Sunday, July 12, 2009

Are You in Denial About How Much Privacy You Have?

I read an interesting blog article today by Brooke Crothers of CNET titled "Comfort Zones: Windows vs. Linux".

Like many articles lately this one is pondering the impact of Google announcing the Google Chrome OS that is being targeted for use in low cost "Netbooks".

Brooke says Chrome, and other Linux based OS's, always struggle because consumers go with brands they know. Like MS or MacOSX. But a funny thing about us humans is that statement is true right up until we as consumers decide we no longer like a brand. As they say "Familiarity breeds contempt". We're a fickle race.

But the key decision isn't really Windows vs Linux Vs OSX is it? That debate is an uninteresting red herring focused on an inane, "strawman" of a popularity contest over people's favorite "distributed fat OS" brand. The important debate is over hosted/cloud computing from a thin client vs distributed thick computing on a thick client (but really mostly thin from a browser anyway).

Suppose a hosted computing provider offered thin computing to people and allowed them to choose, and alternate between, a Windows XP experience, a Vista experience, a Windows 7 experience, a Ubuntu experience, a Mac OSX experience or some new flavor like Chrome; or maybe CUSTOM? If choice of the look and feel and familiarity of a favorite OS experience remained, but it was all done thin, how many people are truly going to be so paranoid over privacy concerns that they will turn this down? Not many.

If Google leaks my data they are a big fat target with a big fat bank account I can sue if they violated the EULA "End User License Agreement" they agreed to with me. By comparison, if some browser malware on Windows IE 8 steals my data, I'm screwed. No one to blame and Thick OS vendors like MS have indemnity against data theft in the T's and C's.

Sure the paranoid conspiracy theorists come out of the woodwork when you talk about cloud computing. OH THE HORROR!! SOMEONE WILL STEAL MY PRECIOUS DATA!!!! But they are in denial if they think they have anything today but an illusion of privacy in most of what they do. Well, unless they are hoarding cash in their underground bunker instead of banks, don't use any credit/debit or loyalty cards of ANY kind, have no internet connection and never go anywhere that has video monitoring cameras. Unless they do all of that, which if they do means they are a "wingnut", they don't have true privacy anyway.

I mean look at the use of all the browser-based email clients! Lets be real. Most people aren't in general overly worried about the privacy of the data on their computer. If they were and they were smart they wouldn't have ANY data on a computer they consider especially sensitive. If people were so worried then Yahoo, Hotmail, gmail and AOL wouldn't together have 100s of millions of email addresses being used daily. Once you take out the "brand favorite" problem of what your UI looks like, people will flock to hosted/thin computing.

The other thing the anti-cloud crowd wails about is "offline computing". But just look around you right now at the wifi coffee shop hotspot you are at. How many of the people sitting around you with laptops aren't logged in and connected to the net? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?...... The fact is virtually no one does any significant amount of computing work on their computer (say >10% of their time), without being connected to the Internet these days?

Cloud computing is an inevitable outcome of computing evolution. So get over it folks. If you think in 20 years, or even 10 years, that you'll be running a powerful, local, multi-core processor crunching on a big fat hog of a local OS you are in denial or just aren't paying attention. Lots of people in 1910 said they would never, ever own a car and nothing was as reliable and safe for transportation as a horse and/or horse & carriage. By 1920 the buggy whip makers, carriage manufacturers and blacksmiths were, shall we say, worried.

100 years later we have a similar transition happening from fat, distributed OS's to cloud computing. So why fight cloud computing for ridiculous reasons like what your UI experience feels like; or because you want to pretend you can live under a rock and have "early 20th century"-style privacy and anonymity? The only way that kind of privacy comes back is if we get a global collapse of the modern technological society. If that happens you'll get your thick computing and privacy. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory as you'll spend all your time trying to feed yourself growing and hunting food. Data privacy and Computing UI choice will not be relevant anymore.

"Thin" is almost "in" for good this time. Are you prepared for it?

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