Stallman vs. Clouds


I respect Richard Stallman for the same reason I respect gravity. The man is a force of nature. He is like the iron core of the Earth: fixed, central, essential. So, when I read a story like "Cloud computing is a trap, warns GNU founder Richard Stallman", which ran in the Guardian last week, I take notice. And I'm not alone. A search on Google for stallman "cloud computing" brings up 142,000 results.

Of cloud computing, RMS says, "It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign". Also, "Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true". And, "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".

The story points back to this post by Chris Brogan, about how Nick Saber one day "came back from lunch to find out that he couldn't get into his Gmail account. Further, he couldn't get into anything that Google made (beside search) where his account credentials once worked". Long story short, Nick's account was restored, and Google did get back to him personally (after putting him through an automated impersonal treatment stage), and much learning resulted through actual human contact. But still, we're talking about exposure here. How much of our lives should we be willing to put off in the mists we call "clouds"? RMS has a simple answer: none.

But are all clouds the same, and do they all involve relinquishment of control over your own digital life? After failing to master SpamAssassin last year I gave up and started routing my inbound mail (to my address) through Gmail. Google doesn't keep any of that mail. And I don't have to keep Google as a provider of spam filtration. In fact I have what Joe Andrieu calls "service portability": the ability to substitute one service for another -- as one would with, say, a bank.

Is that a Bad Thing? Not sure. On the other hand (or another tentacle, since there are many different scenarios here), I've never felt comfortable about doing my writing or storing my files in any clouds; although I have to confess that Amazon's S3 tempts me, mostly because I've lost or crashed more personal hard drives than I can count. Meaning, I think the chance of Amazon losing my data is a lot smaller than my own chance of doing the same.

I'm also not clear to me if a Web service like Flickr is a "cloud" thing. I have 23,697 photos on Flickr right now. I can do far more with those pix there than I can here. But I do have them here, on a hard drive. Two, actually. And if those are lost or stolen, I'm SOL. Except for the shots on Flickr.

Still, I think that RMS is onto something. The core promise of computing, even on a vast network that connects us all, is autonomy and independence. It's being free (as in freedom) to operate on your own, and to share what's meant to be shared in ways that nobody else can control, and to improve useful goods in ways that work for everybody. There are, in those core values, imperatives that seem at odds with the dependencies that "cloud computing" can sometimes involve.

For my chapter of Open Sources 2.0, I borrowed this "layers of time" diagram from the Long Now Foundation...

... and explained,

At the bottom we find the end-to-end nature of the Net. It's also where we find Richard M. Stallman, the GNU project, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and hackers whose interests are anchored in the nature of software, which they understand fundamentally to be free.

When Richard M. Stallman writes, "everyone will be able to obtain good system software free, just like air", he's operating at the Nature level. He doesn't just believe software ought to be free; he believes its nature is to be free. The unbending constancy of his beliefs has anchored free software, and then open source development, since the 1980s. That's when the GNU tools and components, along with the Internet, began to grow and flourish.

The open source movement, which grew on top of the free software movement, is most at home one layer up, in Culture. Since Culture supports the Governance, the open source community devotes a lot of energy and thought to the subject of licensing. In fact, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) serves a kind of governance function, carefully approving open source licenses that fit its definition of open source. While Richard and the FSF (Free Software Foundation), sitting down there at the Nature level, strongly advocate one license (the GPL or General Public License), the OSI has approved around fifty of them. Many of those licenses are authored by commercial entities with an interest in the governance that supports the infrastructure they put to use.

Well, now that culture is at the heart of Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Dell and other providers of "cloud" services. We treat these as infrastructure, but in fact they're not. They're up at the Commerce level, and in some ways at the Fashion level as well -- at least to the degree that "cloud" is a hot topic.

In that same Guardian piece, Oracle's Larry Ellison calls cloud computing announcements "fashion-driven", adding, "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?"

Meanwhile, there's RMS, back down at the Nature level, calling this current weather system stupid. Is it?

I'm thinking of writing more about this for an upcoming print edition of Linux Journal, so I thought I'd ask what ya'll think first. Post comments below or write me at doc AT


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Wanna share critical data ?

Jeffrey Gonzales's picture

Perhaps you should dig in to gnunet (secure p2p networking) or tor hidden services (secure web browsing & publishing)
Thanks for the article & comments guys.


tehmasp's picture

It's not just 'cloud computing' - it's the use of any service where you handover your content. When you think about it (as much fun Flickr, Facebook, etc... can be) - the more 'involved' you are on the Internet the more freedoms you hand over. The more personal information you pass off onto the Internet the more control you ultimately lose over your own identity and make it easier for others to manipulate your information, etc... Perhaps in the future people will not care as much about freedom as opposed to security - but I think the more control over our information is lost - the more we rely on 'cloud applications' - the worse of a society we will be in. I certainly like my freedoms and stay away from sites such as Facebook and others - but try telling that to a 10 year old or most individuals (they don't hesitate to put every second of their life on the Internet).

