Friday, December 31, 2010

"The Cloud" is all about "ka-ching!"

Notice Microsoft's TV commercial trying to push "the cloud"? Notice Google pushing a new netbook that has a minimalist "operating system" that is little more than a glorified Web browser? Notice the barrage of e-mails about "net neutrality"?

We are on the frontier of the corporativization of the Internet, indeed of all of the cyberworld, which is not unlike the coming of "civilization" to the Wild West. Up to now the Internet has been a multinational, geeky environment of minimal restraint and increasingly affordable access: my Web site has gotten more or less the same shot as The New York Times, my voice and Paul Krugman's are out there as cybernetic equals.

Don't call me paranoid just because they're after us, but ...

There is a longstanding commercial reason why powerful corporations want you to go to "the cloud" and want to be able to control bandwidth allocation: there's more money in it.

In the cloud, corporations can hold your data hostage in private storage spaces that belong to them and impose whatever recurrent fees they want to use programs and access your own information. The potential for mischief and price gouging are enormous!

Credit card companies and PayPal have banded to make a financial pariah of Wikileaks, declining to process donations to the group that has aired a great deal of horse manure in the U.S. government's Augean stables.

You think they couldn't or wouldn't do the same to you, if you crossed them?

And think about it: the cloud is a giant leap away from the PC.

The personal computer, or microcomputer to be precise, is a machine you can own, like a car. You can buy or download programs to use whenever you want. You can store whatever data you want, including those naughty pictures you'd rather no one else see.

And it's all physically located in your own study or kitchen table or office that no one else has the right to interfere with, provided you don't use them to harm others.

It used to be that computers were giant machines with tapes, guarded jealously by guys (they were all guys) in lab coats. You could use a dumb terminal, essentially a keyboard and screen without storage or memory of processor. Your terminal was attached by wires, phone lines, whatever, to the big machines. You, or more likely your employer or research facility, had to pay per minute of computer time: 2+2=4, that's X microseconds, add 8 thousandths of a penny to the bill.

That's the model that networks and networking are going back to under the metaphoric "cloud" -- which is a dumb, cheap machine attached to a mainframe belonging to Microsoft or Google or whomever.

Instead of opening WordPerfect or Open Office to write your Great American Novel essentially for no more than the original fixed, one-time cost of getting software and hardware, suddenly every tool you use to write belongs to Big Brother, Inc. Big Brother USG (US govt. or in Iran, Ahmadinejad) can come with a warrant, or just say "pretty please," and start a file on every intimate thought you ever commit to cyberstorage.

If you run out of money or if some Poobah decides your thoughts are undesirable, you can get locked out of your own stuff.

Won't happen? Tell that to the millions who were evicted out of their own homes in the last two years because they were conned into signing away rights in humongously unequal and predatory transactions.

The same thing goes for Net Neutrality, the notion that you and The New York Times have equal rights to access the wonders of the Internet -- in fact you have more rights because you are (Supreme Court decision notwithstanding) a real, flesh and blood person.

You've been warned.
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