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Cloud computing and Open Source software

This content is 16 years old and may not reflect reality today nor the author’s current opinion. Please keep its age in mind as you read it.

Here is a post I just made to the cloud computing group in the ‘Power of opensource!!!’ thread. I thought was relevant for blog readers as well as it asks whether IT is still nervous about Open Source software:

In terms of Open Source, I believe the vast majority of cloud computing solutions today are run on open source software stacks, or at least open source operating systems (eg Linux). On the client side a large and increasing number of users are using open source browsers (eg Firefox).

I don’t see anything that will change this on the server side – at these scales you just need to be able to get in and tweak the stack from the network driver through the database itself and you’ve got a snowflake’s chance in hell of doing that with most proprietary systems.

I also believe this trend will continue, particularly on the client side where the cost of the hardware will continue to drop to the point where software licensing cannot be carried on top of it – even the first generation of CherryPal, Eee PC and XO machines, at around $200, can’t support a $100 OS license (plus apps etc).

In terms of the actual licensing, now that software is merely ‘performed’ rather than ‘conveyed’ the ‘triggers’ for most licenses requiring release of modifications don’t fire so licenses like the Affero GPL are appearing to address this ‘loophole’.

Finally, vendors who have found themselves in the unfortunate position of being in competition with open source products ought to be very careful about calling into question the value that it provides – we’ve heard it all before and are using it extensively anyway.

In summary, Open Source is here and here to stay. Cloud computing is user-centric so users don’t need to worry so much about what software they are using, but the overwhelming majority of software on both server and client side will be Open Source before long (much of it already is).

A new risk for Open Source today is the ‘service provider loophole’, whereby changes can be made to server side software that is never distributed and thus kept secret. We’ve covered this ground before, for example when using databases like MySQL with proprietary software, but much of the innovation is now taking place in the applications of the software rather than the software itself. I hope to see licenses like the Affero GPL (which address this weakness) being widely adopted by purveyors of network based software. The best example I’ve seen of this so far is Identi.ca‘s assault on Twitter (which is incredibly useful but notoriously unreliable).