A number of people have recently raised the issue of the threat that cloud computing poses to the monetization of open source by specialist vendors, including Savio Rodrigues, Matt Asay, and Mike Hogan.
I believe that cloud computing provides an opportunity for open source specialists, but agree that cloud services based on open source code could potentially eat into the business opportunities for open source specialists since the cloud providers have no requirements to pay for a commercial relationship with the vendor concerned.
Some commenters have proposed that the Affero GPL is a potential solution to this problem since it applies the requirements of the GNU GPL to code distributed over a network, updating the GPL for a SaaS and cloud age. However, there are a number of reasons why this is not necessarily the case. Here are three of them.
1/ As Matt Asay points out, if MySQL were released under the AGPL Google would in all likelihood decide to find something else to base its development on, rather than be forced to contribute back its own code.
2/ The Affero GPL doesn’t prevent the deployment of open source software in networked environments, it just requires contribution of modifications. In the case of Microsoft supporting MySQL and Tomcat on Azure and Amazon using MySQL to create its Relational Database Service it is questionable whether there is any significant modification at all. Even if there is, it is likely to be very specific to the Azure and AWS cloud platforms. As such they are likely to be of no use to anyone else, or significant enough to trigger the avoidance of Affero GPL code, as above.
3/ The Affero GPL is unsuitable for vendors that want to encourage SaaS delivery by other parties. I spoke to an open source e-commerce vendor earlier this year looking at opportunities for cloud computing. A perfect candidate for the Affero GPL? Well no, because the company’s software is often embedded within applications from ISV partners that are delivered as a service. The Affero GPL would potentially force those ISV partners to publish their own code under the Affero GPL license.
Which is not to say that the Affero GPL does not have its uses, but it is not a solution to the problem that cloud providers can use open source code without paying for commercial relationships with the associated vendors.