Note: If you ever see underlined hyperlinks in my articles, it’s not from one of those evil article-ad companies. It’s a link to an article I suggest you read based on whatever subject matter is underlined…
Welcome to the Cloud
While the dawn of platform-independent, Internet-based, Cloud-worshipping voodoo means the end of Microsoft, it brings with it a different set of challenges than the Bluescreens and spyware we’re used to.
What is the Cloud? Well, people realized that depending on ONE computer in your life isn’t such a good idea. Seeing as most people have unreliable computers, don’t back up their damn documents, and need to have all of their documents/media in front of them at all times (at home, at work, on their phones), depending on one stationary computer makes less and less sense. Enter the Cloud (named for the way the Internet is represented on diagrams). As predicted by Bill Gates in 1994, all of your documents and media will soon be stored outside of your computer – be it your videos on YouTube, your photos on Facebook, your emails on Gmail (Google’s mostly-brilliant free email service), AND, accessible from many computers, handheld devices, and Internet appliances.
Let’s recap: Storage services, social networking, and even online word processing software, all free? C’mon, folks, you know better. There’s always a catch. As with other free services, there will be advertisements, such as banner ads. The next generation of ads harnesses your user input to feed you “Targeted Ads” – sites like Facebook show you ads based on your location, age, interests, and such. Gmail, however, targets you based on what it finds in the content of your emails! Yes, write someone an email that has the word “invention” in it, and you’ll get nice little text-banner ads offering to help you develop a patent. Cool? Yes. Disturbing? A little. Now, Gmail claims that no human will ever read your emails, and that they’re scanned anonymously for the sole purpose of making advertising more relevant and thus more efficient for all parties involved. That’s fine, and it’s no reason to panic just yet, but Teknosophy is all about making the beginners aware of the technology.
So, while everyone’s writing articles praising the advent of the Cloud, I’m already predicting some problems. Guess what, ads are just the tip of the iceberg. Like anything, Cloud Computing has flaws, and today we’re going to explore them in this series. Let’s start our discussion with the DRM aspect.
Apple may be the next giant to fall. Not in the short run, obviously, but in the long run. The predictor? A simple linchpin known as the Apple ID. Your Apple ID consists of your email address and a password, and it enables you to purchase music, music videos, movies, and iPhone/iPod Apps (Apps = applications/programs) from the iTunes Music Store. Stored within your account are things like your credit card number and your purchase history.
Well, what’s wrong with that, Marc? Everyone’s doing it! You’re just a conspiracy theorist!
I didn’t pay much attention to my Apple ID until this week. I went to add a new eBay App to my iPod, and it said, “Sorry, your account doesn’t exist! You can’t download anything!” What? Even clicking “I forgot my username/password” resulted in Apple denying my existence. Then it hit me – I’ve been a member of the iTunes Music Store ever since it opened, and I have purchased hundreds of songs from them. You know, those little songs that you remember from the 80s, the songs that get stuck in your head, the songs you paid $1 each for.
Apple automated system: Hi, I’m the Apple Automated System! Simply say what you need and I’ll give you the right information!
Me: iTunes Account
Apple AS: Did you say, iPod Technical Support?
Apple AS: Did you say, iPod Technical Support?
Me: F%$#$ you!
Apple AS: I’m terribly sorry you’re dissatisfied! Let me get you to an operator. Please hold!
Many other misunderstandings, callbacks, and “go to our website”s later… they were able to recover my account. Come to find out, it was hacked by a Nigerian-style scammer. But that’s not the point…
What Apple in its self-aggrandizing advertisements fails to tell you is that while it simplifies, unifies, purifies, and sanctifies everything in your life, it also HAS A CHOKEHOLD on the aforementioned everything in your life. Without your Apple ID, password, and an Internet connection, all of that purchased media content is USELESS. Yep. All those wonderful HD movies, all those tunes, all those handy little Apps. The reason is DRM – Digital Rights Management: In an Obamanomic attempt to prevent piracy, many online stores require you to ASK AND periodically RE-ASK THEIR PERMISSION to use your purchased media. On top of that, you’re ONLY allowed to play your music on a limited number of authorized devices, usually within one brand family. (While the music industry has eased its DRM requirements thanks to a manifesto Steve Jobs wrote in 2007, ironically it’s his Apple that uses DRM enforcement on all the Apps it sells.)
Apple has always been the underdog. At their inception they were out to get “the big guys,” flying a pirate flag at their corporate headquarters (SO AWESOME). Now that they’ve “won” so to speak, I really hope they don’t let the success go to their heads. Their whole crusade was better FUNDAMENTAL product design (operating systems). Will someone come along and show them up someday? Probably.
So, Apple, if you’re listening, thank you for re-allowing me to use items I’ve purchased. Imagine if you had to ask Upper Deck for permission to look at or sell your valuable baseball Rookie cards. WORSE YET, imagine your car calling home to the factory of endangered GM or Chrysler before it’s allowed to start in the morning? You of all people should know not to be so controlling. Think of that pirate flag, or better yet, think about all the companies you’re putting out of business thanks to products that respect the user.
In the old days (that’s the 1990s for me), phones and PDAs didn’t go on the Internet. If you wanted to add functionality to your Palm Pilot or Windows CE device, you went to the software author’s website, or purchased an install CD, then “synced” your handheld device up to your computer to install. Nowadays, BlackBerries, iPod Touches, iPhones (and eventually most computers), will download programs from an App Store. It’s an easy, one-click installation that doesn’t require a computer-to-handheld-device synchronization, and thanks to wireless and cellular Internet, can be done ‘most anywhere in the world. So what’s the problem? In the case of Apple and many major App Stores, two things. First, all the programs are riddled with DRM, and second, they’re all account-dependent. Lose that password and lose your everything.
Ubuntu’s Software Center program is the best of both worlds. Not only are most items free (both $0 and free of DRM), but, gasp! It’s NOT THE ONLY source of applications you can use on Ubuntu-based computers. On top of that, an advanced mode allows you to add other sources to the list of downloadable Apps (such as from Ubuntu’s partners, or third-party developers). You can also download individual “package files” to your heart’s content from Web sites and such and they’ll all work just fine. So while you have the ease of use and searchability of an “App Store,” you still retain your freedom. No Jobsian restrictions on what can and cannot be offered on the platform.
Tip of the Iceberg
Stay tuned folks for the next edition of Why the Cloud Sucks. We’re going to be talking about Cloud Storage, Web Apps, Centralized Media, and more!