Adobe's Apollo and the pressing need to upgrade open-source licensing

The Web and the desktop are increasingly blurring, as Adobe's Apollo project demonstrates. Unfortunately, open-source licensing remains in beta while we're about to go into production.

I was just geeking out (to the maximum extent that I am technically capable, which means, not much) on Adobe's Apollo site at the suggestion of a friend. Wow. This completely breaks the paradigm of how we (or, at least, I) think about computing.

We talk a lot about mixed source. You know, open-source and proprietary software, living in perfect harmony. But that is nowhere near as interesting as true mixed source: desktop code intermingled with "cloud" code. What happens when the line between my desktop and the Internet blur to the extent that I neither know nor care where one ends and the other begins?

Microsoft has a desktop fetish that inhibits its ability to think cogently online. Google has the opposite problem. Adobe, however, seems to be striking the balance just right, what with its symbiotic balance between Web technologies (Macromedia) and desktop technologies (Adobe).

While I eagerly, hungrily anticipate The Big Blur, I can't help but worry about open source's lack of preparation. Our licensing debates will soon smack of silly sciolism as the Web moves offline and the desktop moves online. What relevance do 99 percent of our licenses have to this blurred world? Not very much.

Or, rather, not enough, in any particular license.

This is why we find ourselves blurring licenses. GPL + Affero. MPL + attribution. Etc. We seem to recognize that we have a problem--the leading indicators all point to a train wreck. But we're doing very little to help ourselves.

Frankly, this is one of those areas that we need an FSF (or Apache)-like committee to get together and hammer out versions until we start to see flesh and spirit clothe and animate the bones. Until then, we're completely flying blind. I don't like license proliferation, but I'll take a few more relevant licenses in exchange for the vast majority of irrelevant licenses we currently stumble through.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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