Archive for April, 2012

Time for a data freedom license?

Last week Donnie Berkholz, new guy on the team over at Redmonk, writing on his “The Story of Data” blog posted an entry entitled “Whither the GPL? Why we don’t need it anymore“. Today saw the announcement that Facebook was buying Instagram for a staggering $1-billion and so I thought it was worth tying these two things together.

Reading the comments and the content of Donnies’ post I was waiting for him to get there, and he never did. Reading the comments most of the people took his observations literally, and since I don’t know Donnie, and have not got the chance to talk to him, I guess we must. But that’s missing the point I think.

I’d like to think Donnie was saying the GPL should NOT be where the focus is anymore. The freedoms that come with it are well understood, as is the responsibility. And this is where I was expecting Berkholz to go, but he didn’t.

I wanted him to go on and talk about all the challenges of allowing access, maintaining, withdrawing, exporting and removing your personal data in the “cloud”. It’s no longer programs that are valuable, they have some value, but not without the data. If you have the data, you have the users. If you have users, you have instant value, it’s not about the users themselves, it’s not like you are able to charge them to access your own data, it’s about monitoring what you are doing, where you have been, where you are going, who you  are with and more. That’s value, whether it’s your facebook status updates, your tweets, to instagram pictures etc.

It used to be in the old days that software companies would find a business requirement,  develop software, go through a few releases of their software; build a user base and then get acquired for what they were, not what data and users they had aka the marriage of facebook/instragram. I for one have recently created a new blog to own the content that I would have formally posted directly on facebook. I’m increasingly concerned with what Facebook will do with the knowledge about what device, what OS, where, how I created the post, not to mention what I post.

And that is what I was half hoping Donnie was going to tackle, personal data freedom. That is what we need today, a meaningful personal data freedom that web 2.0 and cloud companies sign-up to implement, in a meaningful way. Before I give you my data, you sign-up you agree to treat my data according to the following freedoms, with deference to the GPL

Data is free data if originator has the four essential freedoms:

  • The freedom to store, or delete forever and irrevocably the data, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to manipulate, offload, change and re-load the data
  • The freedom to redistribute copies of the data so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). Meaning, data you create and store on any computer will be the property of the owner of that computer. Rather the data remains your property and you will have the ability to decide on the future use of said data.

I have a somewhat facetious disclaimer, privacy notice, data restriction on my facebook page. In the UK, I can remember back to 1980 when I was working for Canada Life Assurance, the UK Data Protection Act had just been enacted, and I can recall the seriousness with which the company applied the treatment and use of personal data. Today, where data is created everywhere we go, and we have technology that can access it from anywhere and anytime, yet we have almost no ability to control our data, where or how it is used, and even who actually owns some of your most personal and private data. And that is why we need a data freedom, and why this should now replace the focus on Linux and the GPL.

I made the same mistake as Donnie back in 2001 when I gave the keynote at the IBM Technical Conference that year. In my presentation I said that we should expect that in 5-years we are no longer talking about, or working on Linux as an Operating System. This wasn’t because I wanted Linux to go away, in fact the opposite was true, I wanted to move on from the discussion about Linux. We should assume it’s there, differentiation doesn’t come from the OS; we should all be complying with the rights that were inferred on us by users of Linux, but can’t we just move on?

Back to the future

This week Dell announced 3x major acquisitions, Wyse, Clerity Solutions, and Make Technologies. These acquisitions, once complete, will offer an awesome combination to move apps and customers to the cloud.

  • Wyse provides application virtualization capability which in essence will allow PC based applications to run as terminals in the cloud, accessing them via thin clients, increasingly mobile devices like tablets.
  • Clerity delivers application modernization and re-hosting solutions and services. Clerity’s capabilities will enable Dell Services to help customers reduce the cost of transitioning business-critical applications and data from legacy computing systems and onto more modern architectures, including the cloud.
  • Make Technologies brings application modernization software and services that reduce the cost, risk and time required to re-engineer applications, helping companies modernize their applications portfolios so they can reduce legacy infrastructure operating costs. These applications run most effectively on open, standardized platforms including the cloud.

A great set of solutions to let organizations looking to really get  their older apps into a modern execution and device environment. Exciting times for the Dell team supporting these customers.

This very much reminds me of 14-15 years ago and a whole slew of projects where we were trying to drive similar modernization into applications. IBM Network Station was about to be launched; we had a useful first release of the CICS Transcation Gateway and their was a great start at integrating Java with COBOL based applications and some fledgling work on extending the COBOL language to support object oriented principles. My poster session at the IBM Academy of Technology was on legacy modernization. In those days it was obvious that customers needed tools to help them get from where they’d been to where they would be going.

Enough never really got there, the financial case wasn’t often enough. However, given the performance, scalability and reliability of today’s x86/x64 systems, the lack of progress and demand for change have passed compelling, it’s essential.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formaly a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.

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