Open Source has grown beyond the simplicity of programming and is now being applied to all components of life. Wikipedia’s content is open source. Flickr’s photos while not all released under GPL are on public display and effectively an open source collection. The peace rally I attended yesterday took funding directly from the crowd and its speakers were all volunteers. Participants in the march were expected to bring their own signs, chants and peaceful attitude. This was an open source demonstration.
Before it becomes commonplace to describe a public demonstration as an open source effort, the geek-chic will hold the idea closest to them. The idea that many people can contribute their time or resources to a global effort simply by giving up some of the proprietary in their lives means room for change.
The formal method of desktop software distribution is crumbling. There should be no need for me to buy and install a large package into an OS simply to type up a document. Writely represents the web-based future of a common office application. How about Macromedia Dreamweaver? That is an application that begs to be completely integrated into a web browser.
The licensing scheme for web-based applications will likely follow the path of licensing in traditional desktop installations. Traditional licensing means a single user gets a one license for a single machine. If your neighbor were to come over and make use of your copy of Excel, you would be within your rights as a licensor of the tool. A major advantage of web applications is that they are available to you anywhere you are. The expectation of licensing on web-based tools are that they are yours to use wherever you are. For example, a version of Excel would be yours to use at home or in an internet cafe in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
I foresee the convergence of web-applications and the open source lifestyle breaking traditional licensing models. Here is a practical application for going open source with your web based software:
Envision a service that you entrust your login details for your favorite web application. You schedule with the service times of day where you will not be using the tool. Because you are open source oriented, you have temporarily given up your license for use by anyone willing to wait in a queue to get it.
Imagine a teenager in northeast Africa with limited connection to the web, and complete lack of the funds needed to license advanced commercial software. This person logs into the service remarked above and enters a queue for use of Microsoft Excel. After 15 minutes, your copy happens to become available to them. A link to a page that acts as a gateway to the web-app keeps the login details secure. After a pre-determined period of time the ‘free use’ period comes to and end and the license returns to the global pool.
Idle software licenses of desktop applications currently represent a hugely unused resource. Bit Torrent showed how a simple protocol and shift in thinking could open up the long-idle and under-utilized broadband market. The shift to globally accessible web-based applications represents a similar opportunity for explosive growth in the name of living an open source lifestyle.