Answering a cloud computing question from 2009


…and finding out that the answer is still the same.

Answering a cloud computing question from 2009 /img/evil-cloud.jpg

I just realized that, exactly ten years ago Glyn Moody asked on Linux Journal whether Cloud Computing was “Good or Bad for Open Source” (*). More specifically, Glyn asked:

  • Where does open source stand if the cloud computing vision does come to fruition?
  • Would that be a good or bad thing for free software?
  • [More specifically] Assuming we can sort out issues of security, privacy and the rest, and use cloud computing as well as it can be used, it it good or bad for open source?

The next paragraph synthesizes the main points of that article from 2009. The final one contains my comments and answers from 2019… and before.

Cloud computing, good or bad for Open Source?

Cloud computing is about harnessing economies of scale; this almost forces suppliers to deploy software that has no licensing costs.

The problem is that the use of free software by cloud computing providers does not trigger the the distribution clause of the basic GNU GPL. [Consequently] a move to cloud computing would actually reduce both the contributions of code back to Free/Open Source projects [and] the number of independent external contributors to the same projects.

The situation for general users of [services like] Gmail and Google Docs is even worse, because they are unlikely even to be aware that they are running on free software.

How must the open source world address this problem directly?.. The trick here is not to fight the battle on the opponents’ terms, but to come up with something completely different. For example, how about creating an open source, distributed cloud?

By downloading and running some free code on your computer, you could contribute processing power and disc space that collectively creates a global, distributed cloud computing system.

My answers. Then, and now

One year before that article, I was already saying that, if one wants to solve problems created or amplified by software, focusing on demanding or protecting software licenses is often wrong… both technically and strategically. Ten years later, from certain points of view the situation has changed so little that I found myself saying, just one month ago:

Not good. As far as “open source distributed clouds” that normal people can actually use, my own proposal is here, (since 2013). And my most recent answer to why that is still a mere proposal is here.

(*) Sadly, Linux Journal is offline, but a plain text version of that article is available here

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