Free Software "cloud computing"

J.B. Nicholson-Owens jbn at
Thu Feb 13 01:09:54 UTC 2014

Lucile Falgueyrac wrote:
> Lately I'm reading lots of things about "open source cloud computing".
> In press releases of press articles, no one really ever explain what it
> means, and why it is important.

That's because what's being offered is often purposefully unclear so the 
organization making the offer can change service terms without tying 
themselves down to something one can hold against them later. The usual 
framing of the issue is narrowed so user convenience is paramount and 
user's software freedom is left out entirely. There's typically no 
mention of the freedoms would-be users must give up in exchange. What 
the services seem to have in common is using programs that qualify as 
"open source" to provide a service as a substitute for software one 
probably ought to run themselves instead. But you'll never get a copy of 
the complete corresponding source code for those programs, only those 
within the service provider's organization will.

> Do you know more about it? Do you have concrete examples?

I think the FSF's many papers and remarks on both "open source" and 
"cloud computing" do a good job of explaining both terms.

Any remotely hosted service on a computer one does not own would serve 
as an example here: email hosting service, calendar sharing service, web 
hosting service, any file hosting service, the list goes on and on. Of 
course, the details of what one intends to host determine the relevant 
threats; not all hosting services pose problems for all uses.

For a few years Richard Stallman has been giving talks about how 
"digital inclusion" can be a bad thing. In these talks he outlines 
classes of major problems quite well and his classification of threats 
address your questions. I recall one such RMS talk from 11 October 2011 
-- I suggest finding this and other talks on

> What can be the advantages in term of freedom (could those "clouds" be
> interoperable for example?)

The service owner's software freedom might be respected, depending on 
the details, but:

1. The open source movement doesn't talk about software freedom. That's 
part of the reason why that movement exists -- to not bring up software 
freedom as an ethical issue because that movement's proponents think 
such talk interferes with talking to businesses. See for 
more on this.

2. It's unlikely that any remote service will respect a user's software 
freedom or give the users a chance to know exactly which threats they 
face in using the service. Such users are essentially handing the 
service data without knowing how that data will be processed. Perhaps 
the data will be shared without the user's knowledge? Perhaps the 
service will misrepresent the user in some way? Perhaps information 
about the use of the service will be shared in a way the user would not 
approve of?

> Is there already some standardisation going on?

Any standards I've read about focus on technical issues and on helping 
service providers make it difficult for users to migrate off of the 
service with their data intact.

> The normal problems of SaaS remain, don't they?

Yes, all the problems of giving one's data to be handled by someone 
else's computer (software as a service substitute -- 
remain including:
- one can't be sure what happens to the data, regardless of what the 
terms of service claim.
- one can't be sure what happens to the data (or records describing the 
data) after the service relationship ends.
- one has (quite rightly) no control over the service provider's 
computer -- there is no way to give multiple people complete and 
exclusive control over someone else's computer.

The concept of owner's rights work against those who seek to have 
someone else do their computing for them while retaining control of the 
other person's computer. One can't justly demand control of someone 
else's computer without tacitly supporting losing control of one's own 
computer as well.

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