With Software as a Service, Is Only the Network Luddite Free?

Bradley Kuhn (Software Freedom Conservancy), Benjamin Mako Hill (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Evan Prodromou (StatusNet Inc), Nathan Yergler (Creative Commons), Tim O'Reilly (O'Reilly Media, Inc.)
Emerging Topics
Location: Ballroom A4/A5
Average rating: ****.
(4.33, 3 ratings)

At OSCON 2008, Tim O’Reilly spoke in his keynote and in a follow-up blog post about the primary challenge now faced by Open Source and Free Software: the network service provider’s Software as a Service (SaaS). As referenced in Tim’s talk, a think-tank group formed in early 2008, called autonomo.us formed to consider how the Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) community should address this concern.

So-called Application Service Providers, who provide SaaS, are now the rule rather than the exception in the software industry. The freedom implications of ubiquitous, high-bandwidth networking and AJAX-based application delivery are not yet fully understood nor adequately addressed by the FLOSS Movement. Even those of us who have been paying attention during SaaS’ rise remain somewhat befuddled by the freedom implications of the new environment.

Our Movement must develop a multi-front response to this proprietary threat that will make the 1980s and 1990s battle against proprietary operating system vendors look easy. The challenge is specifically centered around two complex issues: (a) traditional user-freedom-protecting licenses (i.e., the copyleft) fail to protect the freedoms of SaaS users, and (b) even if users have the source code to the application they are using, they cannot run it themselves and generate the same network-effect available in the canonical instance.

This panel discussion will frame and introduce the key questions introduced by these new issues. We will discuss the Affero GPL, which is one of few FLOSS licenses that address this concern from the software licensing perspective, and explain how our traditional FLOSS solutions cannot succeed as easily in this new network service context, and how developers must use server federation and distributed computing to overcome the new challenges we face.

Photo of Bradley Kuhn

Bradley Kuhn

Software Freedom Conservancy

Bradley M. Kuhn began his work in the Free, Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) Movement as a volunteer when, in 1992, he became an early adopter of the popular GNU/Linux operating system, and began contributing to various FLOSS projects. He worked during the 1990s as a system administrator and software development consultant for various companies, large and small. He also spent one year teaching Advanced Placement Computer Science at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati. In January 2000, he was hired by the Free Software Foundation, and he served as its Executive Director from March 2001 until March 2005, when he left FSF to join the founding team of the Software Freedom Law Center. Kuhn holds a summa cum laude B.S. in Computer Science from Loyola College in Maryland, and an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Cincinnati. His Master’s thesis (an excerpt from which won the Damien Conway Award for Best Technical Paper at this conference in 2000) discussed methods for dynamic interoperability of FLOSS languages. Kuhn is currently a Policy Analyst and the Technology Director at the SFLC, and the president of the Software Freedom Conservancy.

Photo of Benjamin Mako Hill

Benjamin Mako Hill

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Benjamin Mako Hill is a technology and intellectual property researcher, activist, and consultant. He is currently a Senior Researcher at the MIT Sloan School of Management, a Fellow at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, and an adviser and contractor for the One Laptop per Child project. He has been an leader, developer, and contributor to the Free and Open Source Software community for more than a decade as part of the Debian and Ubuntu projects. He is the author of several best-selling technical books, and a member of the Free Software Foundation board of directors. Hill has a Masters degree from the MIT Media Lab.

Photo of Evan Prodromou

Evan Prodromou

StatusNet Inc

Montreal hacker and entrepreneur. Wikitravel, Keiki, Vinismo, certifica, identi.ca.

Photo of Nathan Yergler

Nathan Yergler

Creative Commons

Nathan Yergler joined Creative Commons as a software engineer in July 2004. Yergler joined Creative Commons after pioneering the use of Python in the high school programming curriculum at Canterbury School, Fort Wayne, IN. Yergler resides in San Francisco and holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Purdue University (Fort Wayne).

Photo of Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

O'Reilly Media, Inc.

Tim O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media. His original business plan was “interesting work for interesting people,” and that’s worked out pretty well. He publishes books, runs conferences, invests in early-stage startups, urges companies to create more value than they capture, and tries to change the world by spreading and amplifying the knowledge of innovators.

Tim is also a partner at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, a founder and board member of Safari Books Online and Maker Media, and on the boards of Code for America and PeerJ.

  • Intel
  • Microsoft
  • Google
  • SourceForge.net
  • Sun Microsystems
  • Facebook
  • Gear6
  • Kaltura
  • Liferay
  • MindTouch
  • MySpace.com
  • Novell, Inc.
  • Open Invention Network
  • Rackspace Cloud
  • Schooner Information Technology
  • Silicon Mechanics
  • Symbian Foundation
  • Twilio
  • WSO2
  • Yabarana Corporation

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