Clouds, Control Freaks Dream

Anonymous's picture

When you look at what is potentially possible with a cloud, it is a control freaks dream (aka Government, censors, lobby and IP groups, etc). Right now we still have computers as we know them. An OS in a local install with localized apps (mostly). If cloud computing takes off, then it puts the end user at the mercy of the content provider for OS, Applications and content. (Think thin client connecting to the cloud). For the majority of users in the world, web browsing and webmail is the bulk of their internet usage. 99 percent of their time is spent using a browser.

RMS concerns are certainly valid. I happen to work at a company that is a leader in cloud computing. I know what is possible with it at this point and in the future. Cloud computing can take away all the freedoms of a user by placing all their info in the cloud. Depending on the vendors implementation this could introduce security concerns from hacking, but the more disturbing aspect is that users personal info is on there. With the current political climate in the western nations right now, having something that can easily be viewed or accessed by a nanny Government is probably not the best thing. Considering that right now the US federal Government is also pushing the cloud computing initiative in a quiet way and under the umbrella of "green" computing, and you have a recipe for controlling the internet through fear rather than outright censorship (tho censorship is in the pipeline as well).

Larry Ellison's comments are more a stalling tactic while Oracle implements their own cloud, but still he makes a valid point in that people get caught up in the latest techno fad.


Aldrenean's picture

The link to the Long Now Foundation is broken, there's an extra l at the beginning.

I think you should

Anonymous's picture

I think you should differentiate between a service like gmail where they host your email on their systems, to a system like bittorrent with say a secure key used to access your data. If you're not careful it's very easy for the cloud term to cover both of these, much like evolution has been stretched far and thin.

"They" are not doing this

Anonymous's picture

"They" are not doing this (providing clouds etc) for _our_ benefit; they are doing it for _their_ benefit. Think about that a lot before trusting them.

Also, of course, if our data are (sic) out in the cloud, it's all the easier for governments to find evidence against people they decide are "troublemakers". The cloud providers will collude for "business reasons", as Google did with China.

Also, again, look at the teacher in Connecticut whose career was destroyed because she lacked the expertise to suppress pornographic popups that her students ended up seeing. That kind of witch hunt can become _more common_ when everything is more public and of course logged by the cloud providers "for legal reasons".

Is Google Search Cloud Computing?

Girish Kulkarni's picture

I understand Stallman's point and I think there are two aspects to the issue of freedom in computing: (1) the philosophical correctness of preferring to use free software, and (2) the advantages of using free software. Most people I've discussed free software issues with sympathise with the first point. But few agree that using free software can be advantageous; many perceive proprietary systems as easier to use and manage. (In fact, RMS himself had to take note of this when he wrote his essay tilted Avoiding Ruinous Compromises.)

Further when I think of RMS's opinions on cloud computing I ask, "Is Google Search cloud computing?" If cloud computing is simply taken to mean the presence of our data on their computers, then it is not. But the fact is that Google does have a monopoly (and with personalised search, more than that) on searching the Web. And this monopoly carries all the risks that RMS warns us against.

Rehash of the 60s... maybe the 80s are around the corner!

Johann Tienhaara's picture

It seems to me "cloud computing" is just 1960s-style timesharing on steroids.

The oddity about it all is that the 1960s-style computing model is being pushed by corporations during an era when the personal computer *already* *exists*. With a few exceptions (notably academic research), I find it impossible to believe that cloud computing will go anywhere new or interesting.

Meanwhile I wonder how long it will take before everybody realizes that the personal computer is already online and powerful. Why the personal computer is not already being leveraged beyond the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence and sharing music/movies/etc is puzzling to me. Why on earth is the web still in time-sharing centralized server mode?

One fairly simple alternative to the centralized model would be the advent of a "personal webserver". With enough developers behind it, this model would make all the silly centralized "web 2.0" "cloud" personal apps (Google Office, Facebook, Flickr, etc) seem rigid and stale. OpenID and IPv6 (i.e. lots of IP addresses!) are probably necessary (but certainly not sufficient) steps in the direction of the "personal webserver".

