Hey hey, you you — get off of my cloud

Let’s be clear about one thing: Richard Stallman is a legend in the programming world, and his opinion is worth listening to. He was one of the brains behind the Free Software Foundation and other initiatives, and has been a force for freedom and open source and all of those other good things for many years. He also has a real guru/holy man kind of hair and beard thing going on, which clearly works for him, and I admire that. That said, however, I think his Chicken Little routine with regard to “cloud computing” is a little over-done. I know RMS would rather that we all program our own operating systems and use software that we whipped up with vi and a programmable calculator, but that just isn’t going to happen.

The fact is that people want their computers and software and so on to be convenient, and to let them work faster and easier. Yes, it matters that things are free and open and that monopolies are resisted, etc. But at the same time, reality means that lots of people use Windows and so they are already trapped to a certain extent. From that point of view, moving to a “cloud” model — even if it does involve storing all their files and mail and photos with The Great Google in the Sky — is actually a good thing. Is it any better to have your email trapped in a .pst file that can only be read by a very expensive version of Microsoft Office? No.

Richard would rather that we all use a copy of a “freedom-respecting program,” which is great. It would be nice if we all made our own clothes out of hemp fibre, and used wind power to generate all of our energy, and so on. But that probably isn’t going to happen any time soon either. Should you be aware of the control that Google and others have over your files and content? Of course you should. And you should back it up somewhere, just in case. But telling people not to use services that are free and make their lives more convenient is like telling people never to go outside because they might get skin cancer someday. Thanks for the heads up, Rich.

(Note: Reuven Cohen of Enomaly has by far the best photo illustration included in his post on the subject)

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