A growing number of web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) applications are participating in the same space that traditional desktop applications once dominated. Office applications, wire-framing tools and accounting software are a few that come to mind.
When end user-facing software is delivered over the web, licences like the General Public Licence (GPL) have less relevance. This is driven by by a difference between what you must do under a licence for a desktop application (redistribute code with the application) compared with a service delivered over the web which provides equivalent functionality to an installed application (where no redistribution of code is required under the GPL).
See: Computerworld's open source special feature
The GNU Affero General Public Licence (AGPL) is potentially a game changer in the SaaS space if adopted widely. Unlike the GPLv3, the licence kicks in under the AGPLv3 once a service is accessed. The impact is that software delivered over the web under this licence could require code to be made available to anyone accessing the service, reducing the exclusivity of the services but increasing opportunities for expansion oif the open source products involved.
Deciding whether to base your next web development build on an existing open sourced product is ultimately business decision but needs to be informed by technical and legal considerations.
— Shanan Holm is projects director at Wellington-based open source developer 3 Months