While these two dominant technical trends or directions have much to learn from each other, the convergence is likely to have its painful moments if OSCON is any indication. Indeed the talk of the conference was the somewhat shocking public swipe at Tim O’Reilly by one of the GPLv3’s chief architects, Eben Moglen.
As documented elsewhere, Moglen absolutely dropped the hammer on Mr. Web 2.0, arguing that “that the FSF has ‘done the heavy lifting’ and ‘carried your water’ for the last decade, and that the era of Web 2.0 distraction (buzz about who is making money, who will get acquired, etc) will need to be replaced by a serious conversation about freedom.”
Whether you agree with Moglen’s tactic here – I do not – it cannot be debated that the questions raised are quite legitimate. If software is increasingly if not exclusively transitioning to network delivered services, what should software freedoms – whether they’re defined by Apache or the FSF – mean in that context? Especially considering questions of data ownership and availability.
What cannot be disputed, however, is the fact that the two most powerful trends in software – open source and software-as-a-service – are converging quickly, and the ripples from the resulting collision will impact all of us.
Mark Pilgrim also weighs in…
Praising companies for providing APIs to get your own data out is like praising auto companies for not filling your airbags with gravel. I’m not saying data export isn’t important, it’s just aiming kinda low. You mean when I give you data, you’ll… give it back to me? People who think this is the pinnacle of freedom aren’t really worth listening to. Please, we need a Free Data movement. (Yeah I know, Tim predicted it already. I was the one who told him, at FOO Camp the month before.)
Rafe Colburn‘s comments are also very salient:
The GPL and other licenses were built for an age when you distributed software, and work because they require you to distribute the source code for your software along with the binaries. These days, most new applications are not distributed. You just provide access to them on your own server, and you’re not obliged to distribute any code.
So everybody these days is building Web applications using Open Source, but they’re keeping the code to themselves.
When the innovation is returned to the Open Source community it’s out of charity rather than obligation.
It seems to me that even if Open Source licenses are, to some degree, obsolete, the Open Source culture has deeply and permanently taken hold in the Web development community. Developers are sharing code and knowledge, and Web applications keep getting more powerful and easier to write.
There’s a lot going on here: desktop apps. vs. networked apps, open source vs. free software, software ownership vs. data ownership, it’s quite complex but will eventually affect all of us who work on the web.