Web services and free software

Alex Hudson home at alexhudson.com
Wed Jul 18 20:25:22 UTC 2007

On Wed, 2007-07-18 at 22:01 +0100, graham wrote:
> I think the assumptions in that note are only partly true; yes, the
> technical side may give us an advantage, but the financial side (the
> ability to provide very large system with lots of bandwidth to support
> it) definitely plays  into their hands. For example, we will not easily
> get an equivalent to google's massive datacentres.

As you note, that's not strictly a free vs. non-free thing, but I think
there are a couple of things you haven't noticed.

First, free software is very good at being decentralised: git, tla/bzr,
bittorrent, openid, etc., are all innovations realised first as free
software. The data centre thing becomes less of a problem if you're not

Second, it's a matter of money, but not much money. Hosting is _really_
cheap, and you can play with the big boys without needing global dark
fiber. For example, have you seen Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)?
You effectively get root access to virtual machines running on fantastic
hardware, and you can scale that up to silly numbers, and you pay 18
cents per gigabyte data transfer. Free software services could easily be
setup on that platform for very little money.

It does come down to the fact that the web services play is exactly
that: a services thing, and to compete in that market, you have to offer
the service. If people want the service, it's going to be difficult to
persuade them that they should buy a non-service version of the same

At the end of the day, though, it's simply another business model.
Cinemas co-exist with home cinemas, DVD sales co-exist with DVD rentals.
You can rent or buy most things in life, and while some things make much
more sense as a service (e.g., paying someone to deliver your mail, or
to provide you with an internet link) I don't think software is
necessarily in that category. It might be - but it might even be that
services stop being popular in the future (getting your milk delivered
used to be very popular, now it's much rarer).

Originally, all software was delivered as a service on a mainframe at
basically no cost - maybe we're just reverting back to how things used
to be :)



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