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Richard Stallman is (almost) right about cloud computing

Three comments

[ This is a long post, started on September 30rd and get done on October 9th, after spending some days in New York]

Richard Stallman tells us about his thoughts about cloud computing (wikipedia) and, as usual, he did it in his own very way:

"It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign"

"One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control, It's just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's web server, you're defenceless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

He's not the only having serious doubts about putting everything belongs to us in the cloud. Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle:

"The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?"

My thoughts after the jump.

Let's begin with some personal and general background.

Orangeek's background on cloud computing
I'm an avid gmail user since summer 2004: I'm currently using 1554MB (21%) of gmail's total storage. I didn't yet managed to backup all my emails locally even if I've found a really nice way. I've a couple of documents stored in google documents (none of them is really personal-related) and all my RSS subscriptions are read trough Google Reader (and the OPML backed up every year or so). My final research paper at university ("System's Migration from Windows to Linux", in italian "La migrazione dei sistemi da Windows a LInux") is stored (on my computer, on a DVD backup and printed and also) on my scribd page. Actually I uploaded more than 5.500 pictures (all the pictures I have, really personal ones excluded) on my flickr (pro) account and I sync "manually" (I don't really trust Conduit yet) my pictures directory on my laptop (and home server and USB disk) with flickr. I do not store bookmarks locally on my computers since years, but only on my del.icio.us account. I uploaded some videos to my youtube's page. I always dreamt about putting my whole mp3 collection on the web (a whopping 40GB upload) in order to access it from anywhere and (why not?) let others listen to them!

General background on (risks and privacy issues of) cloud computing
I wrote some time ago about the definitely arrogant Terms of Services for Documents in the Cloud services like Google Documents or Zoho Suite. You have to sign such terms and you actually signed those when you subscribed.
We do not know what kind of backup policies Flickr or del.icio.us use or how well comprehensive and serious is their Disaster Recovery plan. The same for Apple (for example when they admitted they lost some of your data stored trough Mobile.Me service) or youtube or whatever-web2.0-service-ends-with-R.
We do know that Google is used to locked some people out of their gmail account (please let me stick a personal "To Do" note: complete the local gmail complete, you lazy ass!) without any human comprehensible reason and without any suspect of wrong doing.
All these companies are providing us the cloud services, are also huge entities and they're not likely to listen to some loser who has lost all his personal emails.
And, as the icing on the cake, you should remember that almost any of these services are actually in beta (and they're so since years) and are provided for free, so I'd really curious to know how could you argue if they lost all your data.
BTW I'm also curious how many of us would drive a beta-car, fly on a beta-plane or even drink some advertised_as_beta-soda, but this is another story.

So coming back to the original topic, what's wrong on Richard Stallman's vision on cloud computing?

Ehm, mmh... it's really cool to access your files from everywher.. ehm, what about sharing and working at the same time on the same file with people around the world... and also... it's just another backup medium... then the ajax interface really rocks.

Nope, even if every point stated in the last sentence is right... Stallman is right too. He's definitely right. What can you say on that? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

Truth is that what we all are doing is to put so much trust in the hands of those companies and, honestly, how could we think that they have earned it? Why could you think they earned it?

We all know how many dirt tricks they did (pick up some examples above): the mass effect (and the "friends tie-in" effect, as many of our friends will use facebook, gmail or whatever) is huge and still growing but the numbers of users locked off their own gmail account will be always a miserable part of the total and that risk - when compared with the coolness factor of gmail, its amazing interface, the storage quota and our gmail-junkyness becoming every day bigger since when we begged someone to invite us trough gmailswap (thanks Priya Ganapati! :)-, that risk will not be considered from many of us. Richard Stallman excluded.

Even if I'm not a guru in the web2.0 thing, I do not think the concept of "cloud computing" is strictly tied with the fact that the cloud is "powered" by someone else. Using the cloud means, in my opinion, the use of somewhat stored elsewhere and not necessairly tied with one (or more) local computer. And means - too - access(/modify/delete) with a PC some content (email, pictures, documents or whatever) probably created with another workstation. 