The other key steps would be:

1) drawing the line between interface and data (web app designers, especially server-generated HTML/JavaScript/SQL web app designers, should all read up on "modularity"!);

2) drawing the line between personal data and centralized data (such as "my photos" [personal] vs. "the list of products available at store XYZ" [centralized]); and

3) simplifying the absurdly convoluted SOA infrastructures so that networked users could "download" applications from different sources and run them locally, using local personal data and also data streamed in from centralized sources.

Where RMS should be looking right now, IMHO, is toward item 3: some kind of service and data sharing philosophies & technologies that would allow users to download a "web app" to their local secure webserver, and still keep all their freedoms -- including access to source code.

As a trivial example of why RMS is right, and cloud computing is silly, and some kind of "personal computing" type revolution is bound to happen sooner or later: how often have you been frustrated by the stupid, clunky methods of searching through data on a website? It always comes out sorted wrong, you can't sub-filter the sort results, you can only see 10 items at once... Wouldn't it be nice to be able to filter the data with your *own* scripts?

Cloud computing makes it *really* fast to search... But, 9 websites out of 10, gives me nothing remotely resembling what I'm looking for.

RMS has a point, but he likes to be over the top.

DanielDevine's picture

I see RMS's point, and agree with what he is trying to say - but the fact is that these "cloud" services (I prefer to say "Grid") are useful and they can be used - but with a grain of salt.

I think people just need to be aware of how much they rely on these services. A "Cloud OS" IMO is beyond stupidity.

The first steps toward Subscription-Based Licensing...

Tony Lovasco's picture

Clound computing by itself isn't evil. It's the inevitible transition to Subscription-Based Licensing that is evil. Once people get used to the idea of relying on a third party service to get their work done (regardless of what that work is), many will willingly accept a monthly or yearly fee to continue using such a service, rather than switch to a Free Software solution.

Just because companies like Google might provide lots of free and open services today doesn't mean they won't lock them down later, once people rely on them.

Always use Free Software on your own hardware, unless absolutely necessary.

Very perceptive. Just like

j's picture

Very perceptive. Just like drugs, the first one is free... until you're hooked. -j

ultimately a good thing

Michael's picture

cloud computing and web 2.0 are the first steps towards migrating from desktops to handheld devices like iphones. not to say that the desktop will be entirely replaced... that won't happen. disk space in handhelds is limited as is compute power and screen size.

on its face you may not like the idea, but letting go of our sense of privacy and allowing our data to be entirely hosted by a third part is just the next logical evolution.

and this is just the beginning. the day will come when operating systems will become irrelevant. you'll create documents on your windows workstation in san francisco, others will view them on their iphones in boston, and they'll be stored on a solaris server in colorado. i see that as a good thing, because it drives us towards an operating system agnostic world.

I have some problems with cloud computing

Volker Hett's picture

1. You need reasonably fast and cheap access, which is a problem in some parts of Germany, for example my weekend hideout.

2. You have to have means to retrieve and relocate your data if the provider changes his terms of use etc.pp. Like I did when I cancelled my Flikr account when they started to restrict access to my pictures because I'm in Germany and they where not tagged save for the founders grandmother.

3. Can you trust your providers security? Like the one which not only spied on its customers and politicians but even on its board members and who had some 17 million phone numbers with account info stolen? German Telekom in this case.

4. Do you like being nagged with ads tailored to what may be your interests as seen by what you store in the cloud? Google Ads anywhere?

My answer is a clear no to all 4 subjects.

Where is the Transparent Cloud?

Chris Snyder's picture

It's possible for "cloud" services to be much more transparent than they generally are. Where is the view source button? Where is the staff directory? What are the policies which govern various administrative actions?

I would feel much more comfortable using S3 or Gmail or any hosted service if I had some assurance that the code had been peer-reviewed, and that the administrative staff was properly vetted and held accountable for their actions.

Many software-as-service companies see the cloud as the last best place to hide their proprietary code from the world. A presenter at OWASP recently said his company was getting into the cloud specifically to prevent customers from pirating their flagship applications. These companies don't trust us, why should we trust them?

Show us the source. Tell us who is running the show, and tell us how they are expected to run it. Then charge a fair price. Any sane company or privacy-respecting individual should be demanding this level of transparency when they outsource their applications. And yet they aren't. How much more gullible can we be?

Stallman is right

Anonymous's picture

Mr. Stallman is spot on, no one who cares about data security, privacy, performance and software freedom should commit anything critical to this kind of computing, fortunately many individuals and companies are not at ease with it, hence I am not too worried but I understand the need to get some people's heads out of the clouds for some does not seem to understand or care. It is not too hard for a small company to implement its own Intranet solution running its own application servers with VPN connectivity so there are alternatives,in the meantime for individuals who do not have the resources financially or technically Google, Zoho, Microsoft and Yahoo will continue to provide a quick and dirty solution, for the latter some do not give a damn about data security, privacy or software freedom and that is ok as long as their needs are simple and none critical.

