A new front?

A new front?


Google's new “My Maps” is one of the coolest new web technologies I've come across in a long time – I love it! But this, combined with an off-hand remark in a blog, got me thinking: where are all the free web apps?

This is only going to be a short (very short) post because it's the holidays, which I'm enjoying(!), but I wanted to leave you with some thinking to do during your time off. Google, the champion of free software in the off-line world, with projects like Summer of Code, are not even coming under any pressure to release the source code for their on-line applications: G-Mail, Google Apps and Calendar are just three examples.

There are some fantastic examples of free web applications like Wordpress, Drupal and Mediawiki; there are even some signs of real innovation coming from Red Hat's Mugshot website which, with its off-line client, is trying to further integration between our desktops and our on-line social “networking” persona. None of these, however, are targeting the same functionality as Google's suite of apps which to me is vital functionality: I can't afford to run my own mail server, even if I could there aren't any free software web mail systems that can match G-Mail, or Yahoo Mail or Windows Live Mail.

Maybe it's time to try and apply a bit of pressure to these companies? Maybe it's time we started pointing some of the spotlight at the on-line world?

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Anonymous Engineer's picture
Submitted by Anonymous Engineer (not verified) on

"I can't afford to run my own mail server, even if I could there aren't any free software web mail systems that can match G-Mail, or Yahoo Mail or Windows Live Mail."

Wrong. Check out Zimbra and Scalix.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I understand what you're trying to say here, that the user should have the code to other people's web service, but I disagree with this. I have always thought that the free softare domain only extends to the software that we run on our own computer systems. The companies that provide web services have their software running on their machines - only a minimal amount of code is transferred to the user's side. The client side user code should be free as it is operating on the user's computer. The server side code doesn't need to be free as it does not operate on the user's computer.

Samir Chopra's picture

Roberts is right to add his attention to that of others on the challenges posed by web services to the notion of free software. Currently, licensing schemes don't handle this too well simply because of uncomfortable fit that web services have with the notion of "distribution" - and of course, the problem is that making software available as a web service, without doing what is conventionally done in a distribution, enables a situation where takings are possible from the free software community without a reciprocal "give-back". This is only too obvious in the case of Google as Roberts points out (and as folks like Tim O'Reilly have noticed, there are "pockets of proprietary opportunity" all over the net) - and as more work moves to the web, the easier it becomes to make software available as a service with no distribution involved. The Affero license should go some way towards handling the problem of web services but plenty more needs to be done - at the very least, it represents a substantive legal and technical challenge (does distribution only apply to code that runs on user/client machines?). I'll try and comment on the Affero license soon at my blog (http://decodingliberation.blogspot.com) - I confess I haven't taken a particularly close look at it yet.

Andrew Min's picture
Submitted by Andrew Min on

I agree, mostly the web apps aren't GPL. Zimbra (already mentioned) has a free edition. Also, RoundCube has a pretty cool GPL webmail app. That's about it. The only other web free software project that garnered any attention was AJAXOffice, which is now ghostware.

I also agree that there is a need for web apps. That's the new "thing".

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Andrew Min

Author information

Jonathan Roberts's picture

Biography

Currently a gap year student! I have a huge interest in Free Software which seems to keep growing. I run the Questions Please... podcast which can be found at questionsplease.org. On an unrelated note I'm reading theology at Exeter next year.