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Is the AGPL half-empty, or half-full?Jay Lyman, March 24, 2008 @ 1:09 pm ET
The GNU Affero GPL, released in November 2007 and approved by the OSI this month, is being viewed as both closure of a GPL loophole and as a tool to truly transfer the collaborative and community benefits of GPL to the software-as-a-service model. AGPLv3 closes a loophole that many would have preferred to see addressed by the GPLv3. However, because the ASP or SaaS loophole was left in place with GPLv3 and GPLv2, major open source users such as Google seem more than content to stay away from Affero and thereby avoid sharing code and modifications in the same way the software is delivered.
There is a continuing degree of resentment around Google’s continued use of open source in a network or SaaS model without the sharing and disribution of code and modifications that, in spirit, go along with using and distributing GPL code. However, Google’s license choices and glass-half-empty approach may end up costing the vendor some of its dominance in the future. Contrary to the common perception that Affero and AGPLv3 are simply more onerous, added responsibility and burden, some vendors, such as Funambol, see Affero GPLv3 as a major advance in open source licensing that is better suited to modern development, changing delivery models and innovation.
Similar to how open source software has historically been among the only effective weapons to fight market and monopoly powers such as Microsoft, the AGPLv3 may elevate the more collaborative, more transparent and productive communities above those that continue to leverage old GPL loopholes. In other words, there are more advantages to GPL-style collaboration, community and cachet (glass half-full) than there are disadvantages to having to share code.
I asked who would follow when Funambol promptly adopted AGPLv3 last November touting the advantages of true GPL development coupled with the SaaS model. Based on Black Duck’s latest knowledgebase findings, a number of others are making the same choice. While there is certainly no groundswell of AGPLv3 adoption going on, it is clear that SaaS players and others are watching carefully to see where the water line is.
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