Sewing, Open Source and the Cloud
Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the Cloud
Many in the open source world are skeptical of (or even openly hostile to) the idea of relying on the cloud, as for them it goes against the ethical core of open source. As Richard Stallman forthrightly puts it:
[Service as a Software Substitute] is equivalent to running proprietary software with spyware and a universal back door. It gives the server operator unjust power over the user, and that power is something we must resist.
SaaSS always subjects you to the power of the server operator, and the only remedy is, Don’t use SaaSS! Don’t use someone else’s server to do your own computing on data provided by you.
As an individual choice, this is well and good; as a long term strategy for open source I ask you to consider: When was the last time you sewed your own clothes? (Knitted mittens or beanies don’t count!) Or only wore handmade clothes? The tremendous efficiencies of mass manufacturing and the amount of specialized skills needed to produce a presentable wardrobe makes this an absurd proposition.
If we don’t want user-facing open source software to go the way of sewing – that is, an interesting hobby a few of us occasionally enjoy but basically no one personally relies on when we wake up in the morning – then we need to figure out how to move it to the cloud in a way that is sustainable without compromising the freedoms it affords.
What if we could guarantee a user privacy and control over their data? And that the code the service uses is free and a user could easily clone and run the service themselves or with another service provider of their choosing?
Getting affirmative answers to those questions is the motivation for defining open cloud services in terms of code, data, and hosting. Getting there will be challenging and there will inevitably be compromises. But at the individual level we are already making these compromises everyday, often without much thought, and it will continue to be harder and harder to avoid them. The good news is we can build solutions that fix this – and to do so we’ll need to write a bunch of open source code!