back to article Google open source guru: 'Why we ban the AGPL'

Google open source guru Chris DiBona says that the web giant continues to ban the lightning-rod AGPL open source license within the company because doing so "saves engineering time" and because most AGPL projects are of no use to the company. The Affero GPL is designed to close the so-called "application service provider …


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  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    They use GPL software written by other people but don't have to share it because they never 'distribute' the software. It's like me renting a DVD pointing a video camera at the screen and broadcasting that - claiming that I'm not "distributing" the DVD

    The AGPL stops this loop hole so they don't like it.

    1. Sam Liddicott

      No it's not

      In your analogy, the software inside the DVD player represents the software google use, not the DVD.

      The DVD is the data google operate with - they do distribute that.

      The AGPL would require that they also distribute the software behind their custom DVD player.

      Nothing wrong with that if google choose to use AGPL software, but they choose not to and so their is no reason why google should have to distribute the software.

      There is nothing wrong with them not choosing AGPL software.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        His analogy may be flawed but he's right...

        There was a case where a company made a hardware appliance that ran on Linux. They sold their product (router/switch) but they didn't ship the source code for Linux w their mods. I forget most of the details but this was one of the cases where the GPL was enforced.

        Looking at the DVD example...

        If Google made DVD players and shipped DVD players then under the AGPL with it. (Assuming the DVD player software was licensed under the AGPL.

        You are right that there is nothing wrong with Google not choosing the AGPL, but the OP's last point is still correct.

        1. dssf

          Google and DVD Players

          Hmmm... The analogy got me thinking

          It would be NICE if Google made non-dvdcss dvd players and then flooded the DVD/film industry with them to bust up that pointless encryption scheme that currently can be enforced to the detriment of Linux users who watch DVDs via xine. Those who choose to pirate DVDs tear right past the so called protection/encryption. This is a case where i wish Google DEFINITELY would do harm.

          1. Jess

            Re: Google and DVD Players

            > It would be NICE if Google made non-dvdcss dvd players and then flooded the DVD/film industry with ...

            It would be nice if they played non encrypted bluray too (BD-5 and BD-9 so they can use a standard drive.)

            Of course a media player that played ISOs and could have a USB DVD (or BD) ROM drive plugged in would be an ideal solution. (I wish the hisense 1080p could do the latter)

    2. Dave 3

      Not just users

      I believe Google have contributed code to MySql, Linux, and Webkit. I think the Camino lead is a googler too, Camino being his "20% project".

  2. Tim Parker

    Code count

    "the web now contains over 31 million open source projects, spanning 2 billion lines of code"

    Unless my counting is completely broken (well possible) that would seem to indicate the average open source project is about 65 lines long [0].... shurely shome mystake ?

    [0] You *can* do quite a bit in 65 lines but one might have thought that a lot of the useful stuff in that range would have been done before you hit 31 million applications....maybe not..

    1. vic 4

      65 lines ...

      Is a lot for some projects, I wish sourceforge would prune the projects people start with good intentions one rainy afternoon and then leave untouched forever more.

  3. Gideon 1

    Elephant in the room?

    "saves engineering time" and because most AGPL projects are of no use to the company

    No, Google use open source when it suits their commercial purposes, and ban it if it's license threatens their core revenue stream. If it isn't double standards, then it is at least being economic with the truth about why they're banning it.

  4. Anonymous Coward
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    Google: All your Open Source Are Belong to Us

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  5. petur

    RE: Obvious

    A lot of people use GPL software that they tweaked to their own liking, and don't share their changes back. That's life, and that's what the license says you can do.

    BSD and MIT are even more liberal, just look at what Apple does: take loads of open source code, munge it into their OS and software, and SELL it.

    btw, +1 on the remark of DiBona on the number of existing licenses. The sheer number of incompatible licenses is a nightmare if you want to use some libs in your own opensource tool/software.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      I'm sorry, petur...

      Can you show us where in the GPL, or for any other OSS license, that say a company cannot monetise software sold with GPL'd software in it? Remember, it's free as in liberty, not as in beer. You are being selective in who you have a moan at too, because RedHat and Novell do this as well, as did Sun. Oracle have done and continue to do so too, so do IBM and HP. Microsoft might, but I'm not sure. Oh, and the OSS stuff that Apple *do* use, modifications and all, can be found here: I won't list the others, but use your preferred search provider to look.

  6. Kristian Walsh

    "But they do a lot of great work for charity..."

    Google are like one of those billionaires who lives offshore to avoid paying income tax, visits every so often to give a big cheque to a hospital charity, and is lauded as a great supporter of their community -- by those who haven't worked out why the hospital is short of money.

  7. Ian Michael Gumby

    Apache is 'fair'?

    "Google's preferred license, DiBona reiterated, is Apache, because "it has patent grants that are fair." Unlike the GPL, Apache has no copyleft requirement, meaning those who use Apache code needn't distribute their changes back to the community."

    Apache allows company A to release code to the community.

    The community then enhances code and Company A has the ability to slurp up the code and use it in their proprietary process without crediting or compensating the person who enhanced the original code.

    Its like getting a portion of your development staff for free.

    Other companies like Apache in that they can commit fewer resources to a project. That is... if an open source needs several man years of support, Company A could commit 1-2 developers, Company B could commit 1-2 developers... and pretty soon you have 20+ committers. So the set of companies benefit by distributing the cost of development.

    The reason the second group likes Apache is that if they want to keep their own sekret sauce well secret, they don't have to release it. Just ask Yahoo! about Hadoop. ;-)

    Others like GPL, LGPL and AGPL because they get to retain some level of control over their 'baby' and also get some level of fair compensation off their work.

  8. midcapwarrior

    10 most popular licenses

    "The ten most popular open source licenses should be plenty," he said on Wednesday

    Seriously, more than 10 licenses. Seems to be way too many but then I don't create oss.

  9. cjcox

    SaaS or other services and software freedom

    Having heard RMS many, many, many times... he'll tell you that the point of software freedom is to protect software where distributed. His example deals with a printer and the fact that the "intellectual property" software, because it was not available, rendered the printer useless after the vendor ceased support. Valid point.

    But he'll tell you that you can use and modify GPL code and use it internally as long as it is not distributed... again, to keep the end user from ending up with a "useless" system someday.

    So... now we have services. The problem is... what is delivered to the end user? Software? A device with software? It's harder to see....

    But... let's say the service software was distributed and the the provider "dies". The customer now has the ability to setup their own "service" even if just for servicing their own. Otherwise, the service they had just became "useless"... and you end up with a very similar problem to the software freedom issue that RMS likes to espouse.

    Something to consider...

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