Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Open clouds isn't a license question

From Marten Mickos Says: Keep the Cloud Open:

The problem is that it's tougher to define "share and share alike" in the cloud space. It's not just about code, it's also about data, APIs and company policies that affect whether use of cloud services are open or not. "The border line between me and the one serving me is different. If I'm a Facebook user, I don't need the  GPL to protect me... I need the right to withdraw my data.

The definition of open needs to change, says Mickos. "Though the GPL is a great thing... as we move into the cloud, it's not enough. We need to extend the definition of open for code, data and APIs." Mickos closed the keynote saying that the community needs to protect the principles of "sharing and sharing alike" for the next generation to enjoy it in the cloud the same way the current generation has enjoyed it with Linux and open source.

I'm certainly all on board with the idea of cloud interoperability and portability. And so are most of the users I speak with. In fact, I just finished co-presenting a Red Hat-sponsored webinar in which we included a poll question asking viewers how important portability was to them. The results? Overwhelmingly somewhat or very important.

There's no disputing that figuring out what sort of freedoms and portability are the most important to maintain in the cloud is an ongoing process. I discuss some of the issues in this piece I wrote while still an industry analyst a few years back.

However, I'm less convinced about encoding freedoms in licenses. And, in fact, the trend seems to be headed in the opposite directions. The Affero GPL--which essentially extends the copyleft provisions of the GPL to the case where software is delivered over the network in the form of a service--has not been widely adopted. Furthermore, there seems to be an overall trend toward the use of more permissive licenses such as BSD, Apache, and MIT rather than strong copyleft licenses like the GPL. (This post of mine on CNET has some more background on both the trend and the way the various licenses work.)

It is indeed right and good to promote open and interoperable clouds. I also firmly believe it's going to be the winning side just as it has (often) been elsewhere. But partly for that reason, I'm unconvinced that the open source license landscape is the right place to look for answers even if the overall success and values of open source is.


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