Black and white, or just a greyzone

goblin's picture

Come on!

Nobody says that accepting cloud computing means forcing it upon everybody everywhere.

Your bank wouldn't put your account info on an Amazon-hosted cloud. Cloud technology isn't mature or known enough for a bank to take that risk.

But a server holding a baking recipe site and database...
Scared that Taleban steals the recipe for a chocolate cake? Financial breakdown because a hacker swapped hazelnuts for almonds in a prize winning cake?
What if CIA finds out that you prefer cakes with many eggs in them?
Come on...

We need some perspective here.

Clouds make sense and can help with a lot, so using them where it makes sense will help us a lot. I really think we should embrace the concept, and stop being scared of the bogeyman until we actually see him.

They Wouldn't?

Dan'O's picture
"Your bank wouldn't put your account info on an Amazon-hosted cloud. 
Cloud technology isn't mature or known enough for a bank to take that risk."

Ummm . . . how sure are you about this? Banks have done some pretty stupid things recently.

"I really think we should ... stop being scared of the bogeyman until 
we actually see him."

Or sometimes, when you can finally see the bogeyman, it's too late for worrying. Maybe exercizing a little caution, somewhere in between ignoring the possible problem and all out panic over it, would be the prudent path.

Clouds could be dangerous. Keep an eye on them.

So, what's the "cloud" good for?

El Perro Loco's picture

To be of any meaningful use, the "cloud" should be a place to process and store *important* information - not just cake recipes.

Are *you* going to trust your important informamtion (if you have any) to an unknown entity, with unknown attributes, with no assurance that your information will be handled properly?

Yeah, I understand that you expect Google's, or IBM's, or Amazon's "cloud" to be trustworthy. But they are not. Remember, AT&T stuck a knife in the back of Americans when it illegally gave information to the government. Point being: you can trust *nobody*, not even (or especially) big names.

Now, of course, if one wants to just store cake recipes on the cloud, fine. I fail to see the "meaningfulness" of the cloud in such a case...

pwn it

Anonymous's picture

I've met RMS, and consider him to be a bit of a fruitcake (and he would surely consider me an utterly nut), as many idealists are. Ideals are good, but we need to live in the real world. This IS happening, and wishing it away is not going to make it so. (busy setting up my own "mini-cloud")
"Cloud" is the Orwellian conclusion of where OSS is going (ref:China).
Deal with it; learn to exploit it.

This is where Linux & OSS will rule them all ("and in the darkness bind them")

Fashion-driven industry

El Perro Loco's picture

-- Quotes from the article:

1) Of cloud computing, RMS says, "It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign". Also, "Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true".

2) Oracle's Larry Ellison calls cloud computing announcements "fashion-driven", adding, "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?"

-- End quotes.

I am *very* proud that two of the best brains of the IT industry have arrived at the same conclusions I have!

I don't know

Marcos's picture

What I would like to know is what RMS really thinks about it. What I got on most sites is just parts of what he thinks. I know he has good ideas and is very clear about things.

I like your blog and your ideas, but, someway, I think like you have the same doubts as me, as how dangerous is it. What are exactly the danger we are facing.

Poor RMS

Alan Moore's picture

People just love to take RMS's words and twist them into something else then batter the snot out of the guy in the blogosphere. If you understand his argument, and you know what he stands for, then I don't see how you could expect him to have any other conclusion.

I think people are getting far too trusting on the Internet again, particularly when it comes to Google. In some ways, this issue separates those who believe in free software from those who just want Linux to "win" and Microsoft to "lose".

I use some "cloud" services, but I keep it firm in my mind that data I put there is for all intents and purposes (1) public and (2) potentially unavailable at any time. In other words, I don't use Google or Facebook or anyone else as a hard drive, or as a place to put sensitive information.

