NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2009
Circuit Writer Version 6.6
Written by Jim Scheef, Director, Danbury Area Computer Society, CT
jscheef (at) dacs.org (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

Is the cloud really DRM in disguise?
You remember Richard Stallman, right? He’s the founder of the Free Software Foundation (fsf.org), creator of the GNU operating system (gnu.org), and has been called “the last true hacker” for at least 20 years(see separate sidebar in this issue).

His take on cloud computing could not differ more from John Patrick. Stallman would tell you that you give up your freedom when you give your data to a remote site rather than keeping it on your machine with free software. There are many, many blogs discussing the comments Stallman made in an interview and I referenced one of them last month – InformationWeek, November 19, 2008 (tinyurl.com/6zztcc to save you from digging).

Here is a quote from the interview: "One reason you should not use Web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," he said. "It's just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program? If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's Web server, you're defenseless (sic). You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

Another name for cloud computing is “software as a service”. SaaS has been a hot ticket for the last few years for all sorts of enterprise level applications. Some say that cloud computing is just a new name for buying your software and having it hosted remotely. One of my sons just completed a successful SAP implementation for his company. With people using the system at distribution depots all over the country, it made more sense to have the system hosted than to invest in all the data center infrastructure needed to provide enough bandwidth for adequate response times – not to mention the people needed to manage that equipment. In this case, cloud computing is just business reality. By the way, their hosting service is in New Jersey.

When we look at the cloud services that we mere mortals might want to use like Zoho Applications (zoho.com) or Google Apps, some are free as in free beer but none are free as in free speech. When you sign up for such a service, no matter what the service agreement might say about your privacy, your data is at the mercy of that site and its security. And, unlike open source software, you cannot modify the software used by the service to make it suit your needs. The service agreement may even prohibit you from reverse engineering the software and the DMCA could make doing so a crime. Do you begin to see his point? On one hand we have John Patrick telling us to embrace the cloud to free ourselves from worries about backup and data loss with easy access from wherever we might be; and on the other hand we have Richard Stallman. As always, the truth is likely to be found somewhere in the middle. We will explore this more next time.

In the meantime, where did cloud computing begin? How is cloud computing different from timesharing on a minicomputer or mainframe? Was CompuServe and similar services the original consumer cloud? You can comment on my blog at circuitwriter.spaces.live.com.

The CAN-SPAM Act as a warning
One of my favorite columnists is Scott Bradner who writes in Network World. His column in the January 12 issue (tinyurl.com/aytbvu) is especially noteworthy. As news coverage of the inauguration reaches a crescendo, all the business press can talk about is all the new regulation expected from the new Congress. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that regulation is needed in several areas. However, as Scott points out, the legislation intended to regulate spam isn’t. He points out that the act was written by the spam industry and thus legitimized spam as a business model. Lesson number one, regulatory legislation must be written by and enforced by someone who wants it to be effective. In the case of the Internet, no regulation is often the better policy as the various attempts at suppressing porn have shown. However our recent experience with the financial industry as proven that no regulation is just not a viable option.

Is your DSL router vulnerable?
Read this article (http://tinyurl.com/8faqxt) on Dark Reading to see if your DSL router might be vulnerable to attack. The affected routers are commonly used on AT&T DSL service. A quick web search shows a simple DSL gateway device, not the common “2-Wire” device. Apparently the Motorola/Netopia 2210 device does not require authentication to change configuration. Imagine that.

The Julie Amero ordeal is finally over.

Back in November, in a nearly total absence of press coverage, Julie Amero pled guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a $100 fine and lost her teaching credentials. In my opinion, she should have been totally exonerated and reimbursed by the state. You can read a good synopsis of the case at reasononline (tinyurl.com/6gq3yr) and julieamer.blogspot.com.

Events to remember?
An upcoming “I remember” moment may be the transition to digital television broadcasting. Any bets?

There is no doubt that the current financial crisis and the ensuing recession will be remembered for some time to come. So what are people doing about it? eWeek reports (tinyurl.com/7g8b6w) that IBM CEO Sam Palmisano told the Obama transition team that government investment could lead to the creation of more than 900,000 jobs in areas such as broadband access, health care IT and upgrading the electrical grid. Wouldn’t that be rewarding? In addition, Palmisano suggested that the government convert existing data centers to green ones. Gosh, I wonder where he got that idea.

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