You actually want to BUY software? Pity!

I’ve promised some of you that I would blog on this or that topic and I will, in time.  I still need to address the University business student stupid rape chant in terms of how this silliness fits into a sociological framework of involvement and detachment.  I will, I will.  But I need to deal with this first because it’s getting under my skin.

Have you noticed an insidious little change that’s been happening to computing lately?  Well, “THE CLOUD” is one thing that’s profoundly changing how we work with ‘computing,’ but there’s another thing that’s related I think and that’s indicative of how profoundly things are changing in our online world. It’s increasingly difficult to actually buy software out there these days.  I mean, really BUY it, like you would buy a stove or a bag of chips.  Software providers are now ‘leasing’ or ‘licensing’ the use of their software for a price rather that outright selling it.  The end user, you and I, are being written out of the ownership picture.  That has consequences, of course, the most important I think is the loss of any control we have over what happens when we boot our computers.  Let me tell you a little story about my life with computers.

We (my family and I) got our first computer in 1986.  It was a Mac.  There were Apple computers around before that but they were nowhere near the Mac in terms of their interfaces. Since then, we’ve owned probably 10 computers, more like 20 if I consider the four of us in my family.  I have 3 Macs to myself right now, but just one I use regularly.  In 1986, at work, as a college instructor, I used a ‘terminal’ linked to a main server somewhere on the college property, I can’t remember where.  We all did.  There were no stand alone computers at the time.  That came later, in the late 80s or early 90s when we got HP computers that were both able to act as stand alone machines and as  terminals.  Computers at the college now are all linked to a main computer server (several, actually) but can still function as stand alone units.  Truth be told, my MacBook Pro is feeling more and more like a terminal every day, attached to a server and out of my control.  I recently upgraded the operating system on my Mac to ‘Mavericks’ for free.  Yes, for free!

What I see happening is that computers in the not-too-distant future will be more like terminals and the ‘Cloud’ will be more like the servers that are still part of computing in many organizations.  I hear that more and more companies and organizations are going to ‘cloud’ computing.  If that’s true, and I’m sure it is, the potential for wresting control of information flow away from individuals, companies and organizations and concentrating it in the hands of a very few ‘controllers’ is palpable.  It’s happening now.  But it’s a slow (in today’s terms) process that seems to be happening for all the ‘right’ reasons with nobody really in charge.  Don’t expect that scenario to carry on for long.  Monopolization is the fate of all competitive systems and concentration of power is inevitable in this.

However, I see another dimension to this too.  The elimination of ownership and control of software  must be seen in the context of the elimination of ownership and control in other areas.  It may seem crazy now, but I can see a day when individual human beings will not own anything of substance and people will find that situation completely acceptable.  In fact, they’ll get bent out of shape if you dare suggest it to be strange in any way.  I’m sure most people see the onset of ‘Cloud’ computing as a logical extension of the need for worldwide integration of computer systems for business and commerce.  But, mark my words, this new technology will have a major impact on our lives, and soon too.  If Apple is now willing to give away (license for free) it’s operating system for the first time in its history, you know something’s up.  It will do so now to have more power and control in the near future by seeing to it that computing happens only in the ‘cloud.’ It’s software now is ‘cloud’ based.  And who do you think will control ‘THE CLOUD?’