Richard Stallman Slams SaaS - InformationWeek

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4/28/2009
11:00 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Richard Stallman Slams SaaS

If you're known by the enemies you keep, then Software as a Service received a boost the other day when it was bashed by Richard Stallman, the free-software GNUru. Stallman is such a control freak about his particular vision of software "freedom" that he says the following about SaaS: "You must not use it!"

If you're known by the enemies you keep, then Software as a Service received a boost the other day when it was bashed by Richard Stallman, the free-software GNUru. Stallman is such a control freak about his particular vision of software "freedom" that he says the following about SaaS: "You must not use it!"Stallman's latest rant broke into public view via a Slashdot posting on Monday. The Slashdot blurb references a very interesting O'Reilly interview, "Stallman discusses Free Software and GPLv3," conducted by Federico Biancuzzi.

As the interview's title makes clear, SaaS was something of an afterthought. It's mentioned halfway down, amid a discussion of the GNU Affero GPL, which is Stallman's attempt to create a SaaS license. (Though in typical fashion, Stallman denies that Affero has anything to do with SaaS. Rather, he says it's "meant for any sort of program for which use on servers is expected to be an important source of improvements.")

Does your head hurt yet? And I haven't even gotten to the main point. So here's Stallman's money quote about SaaS:

"Software as a service means that you think of a particular server as doing your computing for you. If that's what the server does, you must not use it! If you do your computing on someone else's server, you hand over control of your computing to whoever controls the server. It is like running binary-only software, only worse: it's even harder for you to patch the program that's running on someone else's server than it is to patch a binary copy of a program running on your own computer. Just like non-free software, "software as a service" is incompatible with your freedom."

If you're able to even read through this whole thing -- admittedly, with my Twitter-reduced attention span, it's a problem for me -- you've gotta be asking yourself: "What the heck is he talking about? I don't want to patch anybody's CRM program. I just want to run my darn app and save some money doing it."

Two paragraphs later, Stallman cuts to the chase and clues Biancuzzi in on what he's really getting at:

"The only solution to this problem is not to use someone else's server to do your own computing on your own data. Do it on your own computer, using your own copy of a free program."

As the comments posted on Slashdot make clear, this type of stuff is simply Stallman being Stallman. Namely, doctrinaire to the point that it's only tenuously relevant to the real world. Or, as one Slashdot commenter put it: "[Stallman's] advice seems to be to run your own server, but how many people can or will do that? If he presented a viable alternative for the masses I'd be more sympathetic."

I discussed Stallman's hang-ups over semantics -- he hates the term "open source," even though he helped create open source software -- in my post Free Software Foundation's Richard Stallman Says Don't Call It 'Open Source'.

So now he's got another term -- SaaS -- to add to his semantics hit list. Meanwhile, as SaaS gathers steam, the discussion of legitimate issues to which Stallman alludes -- namely, how to handle the privacy of data in the cloud -- are less likely to take place.

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