Clouds and Freedom

RMS warns that clouds (Software As A Service) can be non-free. SaaS can essentially subvert Free Software by exploiting Free Software but because software is not distributed, cloud services are exempt from freeing the modified source code. For example, Google, which uses and contributes a lot to Free Software, does not reveal its code for search, kernel tweaks etc. So, using Google’s services switches us to using what is essentially non-free software, all the modifications Google has made to Free Software but has not been forced to reveal by the GPL.

Free Software has an answer to this problem, a cloud made of Free Software, OpenStack. The idea is to make a completely open cloud that reveals its source code and permits modification and distribution. There is no reason that the FLOSS model cannot also succeed in the cloud. Here, NASA, RackSpace and NTT have set up a FLOSS project for cloud services. So far they have a compute cloud and a storage cloud, a great start for anyone, even schools, to develop private or public clouds.

RMS writes, ” If you must use a server, use a server whose operators give you a basis for trust beyond a mere commercial relationship.” OpenStack writes, “Why open matters: All of the code for OpenStack is freely available under the Apache 2.0 license. Anyone can run it, build on it, or submit changes back to the project. We strongly believe that an open development model is the only way to foster badly-needed cloud standards, remove the fear of proprietary lock-in for cloud customers, and create a large ecosystem that spans cloud providers.” I hope these viewpoints converge on a model of Free Software for the cloud because using servers is vital to IT. The power of a network does vary as the square of the number of nodes and IT needs clouds.

GNU actually discourages the use of the term “cloud” as lacking specificity, hiding the threat to Freedom.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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4 Responses to Clouds and Freedom

  1. Interesting. I will have to give more thought to supporting/recommending Google. It’s clear from the comments/examination on Android that Google has one foot on the boat of Free Software and the other on the dock of non-free software. It’s clear they have systematically preferred including *BSD stuff over GNU stuff, for instance. Definitely they are opne-sourcerers…

    Still, the basis is Linux and it is Free Software distributed under the GPL.

    I can understand Google being reluctant to reveal all their trade secrets in source code but what’s their hangup with the client software? They use GNU tools to develop it. Why not include GNU tools in the product? Performance? I doubt that.

  2. Adrian Malacoda says:

    FSF warns about “the cloud” for the same reason it warns about proprietary software – because “cloud” users do not have the FSF Four Freedoms. In some cases, “cloud” services can be better (because they are isolated from your machine, they can’t muck around with it or force-install anything in the manner that proprietary software can) or worse (the “cloud” hides away its data and the user does not even have access to the actual program, binary or otherwise).

    In fact it’s worth noting that FSF does not outright condemn “clouds” as long as they respect users’ freedom. FSF participates in an initiative called, which aims at promoting free network services such as

  3. Adrian Malacoda says:

    I believe “the cloud” (if that’s what you prefer to call it) can be powerful and viable, if it gives its users (the “clients,” not the people operating the server) the same freedom that locally-hosted free software does.

    It should be noted that FSF does not outright condemn “the cloud,” in fact, it contributes to an initiative called that published a document called “The Franklin Street Statement” (Franklin St. is where FSF HQ is) that outlines how “cloud service” developers/providers can respect user freedom.

  4. Ray says:

    You can always make a new license 😉

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