FOSS’ Sunny Place in the Cloud

More than a month may have passed since Richard Stallman issued his now-famous warnings about cloud computing (his verdict in a nutshell: It’s “marketing hype”), but apparently the discussion that ensued on the blogs back then wasn’t enough.

No indeed, the topic came back for a fresh round of debate following a recent post by Glyn Moody on Linux Journal late last month.

“Cloud Computing: Good or Bad for Open Source?” was the title of Moody’s piece, in which he notes that “at one level, it looks pretty good.”

On another level, however, “what’s more problematic is that the use of free software by cloud computing providers does not trigger the distribution clause of the basic GNU GPL,” Moody pointed out. “This means that any cloudy tweaks made to free software by companies like Amazon or Google are not necessarily contributed back to the community.”

‘Hard Drive in the Cloud’

The discussion was soon picked up at Linux Today — where nearly 4,000 reads have since followed — and at the Linux Loop, where blogger Thomas Teisberg was inspired to contemplate the notion of a “hard drive in the cloud.”

Earlier this week, OStatic blogger Lisa Hoover invited guest editor Rafael Laguna, CEO of Open-Xchange, to share his thoughts on how to make cloud services more reliable and trustworthy.

That, in turn, got picked up by bloggers over at LXer.

“It is one thing being locked in to Microsoft, but still free to shape how your IT plumbing is set up,” wrote r_a_trip in response, for example. “It is another to buy access to a black box, where you put stuff in and get stuff out, but where it is unclear how it really works, where you can lose data and where the vendor has a kill switch.”

In short: Much cloud cover lately on the Linux blogs. Linux Girl took it upon herself to try to let in a little light.

More Vendor Lock-In?

“‘Cloud’ is just another word for ‘server-based’ or, more often, ‘thin client,'” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

“At some point, we’re going to run out of apps that are best done ‘in the cloud,’ and we will be back where we started,” he asserted, “so I don’t think this makes much of a difference for FOSS.”

Where it does make a difference, however, “is that now we need to be much more careful about who controls our data,” Mack added. “Can we always get a copy of our data? Or have we just succumbed to an even stronger form of vendor lock-in than we have in the past?”

‘I’m Not Worried’

“If I am providing a Web service — sometimes called ‘cloud computing’ — I’m going to use FOSS, and contribute to FOSS, because that’s the cheapest and most enjoyable way to get it done,” Slashdot blogger David Masover told LinuxInsider. “But it takes a lot more effort to provide the ideals of software freedom — or freedom in general — to the users of that service.”

As for Stallman’s criticisms of the technology, “I have seen the BSD license work well, so I’m not worried,” Masover asserted.

In fact, “RMS is wrong here,” blogger Robert Pogson opined.

‘It Is an Opportunity’

“FLOSS clouds can be built — there is no reason FLOSS cannot do well in the cloud,” Pogson told LinuxInsider.

“We already have Apache and PHP scripts. Many other services and architectures can be built in the cloud,” he noted.

“Wikipedia, in a way, is a cloud app based on FLOSS, Wikimedia; email systems and backup/storage can also work there, largely with FLOSS,” Pogson added.

“If anyone dislikes using non-free software in the cloud, they can cooperatively develop free software that will do the job,” he asserted. “The infrastructure/hardware is the bottleneck, not FLOSS itself. While Google and M$ may fill warehouses with server containers, a free software approach may use meshes of smaller data centers.”

In short, “the cloud is not a problem — it is an opportunity,” Pogson concluded.

‘Weirder Every Year’

Taking it even further: Stallman “is a few bubbles off of plumb and gets weirder every year,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. “I mean, you are talking about an OS whose big selling point is the Web, and you are taking advice about it from a guy who ‘surfs’ by using a mailing daemon to fetch pages and drop them in his email?

“And here he is again, talking about how it is all a ‘trap’ (you need to stick a pic of general Akbar there), when the Web has given us more choice than ever before,” hairyfeet asserted. “I can go Google, or Yahoo, or MSFT, or Amazon, or one of a thousand startups, or heck, I can use Ubuntu One and make my own personal cloud. How is that a ‘trap’?”

RMS does not believe in freedom — “only HIS kind of freedom,” hairyfeet explained. “The only freedom you get from RMS is the freedom to do things HIS way — just look at how he went after TiVO with GPL V3. I don’t know about everyone else, but I WANT to choose what I consider free, not have some crazy squatter at MIT dictate it for me.”

‘A Thousand Choices Out There’

The cloud offers myriad choices, hairyfeet said: “You can go proprietary, or FOSS, or mix the two, or even cook up your own. There are a thousand choices out there, and I can back up and move my data anywhere I want to.”

That, in fact, is the real freedom of the cloud, hairyfeet concluded.

“I can access my data from a server run by Google, from my cell, from anywhere I want using just about any client I want,” he explained. “And if they change the terms, me and my data will be going to someone who gives me what I want. That is the good old free market for you, and why I am excited to see what the future holds.”

Indeed, between cloud computing, netbooks and the ever-advancing Android army, it’s hard not to be excited about the future of FOSS. Bring on the clouds, Linux Girl says, and let FOSS take its rightful place in the sun!

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