Is the freedom torch passing from Richard Stallman to the next generation? Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Conservancy opened the Southern California Linux Expo this year with a keynote about software as a service and user freedoms.
Richard Stallman, a man who has done much in the way of heavy lifting for software freedom, is taking a pass on the issue of software freedom with software as a service. Calling cloud computing "worse than hype," Stallman has basically thrown in the towel on SaaS, presumably with the expectation that users will continue to rely primarily on compute power and services that reside on their computer.
Kuhn, however, is a bit more forward-thinking and says that Stallman's refusal to address freedom in the cloud "a challenge to the next generation" to take up software freedom in the cloud.
During his keynote on Saturday, Kuhn claimed that the problem of free software on personal computers had largely been solved. Most things users want to do on PCs can be done with free software (modulo some issues with hardware drivers and more specialized software). However, users are increasingly turning to Web-based software that is not only proprietary, it also removes the user's direct control over their own data.
Then he laid out the issues (if not all the solutions) to providing freedom to users of cloud computing. While personal computing freedom could be solved by code and licenses, it's going to take more than that to address SaaS.
One component is the Affero GPL, which takes the GPL to the next logical step for SaaS software -- requiring hosted providers to provide changes of software to all users of the software, rather than waiting for software to be "distributed" to users.
But that's not the entire story. Kuhn pointed out that there are the larger problems of data and allowing users to take relationships -- essentially community -- in addition to code. It's not enough to get your data out of Facebook or Ning -- what about the relationships that exist in the software?
It was a bit disappointing that RMS was so quick to dismiss cloud computing, but it looks like the next generation of freedom fighters is ready to take on the task.