Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All Your Data in the Cloud: Good or Bad?

Richard Stallman, founder and evangelist for the Free Software Foundation, prompts computer users in to evaluating more cautiosly the advantages and disadvantages of an all-data-in-the-cloud approach, such as the one heralded by the upcoming new operating system from Google: The ChromeOS.

Amplify’d from www.guardian.co.uk

Google's ChromeOS means losing control of data, warns GNU founder Richard Stallman

Two years ago Stallman, a computing veteran who is a strong advocate of free software via his Free Software Foundation, warned that making extensive use of cloud computing was "worse than stupidity" because it meant a loss of control of data.

Now he says he is increasingly concerned about the release by Google of its ChromeOS operating system, which is based on GNU/Linux and designed to store the minimum possible data locally. Instead it relies on a data connection to link to Google's "cloud" of servers, which are at unknown locations, to store documents and other information.

The risks include loss of legal rights to data if it is stored on a company's machine's rather than your own, Stallman points out: "In the US, you even lose legal rights if you store your data in a company's machines instead of your own. The police need to present you with a search warrant to get your data from you; but if they are stored in a company's server, the police can get it without showing you anything. They may not even have to give the company a search warrant."

Google gave ChromeOS a "soft" launch last week, showing off aspects of the software and providing developers and some journalists with Cr-48 laptops set up to run it, while saying that it won't be widely available until mid-2011.

But Stallman is unimpressed. "I think that marketers like "cloud computing" because it is devoid of substantive meaning. The term's meaning is not substance, it's an attitude: 'Let any Tom, Dick and Harry hold your data, let any Tom, Dick and Harry do your computing for you (and control it).' Perhaps the term 'careless computing' would suit it better."

He sees a creeping problem: "I suppose many people will continue moving towards careless computing, because there's a sucker born every minute. The US government may try to encourage people to place their data where the US government can seize it without showing them a search warrant, rather than in their own property. However, as long as enough of us continue keeping our data under our own control, we can still do so. And we had better do so, or the option may disappear."

Stallman only sees one aspect of ChromeOS to applaud: its GNU/Linux heritage. "In essence, Chrome OS is the GNU/Linux operating system. However, it is delivered without the usual applications, and rigged up to impede and discourage installing applications," he told the Guardian. "I'd say the problem is in the nature of the job ChromeOS is designed to do. Namely, encourage you to keep your data elsewhere, and do your computing elsewhere, instead of doing it in your own computer."

Read more at www.guardian.co.uk
 

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