in a meeting where the question: "What does open source "mean" in a SaaS

# May 15, 2008 9:18 PM