We have to remember that "that someone else" is actually someone who makes us sign unbelievable Terms of Services (in a form we'd never accept if proposed by someone less cool than Google or some web2.0 startup), someone else who doesn't respond for data loss, web2.0 bubble exploding  or for locking us out our webmail account (again, a personal To Do: do complete that damned gmail backup!). You think I'm paranoid, uh? Someone at NYTimes thinks the same way.

The most benefit of these web applications is not in the quota storage they give us (alright, the gmail's 7.0GB -and counting- is huge, but it makes me laugh when compared al price-per-gigabyte we pay for an hard drive) but in the platform (that permits us to access via web various services), in the software itself (and its interface) and, mostly, in the reliability of the cloud: the likelyhood a google domain can be down is damn less than for my adsl at home.

Best thing to do would be to have a fast internet connection at home (with simmetric speeds too, upstream and downstream) and some nice opensource software for webmail and for some documents writing and sharing. Mix that with IPV6 and we're all connected with our cloud, powered by us.
The final ingredient could be some huge webservice where we could upload our nightly backup of our home server. And those backups should be encrypted too.

When it will be the time of some opensource gmail?

Written by orangeek

Tuesday 30 September 2008 at 9:35 pm

three comments

  1. I’ve, once again, to insist with my cypherpunk anarcho view of the informatics.

    First of all, “cloud computing” is glibberish. What does it mean?
    99% of what you mentioned is just an online db of data, not even shared, just centrally stored in a big hd with a fancy search (what happens under the frontend doesn’t matter here). It’s not computing!
    What may be different is to use applications that runs over the web. This is a little bit different and the objection of Stallman is pretty obvious: it’s the same as propietary software, you don’t have access to the source and you don’t even have access to the machine the software is partially running.
    But once again “cloud computing” is just hype, back in the old days apps ran on mainframes and ppl accessed them from terminals and noone ever called that cloud anything.
    I’ve yet to see some really distributed app, the nearest thing is (as usual) in the gaming scene with mmorpg or other online form of gaming. (ok, ok, there’s the GRID, but trust me, it’s mostly hype also there and it’s useful in very specific apps)

    That said, how to live happy with your data stored on someone else hd? Simple: do not trust the big companies, exploit them.
    They have a crazy TOS? I’ll sign it with a funny name and let’s see who’ll have the last laugh.
    My biggest problem with flickr was that I had to reveal my identity in order to pay them, but they have photos of me so it was useless to try to stay anonymous ..
    Then, do not use free remote services for anything you can’t afford to loose. It’s not that difficult, I’ve 1gb of emails on my gmail account that I probably be sad to loose but not desperate. Important things are on a much more local mailserver.

    Big web2.0 companies dont play fair, but there’s no reason to play fair for you too (this is something Stallman cannot advocate, but we all grew up with free software in one hand and piracy in the other, so I guess you’ll understand me).



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    10-10-’08 08:31

  1. “That said, how to live happy with your data stored on someone else hd? Simple: do not trust the big companies, exploit them.
    Then, do not use free remote services for anything you can?t afford to loose. “
    Well, for me it’s the same: the only data I mentioned (from gmail, flickr, youtube, scribd, …) that I have just on the web are the gmail’s emails (because I still didn’t complete the local backup). I’ll not die if I lose everything, but they’re quite important to me. The worst thing I can lose are the pictures and, indeed, I’ve a triple local backup, plus flickr.
    Our “not playing fair” is a strategy that has unfortunately less effects than when are the companies to play dirty: the only thing we can do is to give fake IDs and… so what? who gives a damn to that?



    (Email ) (URL)

    10-10-’08 10:50

  1. Firstly I love your tag line :)
    I’m going to link to your page if thats OK as I was just writing an article on where to store all the notes I take when i’m browsing the web.



    (Email ) (URL)

    14-01-’09 11:54

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