Steve Wozniak has given voice to the unease many feel as more of life moves to the cloud. How much of this applies to developers?
You've probably heard by now that Wozniak, who co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Jobs in 1976, attended a performance of the one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," put on by the controversial monologist Mike Daisey (the one This American Life apologized for having featured). After the show, Woz joined Daisey on stage and engaged in a dialog with him and with the audience.
Woz distrusts the cloud. Here's what he said from the stage of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company on August 4, according to AFP:
I really worry about everything going to the cloud. I think it's going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years. With the cloud, you don't own anything. You already signed it away. I want to feel that I own things. A lot of people feel, 'Oh, everything is really on my computer,' but I say the more we transfer everything onto the Web, onto the cloud, the less we're going to have control over it.
Woz was mainly talking about intellectual property -- specifically, media -- and his worry was not about any of the reliability or robustness issues that the cloud has experienced in its rapid growth.
It's undeniable that Google, Apple, Amazon, and others are pushing hard to move the commerce in media to a cloud-hosted existence, instead of the physical reality that previous generations have known. As ZDNet's David Meyer notes, "It has long been the case that people who may think they are buying software or content are, in reality, only buying a license to use it... the days of people buying everything on paper, CD, and DVD are passing." Everything in Apple's App Store and Mac App Store is "licensed, not sold."
But how much of this worry applies to developers who are moving increasingly more of their work to the cloud? Very little, I believe.
One saving grace is provided by the open-source movement. Many of the cloud-based tools that we depend upon are freely available for us to copy, modify, and reuse in whatever way we want. Often, these tools are provided by individuals or groups whose desire is to give back to the community. For such tools, developers need not worry about any corporate agenda getting between them and what they create.
Some of our cloud-based tools, such as GitHub, while open-source are wrapped (however loosely) in corporate trappings. GitHub's terms of service lay to rest -- for now -- any concerns about who owns what you upload there: "We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours."
Of course, like most such legalistic documents, GitHub's terms reserve to GitHub the right to change the terms with or without notice.
In my opinion the thing we need to worry about is not inherent in the cloud itself, but rather in the unrelenting pressure on corporations to set terms favorable only to themselves.