I was really happy to see a blog post on Open Source and Cloud Computing by Tim O’Reilly in O’Reilly Radar today. Not just because he gave a nod to my new microblogging project, Identi.ca, although that was pretty sweet. Tim argues strongly for the use of distributed, federated web services implementing open standards.
Some choice quotes:
What good are free and open source licenses, all based on the act of software distribution, when software is no longer distributed but merely performed on the global network stage?
This is a good point, and one I think we’ll see having more impact. The Affero GPL is one answer to this question, but Tim and I agree that that’s not the only answer:
… companies are beginning to understand that in the era of the cloud, open source without open data is only half the application.
if you care about open source for the cloud, build on services that are designed to be federated rather than centralized.
This, I think, is the third part of the equation, and truly in the spirit of the Internet. It’s always mostly been a place where a diversity of hosts deploying a variety of server software packages have communicated with simple, published protocols. And I think that’s what’s really necessary to preserve users’ autonomy: the ability to have new deployments of software spin up with their same data and same connections to the rest of the Web. Or:
Free Software + Free Data + Open Protocols ➔ Autonomy
Note that I think these things are necessary conditions for producing autonomy, and not the state itself (which we haven’t really defined!). That’s what we’re calling for users, hackers, and service providers to implement in the Franklin Street Statement.
It was brave of Tim to take this stand. Few people in the Web 2.0 biz are going to be excited about this direction for software services. Nobody wants to be told to open up, or get routed around by the FLOSS community. A lot of software companies have responded to the growth of Open Source software by moving to a software-as-a-service model, and they’re not going to like hearing that they’re going to be facing competition on that level, too.
To be fair, Tim takes a perspective that’s been different from ours here at autonomo.us. He argues mostly in economic terms: that “lock in” is bad for companies and limits choices. Which is true, but doesn’t really focus on freedom of choice for the individual. That said, I think it’s probably a good argument in general, and I think that a lot of companies that have based their business on a single “open” SaaS platform (cough cough) know that this kind of lock-in is a really bad thing.
Mostly, I’m glad we’re seeing a diversity of people in the Free and Open Source software community expressing their concerns on this matter. I know it might be asking a lot, but I hope that Tim gives the Franklin Street Statement a once-over and considers endorsing it.