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Why Google Chrome OS & The Cloud May Be Bad Ideas

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The cloud, go to the cloud, find the cloud, seek the cloud, get the cloud... Clouds are pretty and white and good in the sky at least, but what about on the Internet? What is the cloud and why is it not, maybe, such a good idea?

Surely the cloud must be good. Microsoft has ads that tell me it's good. Google will soon send out an operating system called Chrome OS that is all based on the cloud.

It must be good, right? Wrong, well at least not in this case.

Shiny Object Warning!

Please don't drink the Kool-Aid folks. The cloud, for all its good, has the potential to be so wrong, and could be so, so bad for you and those you love.

Note: Yes I know we use the cloud for things like e-mail, accounting systems, video, images and the like, but that isn't quite the same as using it for your operating system.

So Why The Cloud Hate?

First, I appreciate the benefits of the cloud for many things. It has many advantages, especially when it comes to simple programs with limited functionality.

However, the cloud should be something that is kept in the vertical where it is best applied serving limited user needs. This means for web-based applications that have niche or focused purposes where a cloud applications makes the best sense.

So when is the cloud an issue? When is it time to be concerned about the cloud? How about when your computer is no longer yours, when it has no brain of its own (a hard drive) and becomes merely a slave to the web?

What happens when you never own your own apps? When you're never able to download anything to your own computer? To have all your data live on the web, on someone else's server, with all its security and privacy issues?

Own Versus Rent

Currently, most of my programs (except for Adobe Suite) cost me under $75. Once these are paid for, they are mine to keep for as long as I want, or until my computer dies and goes to computer heaven. This means my HomeSite alone paid for itself seven years ago.

Now with the cloud you don't own your programs, you use them on loan from a company such as Google or Microsoft. How long do you think you will be getting these web-based apps for free? In our capitalistic economy it's a fool's bet to believe that you'll be able to rely on the benevolence of software companies to provide you your apps for free.

Now imagine, you can no longer buy your programs and download them to your hard drive? Guess what this is called in the offline world? It is called renting.

You will rent your apps. Rent! How about that, renting your software? Sure, they'll probably give it a nice "shiny object" name, but a rose by any other name... well you know the drill.

Think This Can't Happen?

Google already does this on the professional and government levels with its current applications.

But for argument's sake, let's say companies are benevolent and charge you only a few dollars per month. How quickly will this add up on your monthly bill? Do you really want to be paying indefinitely for apps that you could own for less than $100?

Let's take my HomeSite into account. At a modest iPhone style charge of $4.99 a month, my $69 HomeSite would now have cost me $419.19. Who do you think that benefits?

Relying on the Benevolence of Software Companies

So let's take it one step further. What happens when you hit hard times and can't pay that monthly charge? Do you still have access to these apps during that time? My current paid for cloud apps will turn off if I don't pay.

Do you want to trust that you'll never have financially difficult times, where you have to decide between food and your livelihood? Anyone considering an all web-based OS should be thinking about this, especially given the hard times we've all been, and many still are, facing.

The Only Safe Server is One NOT Connected to the Web

So let's say renting your apps for the lifetime that you own them isn't a concern to you. What about security?

Last year when I went to DefCon (a hacker's conference here in Las Vegas), I asked a few hackers just how hard it was to get into Google or the cloud in general. They laughed, and not politely either.

After they were done laughing, they told me they were sorry, and asked if I was serious (it was a hacker's conference after all!). I said that I was a layman when it came to hacker issues and was wondering their thoughts.

They told me that the cloud was infinitely less secure than my hard drive and that telling people to put their life on the cloud was irresponsible. But they were hackers, so I thought maybe they were being dramatic for effect.

Infinitely Less Secure

So I asked my friend Christopher Warner, an Information security adviser at the Internet Business Group here in Las Vegas (he's also a subject matter expert in all things related to cyber security and has worked for federal agencies and in cyber operations). He told me that the cloud was indeed infinitely less secure and that only safe system was one not connected to the Internet.

While hard drives are in a way connected, a cloud system was online all the time in a server system and this made it infinitely less secure. (Hmmm detecting a pattern here?) In addition, he said the cloud isn't a place for people to be storing the information they would normally store on a hard drive.

So if you still aren't convinced, just search for hacked or hackers and Google, Microsoft, or any cloud system and you will find references to breaches just in the past year. (You can also see they accessed the NSA, the FBI and the World Bank all the last 24 months.)

So with hackers being able to get into the Google, NSA, the FBI, the World Bank, do you really want to store all your data online? Do you really want everything your write, speak, and say to be stored on a company's cloud with the hopes that they never get hacked? Because getting hacked is usually a matter of when, not if, especially if a hacker knows your entire computer life is stored on a system.

Will it really affect you if your data is hacked (as long as it isn't financial)? Probably not, unless you're famous. But I still like the idea of having my personal documents, photos, blogs, etc., on my own computer and not stored on the web unless I put them there.

Speed vs. Security

For all this forsaking of your own freedom on your own computer, you get a quicker boot time and the perception of increased security (yet, remember, even Google has been hacked). So that's it. Some seconds saved when you boot.

These are just shiny object distractions that will be used to get people to forgo their objections. It's up to you whether you let them distract you.

So Who Really Benefits?

Well Google for one, but that was obvious, or any program or application company that can charge you to use their programs on your system. Unless you own an application or software company, I'm pretty sure you won't benefit.

So please people, reconsider the cloud operating systems before you find yourself without any choices and your computer a slave to the very powerful companies that now run the technological world we live in.

Because as so many have seem to forgotten, we do have one very powerful choice left: to just say no.


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