I've also pointed out in other places how silly it is that we're wanting to move to the cloud just as everyone moves to portable computers with ample storage and processing power for any task. We've never needed cloud computing less than we do now.

an analogy

eMBee's picture

this article makes an interesting analogy.

in it the author compares cloud computing and using remote machines to visiting your friends and makes the argument that using only your own computer is like never leaving your home.

i like the analogy, but i'd like to take it a bit further:
when i visit my friends, i am in a place that is safe, we know each other, i trust my friends, and i freely share personal details with them. i may even stay there overnight, or leave personal stuff in their home, and not get worried should i forget my wallet on the table, etc...

the same goes for my friends computer. i can trust them not to snoop through my email or misuse the knowledge they have about me. in fact my own email is hosted on a server more than 10000km away from my current location. the server is maintained by someone who i know personally. the same is true for the instant messaging service i use, another server in a different country where i know the admins in person. like my friends homes, those are places i can trust.

gmail, flickr or any other of these services are not like my friends home. i do not know who operates them and i have no reason to trust them.

using them is more like visiting a mall. should i leave my personal stuff in the hands of an unknown person at the mall? well, maybe, but i'd first remove valuable and personal items from the bag.

the author of the article writes he wouldn't visit a place that would strip-search everyone at the door, but gmail, for example, is strip-searching every visitor, because they search emails for keywords to target adds. there is nothing wrong with targeted adds if they come from a person who i know to have my interest in mind and not their bottom line. (this doesn't mean that it's not possible for advertisers to have my interest in mind, but it means that i have no way of knowing that)

but even my friends only know about me what i allow them to know, means i am still on control of what information i share. if i use gmail i loose that control.

so you can see the analogy works well, but it works both ways.

and just like i am careful when if i go to any place where i don't know anyone. it doesn't mean i won't go there at all, just that i keep an eye on my things. and in the same way i want to keep an eye on things if i use some other computer. that however is currently not yet possible. and that is what i believe rms is concerned about.

greetings, eMBee.

To answer your question.

Anonymous's picture

" I thought I'd ask what ya'll think first."

This is the kind of stuff you should be writing. This was a great article.

You gotta be kidding me

Ugotta Bekiddingme's picture

Hey Doc, you're one sick puppy. Didn't you learn anything in school, like how idolatry is one of the deadly sins? It's amazing how many socialist puppets there are in the world.

Let's just say "thanks for Emacs, now get the hell out." The so-called "Free Software Foundation" is a disgrace and would be a joke if it weren't full of so many misguided socialist ants running to stamp out the concept of private property.

Have a nice day, fruitcake. Oh yes, and fuck g00gle, too.

Meet the Flintstones!

goblin's picture

So, who does what, and why?

Stallman writes his own code, and uses software for which he has access to source code.

But can he build a physical processor? Does he at least have the blueprint for his processor? Hard drives then, does he build his own hard drives? USB cords?
I bet the answer is "no".

Does he bake his own bread from grain he sowed and harvested? Make his own clothes from cotton he grew and sheep he shaved?
I bet the answer is still "no".

In the stone age, it made sense that you collected your own food and made your own clothes, but at some point humanity woke up, smelled the coffee, divided tasks among each other, and traded!

Some made ships, some made swords, some sowed and harvested, some raised cattle. They went to market and traded their stuff. And everybody was better off, since the guy who made ships was good at it, the guy who raised cattle was good at it, and so on. A lot of time was saved too, no context switching between making clothes, hunting, harvesting and so on.

And now RMS tells me this doesn't work, that I can't "outsource" my server to the cloud? Because I give away my freedom that way?

That's so stone age!

So unless RMS grows his own grain, makes his own clothes, refines his own gas, etc., he simply hasn't got a case. He hasn't got the freedom he's talking about.

One important thing in our way of living and in our economy, is that we let the work be done by whoever does it best.

If that means putting my server up the cloud, then I'm simply doing what humans have done for thousands of years, something that has proved to be optimal for thousands of years.

Poor argument

mike3's picture

Bad analogy. What RMS is saying is that there should be no artificial restrictions you from, say, making and giving away copies of software to your friends, and tinkering with it. What restricts you from building a physical processor are, well, technical and physical limitations: you need lots of high-tech, ultra-expensive manufacturing equipment and stuff like that. Same goes for refining your own gas. However, to modify a program, you don't need any of that. So you argument is poor.

The difference between Free software vs proprietary software and corporate-built CPUs vs hypothetical "home brew" CPUs is exactly what I mentioned above. Your analogy is flawed.

This is where it comes from: What physically and technically makes it difficult for me to copy a program and mail it off to my friends so they can enjoy the functionality it provides? NOTHING. Nothing at all. So why restrict it by law?

This is what Stallman is talking about: You can take a toy, and tinker with it and modify it. Even though you did not put that toy together. That you didn't put it together is not the issue. The issue is what you are allowed by artificial laws to do with it. That is where the "freedom" thing comes in, and that is what your argument fails to address.

Furthermore, "Free" software does not mean "you make all the software yourself", it means you are allowed to take software someone else made, and modify and spread it around. Of course other requirements might be added such as share-alike "copyleft" which means you have to give back the changes you made to keep the system fair, and keep things cooperative.

