OPINION

Cloud Computing Calms Open Source Warfare

Cloud computing, technology delivered over the Internet, has become a hot area in the last few years. The technology marketplace moves at breakneck speeds, but it is still shocking when innovation almost completely wipes out squabbles like those over open source (OS) vs. proprietary software.

“In a cloud world, source code is almost irrelevant,” Matt Asay recently wrote at GigaOm.

Tim O’Reilly was among the first to point this out in 2008, when he said that “Architecture trumps licensing any time.”

This statement rings true to most experts following this space, but for those who remember the heated battles between proprietary software providers and the open source community, the new environment seems almost surreal.

Mixing It Up

There was a time, for example, when Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer called Linux a “cancer.” Now the company is actively engaging the open source community in various ways, such as offering OS applications on its cloud, the Windows Azure platform, and publicizing that 350,000 OS applications run on Windows.

Sandy Gupta, director of platform strategy for Microsoft’ server and tools organization, told TechNewsWorld that many of Microsoft’s customers are using a mix of open source and proprietary software, and that the company’s goal is to offer “a choice of languages to write applications in the cloud,” making sure that Microsoft “provides sample applications and code to enable development.”

However, not all former players in the OS software debate have become so cooperative.

It’s a Trap!

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, has been widely cited arguing that cloud computing is a trap to be avoided because, he thinks, it leads to a loss of freedom and control. Such comments are an unnecessary throwback to a time when some individuals got great pleasure out of bashing big companies that were not as cooperative as they could have been.

The landscape today is different, and it seems clear that the industry is moving from a software-based approach to a services-based approach, making the market much more competitive. Google, Amazon and Microsoft are three well-known providers among many others.

Easy to Walk Away

Since being locked-in to any cloud computing structure is a huge worry for businesses wary of making the switch from their in-house systems, data portability is critical for the cloud industry to succeed, Microsoft’s Gupta stressed.

To that end, Microsoft offers customers the ability to take their data on a hard disk anytime they wish, said Gupta.

It’s tough to argue that control is lost when it’s so easy to walk away.

One legitimate worry about cloud computing is data security. When data is in the cloud, there is the risk that an attack on one group in the cloud will affect others.

On this point, companies will fiercely compete to keep customers because, as Gupta noted, “having an application that’s never down” is extremely important.

Over time, it will become clear which cloud providers offer the best service. What is clear already is that it doesn’t matter so much what software is used to build each cloud, as what kind of service is provided. Open source and proprietary software are working together to create value in the cloud, bringing peace where animosity was once the rule.


Sonia Arrison, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is senior fellow in technology studies at the California-based Pacific Research Institute. Follow her on Twitter@soniaarrison.

4 Comments

  • Today, the question is no longer whether or not the cloud offers significant benefits, but rather which technology and services partners you should work with to overcome risks and deliver results.

  • By free software, they do not mean software that is given away at no cost. Richard M Stallman (RMS) is talking politics as much as tech.

    The FSF defines four criteria for Software freedom:

    the freedom to:

    run the software for any purpose;

    study how it works (to have access to its source code);

    redistribute copies;

    and to publish modified and improved versions.

    The question for business then becomes

    OH NO! How Do I make Money off this if I don’t restrict usage and allow people to analyze and make better versions of my Software?

    The Answer is that You have to have faith in people that they will pay for something worthwhile and to tolerate the ones that will go the extra lengths to get it free. Like art in a museum you are free to go home and make a copy of your own of your favorite pieceand even alter it to your liking; more closley you can build a better set of tools more to your need from the tools you bought.

    Software is seen not so much as a product but as a craft and an art and copyrights should be reserved for protecting the proper credit for the designers and artists and not for the benefit only of the retailer.

    Restrictions on reverse engineering and alterations are seen as counter-evolutionary to the improvement of the art of software and as bondage to a certain corporate regime.

    The stifling of innovation with litigation is considered one of the biggest sins by the free software community. "Don’t Tell me how to use it!" is definitely part of it, and so is the undercurrent of corporate greedbusting. The Industry at large needs to accept that the cloud computing concept needs an open model; The internet itself has grown as large and as fast as it has simply because it has open standards and access to free code to build infrastructure.

    I mean look at the closed models — Other than the Secure Govt nets, the Banking Electronic Clearing Houses and the telephone switched nets, what off-the-grid Value-Added-Network is a household name and rivals email, the web, usenet, and DNS?

  • [Since being locked-in to any cloud computing structure is a huge worry for businesses wary of making the switch from their in-house systems, data portability is critical for the cloud industry to succeed, Microsoft’s Gupta stressed.

    To that end, Microsoft offers customers the ability to take their data on a hard disk anytime they wish, said Gupta.

    It’s tough to argue that control is lost when it’s so easy to walk away.]

    Walking away with my data does not ensure me that I will be easily able to quickly replicate the application(s) I need to access and utilize my data.

    Assurances that I have ‘walked away’ and not left behind copies of my data are harder to implement in a cloud environment than when I control the physical location, programs and access myself.

    I see both as serious concerns when considering embracing the cloud.

  • I heard an idiot was saying "cloud" is able to aggregate information of zillions and zillions of data bit for a good purpose while "islands" of data simply can’t or extremely difficult.

    Yes, data portability is critically important and security is vital too. But to claim that one can easily "walk" away with data sounds childish. In addition, "cloud" reliability may pose itself as an issue, at least for now. And let’s not forget privacy.

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