Has Stallman lost it?

01 October 2008

OK, this has nothing to do with Developer Express, but is merely a rant about an article in The Guardian a couple of days ago. So if you're looking for company news or tutorials, move along, nothing to see here Smile.

In the article Richard Stallman, the free software guru, was treating cloud computing with contempt, saying that it's just a trap that big companies like Google, Microsoft and Amazon are using to ensnare innocent, defenseless PC users. Larry Ellison, chairman on a reasonably big proprietary software company himself, calls cloud computing a "fashion" and "complete gibberish" (a comment that merely leads me to believe that Oracle are kicking themselves for not being at the forefront of the technology).

Stallman even comes up with this quote:

"One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," he said. "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."

This is one of the silliest pronouncements to make, in my view. I think of the possibility of the archetypal Aunt Edna, religiously using GNU Linux as her operating system and various "freedom-respecting programs" to help her use her computer, seemingly safe in the knowledge that she's not in thrall to those nasty software companies with their nasty proprietary software. Unfortunately, since she doesn't program or has any way to fix her software, she's in thrall to those nasty open-source programmers who may, at a moment's notice, abandon the particular program she relies on for another.

I'd say that, no matter what software you use, you are only "covered" if you wrote it yourself. If you didn't write it, you're being held hostage by some arbitrary set of programmers, be they working for Google, Microsoft, Oracle, or whoever, or be they doing this in their spare time. Goes for the OS too.

Heck, I, myself, am one of these nasty freedom-respecting software developers that have "abandoned" their software: only last night I replied to one of my readers saying that, sorry, I haven't had time to finish my lock-free linked list yet. What a first-class cad, eh? Sheesh.

I rely on all kinds of "cloud computing" software: I use GMail, I use Google exclusively to search, I use Amazon Web Services, I use the New York Times Reader, etc, etc. If any of these start to charge too much or close down their services, I'll move somewhere else. Not too difficult: there's a lot of competition out there.

To be honest this Stallman rant strikes me as like the proposition that you shouldn't keep your money in a bank but instead stuff in in your mattress:

"One reason you should not use banks to keep care of your money is that you lose control," he said. "It's just as bad as using a pawn shop. Manage your own money with your own mattress. If you use a bank , you're defenceless. You're putty in the hands of whoever runs the bank."

Even with the current economic problems, this is a load of bovine organic matter. Ditto, Stillman's position.

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