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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John Frost2
John Frost2

These aren't the droids you're looking for.

1 October 2008
Robert Thomas
Robert Thomas

Very well said!  As a newer SaaS vendor (with DevEx under the covers) I'm happy to hear things like this from people like Ellison.  I hope he continues to leave us SaaSers alone!  We'll advance the state of the art while he continues to push his hefty proprietary software.  

Just my 2 cents.

1 October 2008
Paul Fuller
Paul Fuller

RMS is possibly one of those people who once said or did something sort of clever or right and then go on making more and more outlandish claims long after their original credit has expired.  Or perhaps he has transcended the mortal plane and sees things so much more clearly.  I don't really know.

However Julian I think you could choose your closing analogy a little more carefully.  Depending on the next few weeks and months, money under a mattress might turn out to be very wise indeed.

Just my 2 billion nanocents.

2 October 2008
Gil Yoder
Gil Yoder

Jullian, good post. I won't say that I particularly like "cloud computing" compared to plan old GUI software I can run on my own computer, but I don't by the "open source is always better" argument.

A lot of what you hear today comparing one product with another has an element of class warfare in it, and requires reading with a grain of salt. Usually the most successful software companies are the brunt of the complaints, so this makes me think that the complaints are primarily complaints against success.

2 October 2008
Alan Carter

As much as Stallman can seem a bit outlandish, some of his points do seem to make sense.  I like the "cloud", but then any provider goes down and so does your app and your data.  And privacy concerns bother me, as well as usage monitoring, at least what I do on my own computer is my business.

And to agree with Paul- at the moment I would much rather have my money under the mattress too!

2 October 2008
richard morris
richard morris

If he had his way 99.9% of the world who wouldn't know a compiler from an editor wouldn't be trusted to use software, 99.9% of the remainder who don't have the knowledge to understand a massive complex code base like MSWord couldn't be trusted to use dangerous tools like word processors, and 99.9% of the remainder who want to profit from their knowledge shouldn't be tolerated.

He's a loon, and a dangerous one.  Why 99.9999999% of the world keeps giving him news ink is a mystery to me.

3 October 2008
Vadim Katsman
Vadim Katsman

With all respect to comments above, I could say they are short side or to put it without offense - one sided.

Even in your own post you identified the problem correctly:

"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."

I bet you it does not take too long before you need to switch focus from one service provider to another for the same function.  At least few times of year some of the functions would move from one provider to another.

But for us, individuals, it is no brainer - we like new stuff any way just for the buzz.  

Now apply this situation to the business world.

Just to switch from one customer tracking provider to another it takes about a year for organization of any size - for small 5 people company or large corporation with 100+ sales force: defining new process, selection of another vendor, transferring data, customization and integration, training into a new tools and set of procedures - all takes time, money and attention.  And add aggravation and loss of productivity during this transition time, and now we have the complete picture of seemingly innocent jump from one "cloud" to another.

4 October 2008

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