So your analogies, sorry to say, fail. One is a case of technical and physical feasibility, the other is a case of artificial social constructs doing restricting. There is no good way to analogize the two.

Great argument

Carl's picture

That was the best argument against some of RMS's ideas I have seen in a long time (and I generally like RMS). One person simply can't do everything (most people aren't all that good at anything actually) so we can gain a lot by specializing in this we enjoy/are good at. But I also see a problem with just trusting someone else implicitly. I think we do need to be aware of the level of trust we are giving other people and companies, and the fact that people at a company can and do change over time. Sure, right now Google has some good people, but 5 years from now, who knows?

We need to be aware of how much pain could possibly be caused if one of them just up and disappeared one day, no matter how unlikely it is. We used to talk about the need to do backups, and the rule of thumb about how often to do them, is how much pain are you willing to endure if you have to recreate any data that isn't backed up? Well, cloud computing should be treated the same way. If you have a means to keep "control" of your data (downloading backups for instance) then you might have a greater level of comfort. If you don't, and that matters to you (recipes for example, probably aren't was critical as contact information for example) then maybe cloud computing isn't the right solution for you.

We also need to be aware that cloud computing is one additional point of attack for security purposes. So the sensitivity of any information placed in the cloud must be considered. Now people do tend to consider things personal that really aren't (public records store a bunch of data that people don't know about) but it is still important to consider, and very personal.

but who are you trading with?

lapubell's picture

I think the point is that you need to be careful who you trade with though. The point is (IMHO) that if you set yourself up in a system where you are a baker (going with your example here) and trade with someone who builds houses, you should trade with someone who shows you theirs plans, foundation stability, blueprints, and you have the knowlegde that all the building peices are also available to examine.

This way you don't end up with a house that was built by a person who also decided to install cameras in your bedroom and bathroom or someone who says "Well, your house is falling apart, and we are sorry, but we no longer support that version of your house. Please pay us $X.XX for the new house 2.0 and then pay us to come out. If you upgrade your house, your foundation might not be compatible, so you might want to replace that too. It just so happens that we know other people that we are in business with that offer these foundations..."

Who you trade with

goblin's picture

I agree.

As the milk scandal in China shows, you must trust your supplier, and if he screws up, you're screwed too.

It has always been like that, we always see examples of untrustworthy trade partners.

So why do we still do business with each other?

My bet is, that the benefits of letting work be done, where it's done most efficiently, is giving humanity a lot of benefit - in fact much more benefit than the few untrustworthy business partners can set us back.

With Stallman insisting on controlling every aspect of your personal computing needs, he faces 2 challenges in this discussion:
1) Why only control your computing needs? Food, housing, clothing are more crucial to human beings than a lost email - wouldn't it make sense to insist on controlling these things before all other? Does Stallman grow his own grain and bake his own bread too? No? Then how hollow does his insisting on controlling everything look to you?
2) By insisting on controlling every aspect of computing, Stallman forces an inefficiency upon himself. That's his business. But if FLOSS communities get these inefficiencies forced upon them 100%, chances are we'll be overtaken by people "cutting corners" through outsourcing to the cloud, and other things that imply giving up a little control in order to gain large efficiencies. And this means getting overtaken by closed source software, and FLOSS will look like the stone age.


Lewis's picture

I wouldn't like to be like RMS, he stinks!
BUT, someone have to do the dirty work :-D

Thanks RMS!!!!!

hey, thanks for the unclosed

Anonymous's picture

hey, thanks for the unclosed <strong> tag.
there, fixed.


The real threat: Service Oriented Computing

Ryan Braley's picture

RMS is afraid of the wrong buzzword. The real threat is not cloud computing, but service oriented computing. The three parties involved in SOC are service developers, service consumers, and service brokers. Service brokers host the repositories for services and can enforce arbitrary policies on both the service consumers and developers. The service developers create the services in the first place and if their service is useful only when bundled with some proprietary dataset that a service broker has, then they are beholden to the broker. A service consumer would like to compose services into an application but they must visit a repository to get them, and the broker can decide what you do with the services. The brokers convince the real developers to do all of the work for them while preserving monopolistic control over the market. This model has never been successfully demonstrated globally, but there is a massive effort to push the methodology. My university is pushing SOC as well as dozens of other universities and businesses such as IBM, SAP, Microsoft, and others. Do not be fooled. SOC is the real threat to our economy and freedom.


