Thursday, January 10, 2013

Read "Freedom for Users, Not for Software"

We've been watching the migration to the cloud for a while now -- wondering when everybody was going to wise up that data centers were farming them into cruelty-free meat by-products.

I was recently at a Christmas party with some people from a Redmond-based software corporation that makes Exchange.  Their take: Office 365 made their lives and their customers lives much more convoluted.  Where they could work solutions in on-premises servers, any changes to Office 365 need to be escalated at the corporate level.  And we all know how convenient and easy that is.  So they're increasingly seeing combined Office 365 and on-premises Exchange environments, precisely the opposite of what they and the customer predicted or wanted.

SO it's is with great fervor that I suggest you read Freedom for Users, Not for Software by Benjamin Mako Hill.

He hits it right on the money with his analysis of the market confusion initially arising from "free software" which was re-cast as "open software" (goals with which it is hard to disagree! What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?) and the way this term was used and abused in the industry.  The aspect that I suggest you pay closest attention to is the emphasis on users. Focused on the server-side of the client-server model, we at Sumatra would substitute the term "consumers" for "users" to avoid the further linguistic confusion that comes from the distinction between "users" and "administrators" in such environments.  Both the admin and the user are consumers, and the user-admin collective together face the "user" conundrum.

After years in this business, I'm pretty sure the dynamics of the industry are never going to allow the ideals of the open software movement to be fully realized in any software that is both marketable and useful.  The lure of dollars is too strong.  When software remained the exclusive domain of academics and cowboys it was possible.  These guys were happy to have a car and an apartment.

But once venture capital and the stock market took hold these ideals were not going to stand up to the motivation of owning a private jet and a McMansion.

What's this have to do with the movement to the cloud?  It's all the same dynamic based on much of the same software with the scions of the same corporations promising freedom while actually building feudal digital fiefdoms.  Do not go mindlessly with the flow when you hear that your support problems are going to go away and your life is going to be easier.  You might luck out, but really look at what your business goals are and how you're going  to deal with realistic software disaster scenarios while your business processes are directly under someone else's control.

As we often quote Ronald Reagan: "Trust, but verify."

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