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Why Stallman is wrong when he calls cloud computing stupid
Written by Daniel   
Tuesday, 30 September 2008 11:10

Why Stallman is wrong when he calls cloud computing stupid

By Ryan Paul | Published: September 30, 2008 - 09:35AM CT
ARS Technica

Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman spent yesterday condemning cloud computing and is calling for users to reject popular web applications. He insists that reliance on web-based software poses a serious risk to freedom and privacy. Cloud computing is just a "hype campaign" perpetrated by software vendors who want to control users, he says, and the only way to fight the problem is to stop using the software.

Cloud computing is one of the most significant emerging trends in the technology industry. Users are becoming increasingly reliant on web applications and remote data storage solutions. The popularity of cloud computing is climbing in both enterprise and consumer markets, and the trend is widely regarded as a game-changing advancement in software deployment and consumption. In light of the growing importance of cloud computing, Stallman's call for its rejection warrants both scrutiny and skepticism.

"It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign," Stallman told The Guardian in reference to cloud computing. "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 defenseless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

The negative characteristics of cloud computing that Stallman identifies are very real, but the solution that he prescribes seems grossly myopic and counterintuitive. The lack of seamless interoperability between mainstream web applications imposes barriers that limit data portability. Much like proprietary file formats on the desktop, the lack of data portability in closed-web ecosystems creates the potential for vendor lock-in and reduces the amount of control that users have over their own data. Many web applications also have restrictive terms of service that require users to cede some rights to their own data so that it can be exploited by the application providers for invasive advertising or other purposes.

Stallman correctly recognizes those problems, but his belief that the problems are intractable is simply wrong. The open source software movement has found productive ways to address the same kind of problems on the desktop, and I'm confident that reasonable solutions can be found to bring the same level of freedom to the cloud. The challenges posed by new computing paradigms will require the open source software community to evolve and adapt, not collectively stick its head in the sand. [Much more....[ARS Technica....]    [Comments...]

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