Doc Searls's picture

Ryan, sounds horrible, but can you give us some examples? When I look up "Service Oriented Computing" I find nobody advertising anything, and not much else to grab onto. But then it's past midnight and I have a fever and a headache, so I'm not looking extra hard.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

I think Ryan might mean

thesilmarilion's picture

I think Ryan might mean "Service Oriented Architecture". This is a recent buzzword among telecommunications companies.

Let's reduce it to a phase

Ciaran O&#039;Riordan's picture

Cloud computing may be partly motivated by people's simple desire to move their computing away from Microsoft. Were free software easier to install/try, or had more people known about free software, they might have switched to free software rather than web apps.

What does cloud computing give you?

* Escape from coerced software upgrades
* Escape from licence maintenance
* Easier collaboration

It's clear how free software also gives you the first two. I think free software also beats Microsoft on the third because Microsoft always prefers to deny users a technology rather than make it possible to use another company's software.

Some web apps are very good, like Wikipedia, but only because they have sound privacy policies and a licence that has allowed hordes of other sites to replicate the data so that it can never disappear / be take away from the users of the data.

So I think the most important thing to do is to keep telling people that free software is different. It's not the Pepsi to Coke. It's actually an amazing social phenomenon that doesn't exist for any company but for every computer user.

OAuth as a pathway to RMS-approved user driven clouds?

Chris Camp's picture

Immense respect for RMS but perhaps there is some middle ground here.

Which is to say, maybe we can address his core concerns while maintaining the benefits of the cloud approach.

The core issues: (1) Provide users with granular privacy controls (GPC) over their data and (2) Distributed, user driven cloud storage and computing solutions (p2p grids).

GPC allows users to share data w/ parties they approve and only those parties. OAuth is an early implementation of this approach and it's adoption rate is very encouraging. OAuth allows users to share contact (and other info) between services (MySpace and Company X) without sharing unrelated, private information (like the user's login and password for Company X).

The foundational tools exist to provide these controls - see encryption, legal frameworks (contracts&property law), etc... The drive just isn't there yet because content holders, like Google, derive such a large percentage of their value from aggregating all these small pieces. It's another classic collective action problem where benefits accruing to concentrated interests are much more actionable than the relatively small benefits that would be generated by a widely distributed user base. The problem part of it: aggregating all those small benefits creates a larger net benefit than allowing the concentrated interests to control the direction of development (naturally they steer design in their own favor, not ours).

I do strongly believe that a secure, distributed cloud computing platform is technically within reach. (We did go to the moon... you know what I mean?) The problem: Generating the required level of will to build it - the psychic & financial momentum necessary to overcome those entrenched, concentrated, well-funded interests (this includes Google, in spite of their general and at times legitimately progressive approach to business.)

I ramble.... RMS has got some great lessons here but I think there's a cloud-based approach that still holds true to his core ethical requirements. I hope that he starts to see this too, because his voice, his ability to inspire and to drive action will be critical in making it happen.

-Chris Camp

Also In The Middle

lipbalm's picture

I agree completely with RMS's premise, but I'm tired of losing data (especially e-mail) to flaky hard-drives. I don't trust any of my data completely to the cloud, but I sleep better knowing that a copy of my inbox stays with Google and my photos (and increasingly videos) stay with Flickr. I would love a more private, independent solution, but convenience (access from any connected computer) and the peace of mind (having a extra copy of my vital stuff in the cloud) compels me to trust my personal info to Google and Yahoo.

My wife gets after me to make sure important photos and videos of the kids won't be gone forever if a hard-drive crashes or if the house burns down. An in-home NAS setup (with RAID 1) provides a primary layer of backups, and an extra copy in the cloud provides a secondary layer.

backing up photos

Anonymous's picture

You should invest in some compact discs. They are an amazing backup media for things like photos.

No thanks. By my math, I'd

lipbalm's picture

No thanks. By my math, I'd need about 60 compact discs to store my ~40 gigabyte photo archive. Even with blank DVDs (of which I'd need about 9), I wouldn't trust any of my data to the integrity of optical media which can't be trusted over long periods.

Many good reliable storage

Anonymous's picture

Many good reliable storage solutions around nowadays, internet backup is a good option I will agree and you are right CDs and DVDs are disasters waiting to happen, do remember if you have sensitive data files to encrypt them before backing up.

Stallman is merely pushing the envelope

theillien's picture

Stallman is on the fringe. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though. The fact of the matter is the computing world will never be 100% open or free (either as in beer or speech). However, as long as people like RMS keep pushing for the extreme to be the standard, an acceptable middle-ground will evolve.

