Over the weekend, the GNU project celebrated 30 years of fighting for user freedoms and attempting to exterminate proprietary software from the face of the planet.
In a column published in Wired, the project’s founder, Richard Stallman, made the argument that free software is nowadays more important than ever.
The thrust of Stallman’s piece was that users must remain in control of their computing, programs, and data — and therefore, by that definition, the usage of cloud services removed the users’ control.
As the world increasingly moves to as-a-service computing, it’s a timely reminder of the compromises made by users, in Stallman’s eyes, whenever they use the cloud.
“Both non-free software and SaaSS can spy on the user, shackle the user, and even attack the user,” wrote Stallman.
SaaSS is Stallman’s word for SaaS, which stands for “service as a software substitute”, and continues a trend of childish word substitution that I feel often distracts from his otherwise sage words of advice.
But leaving that to one side, Stallman’s point is more pertinent with the revelations that have become public knowledge after the ongoing saga of the Snowden leaks.
“If you use SaaSS, the server operator controls your computing. It requires entrusting all the pertinent data to the server operator, which will be forced to show it to the state as well — who does that server really serve, after all?” Stallman wrote.
And in line with many of Cassandra-like denunciations of the past, it seems that few will heed the warnings on cloud computing until something drastic occurs.
With Stallman’s ongoing 30-year task to move the world over to free software being a herculean one, the call to prevent the uptake of SaaS and cloud technologies seems like an even larger task.
While few many agree totally with his viewpoints, and with the techniques that he uses to express his thoughts, there is often an underlying current of logic to Stallman’s thoughts that deserves further consideration.