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The Economist on Clouds

Last week’s The Economist has a leader article titled “Battle of the Clouds” and a six-page briefing “Clash of the Clouds.” It contains some interesting tidbits, such as labeling Apple’s key market “digital music”, Microsoft’s as “operating systems” (with 93% market share) and Google as “search.” Funny, I would have expected “online advertising” for the latter.

Anyway, there are two key — and somewhat contradictory — parts to the leader article. It starts off like this (edited for brevity):

The new approach has great promise. It makes life easier for consumers and cheaper, too: many cloud services are free, supported by advertising or subsidised by users who pay for a premium service. — The Economist, 17/10/2009, p. 13

I find it hard to believe that a massive shift to cloud computing — as in supporting everyone’s email and document handling — could ever be advertising supported, and the rates for maintaining massive amounts of servers for a broad slice of the population can’t be kept low for very long. Any user is going to consume a non-negligable amount of resources (electricity) in the course of a working day one the server end — that needs to be recouped.

The other end of the same leader article is headed “A storm brewing?” and touches on the issues and social implications of cloud computing. Something the FSF and FSFE have been concerned about as well. Here my feeling is that the article has done reasonably well: it mentions technological lock-in, “favour service providers who allow them to switch between services without too much hassle,” privacy implications, “most users will be happy to trade some privacy for free services,” (cue Ben Franklin) and data integrity and sustainability, “data stored in the cloud may not be safe.” Yes, those are the umbrella problems of clouds. For now, local storage and local computing are the best bet to avoid those problems and keep out of the rain.

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