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Hostageware: The Threat of Clown Computing (or 'SaaS', Another Misnomer or Buzzword) to Computer Users Everywhere

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Jun 18, 2024

Lighthouse in a stormy ocean

This problem isn't limited to Free software adopters

THIS past spring we wrote about the importance of adopting free, open standards [1, 2]. The general idea is, start with liberation of underlying data or "assets", then enjoy a freedom to move from one software to another (more about choice, not freedom). Free software that uses some cryptic or proprietary data formats would be difficult to escape rather than to altogether avoid. Due to source being available, reverse-engineering of formats would be simpler, albeit time-consuming. There are some notable examples of such software. In the case of E-mail, formats like .mbox simplify migration through importers and exporters. When it comes to Clown Computing, which is a nebulous concept, a lot of the time that hype just means or boils down to some proprietary Web interface (Web UI). There are older buzzphrases such as "Ajax" (previously used to describe this, dating back to Gmail and "webmail" hype).

Now that "cargo cult" is extending its scope to image editing, office suites etc. We should be deeply concerned.

Enter "the clown" (or "Clown Computing"). It's a growing headache and this was discussed in IRC earlier today due to legal action against Adobe ("Feds sue Adobe for 'hiding' subscription cancellation fees"). AdmFubar shared this report ("US Sues Adobe, Executives over SaaS Cancelation Policies").

"There are also vendor lock-in aspects," an associate has explained, "especially due to 'cloud' data."

"The main topic is licensing. However, underneath that is the problem that Adobe holds data hostage on their 'cloud'. That is not specific to Adobe and is a general threat to software freedom."

This issue was mentioned in passing before, typically in relation to "clown" office suites because some states move to Free software and it is imperative that they also adopt OpenDocument Format (ODF) among other open standards. Simply abandoning Microsoft is not enough if they move to something like Google Docs.

Large cumulus cloud and blue sky

The "clown" is for clowns - typically embraced by people who don't understand "IT" (but pretend to). I worked for such people. It's hard to challenge them because they don't get the very basic concepts right. Their vocabulary is that of marketing people, not Computer Scientists.

"Even though it is still a general threat, it is a rising problem," the associate has added. "Microsoft uses it against Office 365 victims, among other examples. Open formats don't matter if you never even gain possession of the files themselves. Google Docs is another case, though perhaps a milder example."

This associate has said that "open standards are a start, but now the fight is also about possession of the actual files or data."

We recently wrote about this in relation to Git because many people 'outsource' their repositories to third parties, sometimes to totally proprietary software such as GitHub (Microsoft). This is misguided, but many lazy developers still do this.

Outsourcing to any third party is generally a bad idea. It can usually be avoided.

The Book of Broken Promises: $400 Billion Broadband Scandal & Free the Net

Finally, quoting the associate again: "In the past Links there was an article about a fellow who had his subscription cancelled with such short notice that he logistically could not download all the data even using maximum bandwidth prior to the account closing and the data on the server getting deleted. The more data there is in 'the cloud' the hard it is to get it out, and easy or hard the more data there is, the longer it takes to transfer even at high speed. Most of the US does not even have broadband let alone high speed broadband." (see "Book of Broken Promises")

"One important aspect is math. GB or TB of data on remote servers, accumulated over months or years, cannot be downloaded in a reasonable time span when the transfer speed is a mere 10s of Mb/s or less and the transfer protocols are unreliable and not designed for such volumes."

Let's move away from "the clown" and teach ourselves (or peers) how to take control. In many cases a business or a person can hire someone to do this at a cost vastly lower than years' worth of "subscription" to some "clown" disservice. Then there are no monthly payments, exit fees, and Orwellian ToS that keeps changing.

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