Cloud Computing: Is It Really That Bad? Stallman vs. Chrome OS

Posted on

Techcrunch posted an article Tuesday about Richard Stallman's objections to cloud computing, based on a similar article from the Guardian.  Richard Stallman, the creator of GNU (GNU's Not UNIX), and the Free Software Foundation, has been looked upon as one of the founders of the GNU/Linux movement.  In fact, he and his organization wrote most of the operating system applications, while Linux Torvalds wrote the kernel: Linux.  And his position on cloud computing?  It should be called careless computing, because it is irresponsible to trust others with your data. 

But is it really that bad?  It depends on your definition of the "Cloud", and the value you place on your data.  The benefits of local computing, or working isolated on your own computer or personal network, is that you control your data and it's storage.  That also means you have the responsibility to provide the necessary equipment, software, facility, etc. for your data.  That starts to look really expensive, even with the benefits of Linux to extend the life of your older computers for storage and server space.  But it also requires that you know how to set up a server, configure it properly, manage security, etc.  That's a lot of work. 

The alternative is to allow corporations that have no personal interest in your privacy or data manage that data.  Whether it be video, photos, email, chat sessions, documents, etc., it can all in one way or another be placed online and therefore in the hands of others.  Can you trust large corporations with your data?  Can you trust them with your identity?  Can you trust them with your pictures of your child's first steps, video of your family on vacation, or perhaps some nefarious work like sneaking into your neighbors pool while they are away on vacation? 

The argument Techcrunch made is that you have to choose between control over your data and privacy, and the convenience of letting someone else manage your security, storage, etc.  There is the liberty of control over your computing experience versus the safety of having everything managed, backed up, replicated, and stored for consumption when needed.  Which do you choose?

Centralizing data storage, processing, and even the computing environment is the goal of Cloud Computing, because it provides an ideal work environment that can be easily controlled and maintained by a few technicians and engineers rather than a whole staff.  If the "computer" crashes, gets a virus, or otherwise doesn't work, it can be almost instantly replaced without the worry of losing files. 

Not all cloud computing experiences are like Google's Chrome OS, where Google controls your world.  Citrix and VMWare have invested a lot of money in allowing companies to create their own cloud environments that are owned and managed by the company, who would have more insentive to keep their employers happy than, say, a corporation has interest in keeping a general user happy.  It's even possible, though expensive, to set up a cloud computing experience in your own home, thereby allowing you to have the benefits of the cloud in a small scale that you control.

So who is right?  Is Google right to point to a desktop that resides in the Cloud, with apps, data, and everything else there and nothing stored locally?  Or is Stallman right in clinging to the desktop, private servers, and controlled infrastructure?  Just like everything in life, the answer is: It Depends. 

If you have a concern about privacy and security, then keeping data local is probably the best way to go.  In fact, there is an old technology that is still in use that would be perfect:  pen and paper.  Keep it off the computer, and the data becomes harder to share and therefore lose.  But if you need the benefits of heavy processing power, the private network service becomes a little expensive. 

If you don't have that much of a concern for privacy, or trust that large companies who don't know you will keep your data secure, then the cloud has a lot of advantages.  You can use it for quick and easy computing and get on with the rest of your life.  Configuration, storage, backup, all that fun stuff that can take a lot of time on a computer (if not already properly set up and automated) and expense of hardware, networking, power, and cooling (computers get hot).  This is all managed by Cloud Computing. 

So what is in your best interest?  What would you be concerned about?  How would you approach the Cloud?  Personally, I find using email and some redundant storage in the cloud to be very useful, but still keep a lot of local storage for video and audio files that I own and don't want to be made available to any rogue employee.  But I also advocate using the cloud for an operating system, as I am fascinated with amoebaOS and having a working desktop available from any web-enabled device.