Most users like Free Software: they can use it, copy it and give it to a friend – in most of the cases – totally free of cost.
Almost all developers like Free Software, too: they can download the source code, modify it and share the code with a friend – in most of the cases – totally free of cost.
But everybody loves Web2.0. Gradients and drop shadows, rounded corners, user-friendly UI, a “community” around it, tagging, rating, ajax, new features everyday, api’s and widgets and… Wow! Finally the web application of our dreams, right? Wrong!
The web2.0 (at least most of it showing up in the headlines today) is not Free – as in “free speech”. Unless I can pay some million dollars, I can’t have the source for that cool Job board, or that photo or video sharing kick-ass web application, or a community-based news portal, social networking, maps, dashboard, project management, email, office suite, <add your favorite web2.0 app here>….
You can tell me: “Ok, but I can embed a widget on my website and some of those services allow me to use an ‘open API’ to create super-cool mashups.” Sure, you can. Many people can live with these restrictions. I just think that users and developers deserved more. After all, who created the base where all of this was built upon?
The problem is that there’s no simple way to know if any of the above examples was built upon a GPL software, right? Wrong again. The problem is that even if they were built that way, they’re not violating the GPL license. And this can happen to good free web apps as well, like WordPress, sugarCRM, dotProject and others. You can get it, change the graphic appearance, add maybe one or two new unique features, spend lots of money in marketing stuff and then create an ASP service totally proprietary without the obligation of releasing your code.
And the “community” can’t benefit back from their past work, just contribute more and more Data to “cool web apps” and do not care about future privacy issues. Well, someone said already that privacy is over… I prefer to believe that we can still have a way to protect our information.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love these web2.0 apps as much as you do, and I use most of the examples above. What I think is not fair is that you can actually build upon a free software, create a web service with millions of users and then just don’t release it. This problem is known as the ASP loophole, and unfortunately GPLv3 solves it only partially (at least as in it’s current draft).
For those who care about how you’ll develop free software on the web in the next couple of years, I suggest start helping to fix the GPL bug. For those who don’t… have you seen the new Google Analytics features?