Cloud computing may remove some of the control but, businesses are less inclined to concern themselves with the control their users have over the data and more interested in simplifying both process and costs. For this, cloud computing is a convenience. Should a contract not be renewed and another service provider wins the next, chances are there are other companies which will step in to migrate the data. Perhaps even an internal team will handle it.

As an individual no, I won't likely use cloud computing. Because as an individual, I want that control. But cloud computing is something that businesses would find to be an appropriate service more than we individuals would.

In The Middle

crashsystems's picture

I agree with Stallman, that could computing can be a serious threat. However, there are also a great many benefits to it, such as platform independence, the ability to access the application and data from anywhere, the forms of collaboration and sharing that are just not quite possible with desktop based apps, etc.

I think that the keys to avoiding the potential pitfalls of could computing are data portability, standardized formats and open APIs. Another common phrase for could computing is "software as a service." If you are not free to take your data and leave, or interact with your data through multiple "services," then the software is not really a service, as it is locked in by that one provider. If your data is truly portable, then the software is truly a service. The ability to take that data elsewhere goes a long way to keeping the "service provider" honest.

Also, this portability decreases the perceived incentive to keep the software proprietary, as it is the service that matters. Just look at WordPress for example. WordPress is completely open source and relies upon open standards. Anyone is free to run their own WordPress powered site (as I myself do), and yet has many thousands of blogs, the advertising on which is generating quite a bit of pocket change for Automattic.

I totally agree. The reason

kiwinewt's picture

I totally agree. The reason I use gmail rather than my own mail server is that I want to be able to access my email and data contained within from anywhere. The whole thing of the net is sharing and using what other people have built, rather than having 1 different protocol and application and more per person. What would the net be without the interoperability and accessibility that stems from cloud computing?
I do, however, also highly agree on the open standards. It is *my* data and I should be able to take it anywhere and use any provider for this. Gmail with its IMAP accessibility allows for this, but does not completely manage it. It does, however, still allow for it a lot better than many ISPs and their email services do...

What about open source cloud computing?

Techokami's picture

Stallman needs to learn not to bash other GNU projects, because there is an AGPLv3-licensed cloud computing platform called eyeOS, which allows you to make your own cloud computing system - all you need is a webserver that supports PHP, and OpenOffice to get the most out of the included office suite. It's cloud computing, but at the same time you still have control over your data.

Good thinking, but...

Anonymous's picture

If cloud computing pertains only to when someone else provides your data storage and serve applications via the web, where you have no control, then Mr. Stallman is spot on, on the other hand if when you run your own Extranet based application server or an Intranet with VPN connectivity is also cloud computing, then we will have to start making the distinction. In which case cloud computing would not necessarily be a bad thing.

unfortunately there seem to persist in most circles a narrow definition of cloud computing, do a Google check, you will be hard pressed to find any inclusion of self provided services from Intranets with VPN connectivity or Extranets, if Stallman is using the narrow definition then he is correct.

It is insightful and maybe common sense would suggest that application servers running on Extranets or Intranets with applications from those servers available to remote users would be defined as cloud computing but then you never know.

Pardon me for my skepticism,

Anonymous's picture

Pardon me for my skepticism, but as for services running over intra-nets and extra-nets, don't they already exist? How is this any different from any modern organization's IT infrastructure? Most large organizations lease rack-space and/or servers from data-centers and then configure their servers, install software and run services for their business from those data-centers. Is this "cloud-computing"? Perhaps it is - but then it's nothing new. So why coin a new word for it?

For e.g., I could run a JBoss Server with my J2EE application hosted on it providing some service for me on a server owned by me on my intranet (as I could run an SMTP/IMAP service and access my email anywhere while at the same time being in total control of my data). Is this cloud-computing? I doubt this is what the people harping about cloud-computing mean. I think they actually want you to give them your data - and in doing so, loose control over it.

I think you are missing the

casininio's picture

I think you are missing the point, net works do exist but combining their CPU power in effiecint way and distributing them to the clients is the big deal


Anonymous's picture

And how does that detract from the premise of RMS's argument? Having the source-code for a cloud-compute platform doesn't, in any shape, way or form, promise to guarantee the _user_ that his/her _data_ will not be stolen, lost or otherwise harmed.


Doc Searls's picture

Thanks for the heads-up on that. Much appreciated.

Anybody reading this had any experience with eyeOS?

I'm thinking it might be a fun thing for those of us (such as yours truly) with fiber to the home, to run their own little cloud. That's where the experimenting should be happening.

Earth to Verizon FiOS! Drop the silly "business" pricing for giving customers their own IP addresses and unblocked ports, and support some experimentation!

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal