Is cloud computing a threat to open source?

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Why the demise of proprietary software is creating a vacuum which is about to be filled... and we may not like it.

The PC Arrives on the Desktop

When I was at college the PC or personal computer had not arrived. We bought computing time (at great expense) on the 'mainframe', and a friend of mine made a good living selling computing-time to companies in need of computation.

After college in my first job with a multi-national company, we saw our first PCs, and true to all apocrypha my boss brought his into the office to use SuperCalc (on which he built his subsequent promotion).

The IT admins hated it of course, they liked the terminals with their distinctly unfunky apps, they had control because they controlled the server. They wanted control; the PC was too clearly freedom writ large.

The Network arrives... along with a loss of freedom

The PC revolution ushered in an explosion of possibilities and freedoms but it was not long before these freedoms were eroded. 'Networking' was the first step. The price paid for access to a file-share area and the ability to use any PC in the building and still see the same desktop was... membership of the dreaded 'Domain'. Combine the restrictions of the Domain with the quickly rising cost of (desirable) proprietary software and the shine was going off the PC revolution. Just ask anyone in corporate network how free they feel.

The second wave of freedom arrives

The second wave of freedom arrived as a package. The Word Wide Web and Linux are roughly contemporaneous. It is hard to over emphasise the liberating effect of open access to the web and free, open source software. At a stroke proprietary software and network-related strangleholds were rendered irrelevant. Once again an explosion of possibilities and freedoms has occurred and is occurring at a considerable rate.

Today I own my own hardware (actually I have quite a lot of it), no-one person or company owns or controls my software and I have the Web to play in. We are living in an unprecedented era of freedom. Thanks guys, thanks Tim B-L, thanks Linus T, thanks Richard S.

I think this freedom is under threat

My fear is that the web will be subsumed by the 'Clouds' servers and it will be controlled by hardware vendors.

The recent Cloud Computing Manifesto was weird. Signatories Cisco, AT&T, IBM and Sun account for an awful lot of the hardware on which 'Cloud' computing occurs so it makes sense that they would be keen on it. Red Hat and SAP are keen too but why? SAP is shedding jobs like dandruff and Red Hat still wants a seat at the top table as neo-mini Microsoft but what attracts these wannabes? Who knows?

What I do know is that unexpectedly two of the signatories, namely the mighty Microsoft and Google announced that they were unhappy with the level of transparency behind the scenes in the drawing up of the manifesto (ironic isn't it?). As a result they very publicly withdrew.

This must be significant, so significant that it warrants some speculation in the absence of any real hard facts.