RMS hates cloud computing; says you should too

In Tuesday's IT Blogwatch, Richi Jennings watches Richard M. Stallman worry about how the cloud computing fad is just another privacy-infringing, proprietary lock-in. Not to mention TV title mashups...

Bobbie Johnson interviews RMS in The Grauniad:

Richard M. Stallman (courtesy stallman.org)
The concept of using web-based programs like Google's Gmail is "worse than stupidity", according to a leading advocate of free software ... Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the computer operating system GNU, said that cloud computing was simply a trap aimed at forcing more people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that would cost them more and more over time.

"It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign ... whenever you hear somebody saying ... this is inevitable ... it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true."
Stallman, who is a staunch privacy advocate, advised users to stay local and stick with their own computers.

Eric Krangel adds:

The backlash to the cloud computing hype is snowballing. Now it's open source guru/fanatic Richard Stallman trashing the concept ... [his] comments follow those of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison a few days ago, who called cloud computing hype "complete gibberish" and "insane."

The back-to-back criticisms of cloud computing both target the hype, but the two figures have very different visions of the future. Oracle's Ellison is selling cloud computing products and poking fun at his own marketing. Stallman is opposed to the cloud because he thinks it locks users into proprietary, non-open source software. Guess which one is a billionaire?

Stan Schroeder agrees, kinda-sorta:

Yup, it’s not smart to use Gmail ... it’s not smart to leave your personal data on Facebook, either. It’s definitely not smart to do your business online on a bunch of free apps which perhaps don’t really guarantee that your data is safe or - which is a much bigger problem in the startup world today - that they will exist in a year or two.

The problem, however, is that Stallman doesn’t realize that some web apps are not easily replicable as desktop open source applications ... It’s a common error; many IT geeks and diehards are used to using a relatively limited set of applications.
If you’re really serious about your privacy, you’ll probably stay away from web apps and do as Stallman advises. But you can’t call everyone else stupid simply because they’re using web apps ... As always, it’s a matter of making an informed decision and knowing all the upsides as well as the downsides.

Steven Hodson amazes himself:

Call 911, I’m almost agreeing with Stallman ... I don’t agree with the cloak of OSS self-righteousness that he drapes his words in but I do when it comes to the idea that we are giving up control to who ever is holding our data in any of those clouds. In someways this is even worse than the control we might give up by using commercial software on our own machines.

Larry Borsato lets him down easy:

Even though Mr. Stallman is concerned about it, we actually use proprietary programs every day. Few people use open operating systems; we depend instead on Windows and Mac OS X. Or we purchase proprietary versions of free software such as Red Hat Linux, because we feel more comfortable having available customer support.

Web-based tools, proprietary or open, are merely an extension of that mentality. And so far, they have proved to be excellent in terms of available features and low cost ... I'm comfortable keeping my sales information in Salesforce.com, my documents at Google Docs, my photos at Flickr, my blogs at Wordpress, and my thoughts at Twitter. I have the added benefit of sharing with the world, something that would never happen if I kept everything on my local desktop. And that sharing makes my content all the more valuable.

Mr. Stallman's concerns seem well intentioned, but currently without basis.

But Sean Tierney says Stallman is "confused":

None of the commentary I’ve read so far has caught the key fallacy here: he has confused two entirely orthogonal concepts, Software as a Service and Utility (Cloud) Computing. While often seen together, the two are completely independent of one another (ie. you can have a SaaS offering delivered via servers running in your datacenter, and conversely you can deliver OSS software on a cloud-based system.
The vendor lock-in he’s railing against in his interview (and wrongfully attributing to the cloud computing aspect) is actually related to the fact that most SaaS offerings are based on proprietary software. But it’s the same dependence one develops to proprietary software running on the desktop only it’s easier to take the first cocaine hit when there’s nothing to install. That offering may happen to be delivered via servers that are running in the cloud but that’s completely tangential.
Making the argument he has is about as silly as going after the steel industry because you don’t like guns.

Martin MC Brown agrees:

I think it's clear that cloud computing, like clouds, is a wide ranging description that covers a range of potential uses. What one sees as a cirrus, to another is a cumulonimbus. Both are types of cloud, but having a different structure.

And Richard Giles says the real hype machine is Stallman himself:

I can’t agree with his blanket statement ... For example, the article picked on Gmail. I can move my data in and out of Gmail freely, and with my own domain I can move my email to another service whenever I want. That sounds fairly free to me.
In fact cloud computing has the potential to make our data even more “free.” For instance, rather than store multiple copies of my data on local machines, as Stallman suggests, I can store my data in the “cloud” and take it with me on multiple devices.
There are a few people in the old-guard that have exhausted their used-by-date I guess.

And finally, TV title mashup central...

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 22 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him on Twitter, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Previously in IT Blogwatch:

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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