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Re: Emacs in the Cloud

From: Tim Cross
Subject: Re: Emacs in the Cloud
Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2011 11:49:31 +1000

On Sun, Jul 24, 2011 at 4:44 PM, Paul Michael Reilly <address@hidden> wrote:
> I recently tried out a ChromeBook for a month or so.  The attraction was
> primarily the simplicity of the system.  I love the idea of not having to
> deal directly with an underlying OS, not having to configure devices or
> drivers, not having to do backups, not worrying about losing files, or
> dealing with security, or having the hardware go belly up.  While the
> experience was a mixed success (I returned the box since it was underpowered
> and led to very poor Chrome behavior: slow and lots of crashed tabs and
> extensions).  But most of all, life without Emacs, even for just short
> periods, just plain sucks.
> But a sufficiently powerful machine could provide a ChromeBook experience
> and undoubtedly will as ChromeOS matures.  But it will not be in Google's
> interest to provide a native Emacs experience which leads to the likelihood
> of a ChromeOS derivative, if only to have a clean Emacs integration,
> (possible but unlikely) or a Cloud based Emacs experience being developed.
> Before I go on, I think I basically understand Richard's (and others) strong
> anti-cloud stance: it is crazy to put sensitive data totally in the hands of
> giant corporations. But there is usefulness in having cloud based
> organizations provide infrastructure support (data preservation, replication
> for accessibility, simple security) for information that is not highly
> sensitive, like a music collection.  And there is usefulness in providing
> access to sensitive data that is provided by Cloud based infrastructure that
> is under one's own control (a personal server for example) or with third
> party organizations that one does trust (FSF, FreeCDDB, etc.)
> So if you buy the premise that there are circumstances where a Cloud based
> machine makes sense, but you want to have an Emacs experience in that
> environment, where does that Emacs experience come from?  A true Emacs
> extension/plugin for Chrome?  An Emacs built with an embedded web server?  A
> limited Emacs exposed by ChromeOS that supports the existing Emacs
> extensions? An Emacs protocol supported by an Apache module?
> My preference leans towards the embedded server and/or the Emacs protocol
> approaches.  I have not been tracking this list for a few years so I don't
> know if any of this has been discussed already (a browse of the archives did
> not reveal anything "cloud" related.)  And I figured that if there is any
> work going on of a related nature, this list would be aware of it and
> provide pointers/references.
> Thanks,
> -pmr

I have grown to really dislike this 'cloud' terminology - it is one of
the worst bullshit bingo words I've seen for a long time and unless
qualified with a lot of other definitions, means pretty much nothing.
As an example, nearly 20 years ago, I use to run emacs over a
compressed X protocol where emacs was running on a remote server - was
this running emacs in the cloud?

Perhaps the most disturbing part of your post was your rational for
why you like the concept of the cloud - essentially, because it has
the promise of relieving you of the burden of maintaining an OS,
various software packages and data backup/security etc. On first
glance, this seems like a nice idea - after all, we are all busy and
time is too short and really, a lot of this stuff is not that
interesting. Imagine all the freedom we could get without having to
worry about all the nitty gritty bits - just use and forget. However,
I think this is very very dangerous and in fact believe that instead
of freedom, it has the real danger of disenfranchising the user. Worse
still, as we have seen in the last 20 years, technology often starts
off as a luxury or special use application, but over time, becomes
more like an essential item. Consider how disadvantaged you become
today if you don't have access to a computer or the internet - sure,
you can still function at a level, but it is a much lower level.
Imagine if you lost access to all those on-line services you use
routinely each day. Just consider the added burden of dealing with
bills, banking, shopping etc etc if you had to do it without a
computer or access to the internet? Consider the difficulty in even
getting many jobs if you don't have an email address, access to
on-line job placement agencies and cannot provide your CV

Now consider the same situation, but now you are totally dependent on
someone else for all those services. Put aside issues of data privacy
and ownership for a moment and just consider what the market might do
as you become moire and more dependent on their services. Go one step
further and consider a world where all the small providers have been
consumed by the larger corporations and now there is only one or two
actual service providers. Who will hold the power in that
relationship? I doubt it will be the end user.

Rather than the cloud as the solution, what we should be striving for
is technology that is easy to manage and reliable. There may be a role
for 'cloud' type facilities, but structured so that the end user
maintains control and retains freedom. We do need to make it easier
for everyone to handle their data, to maintain their OS and
applications and provide choice.

The 'cloud' is not the answer. The 'cloud' is just marketing hype that
many businesses like because they believe it will relieve them from
managing something that many find difficult to understand and
expensive to maintain. While it may promise to solve a real problem,
in many ways the cure is worse than the problem. We need to recognise
that technology is currently too complex and too expensive for many to
deal with easily and address those issues in a way which gives more
control and freedom. Maybe that can be achieved with a 'cloude 2.0'
that redefines things in a way which guarantees control and power
stays with the user, but I'm not sure how such an ideal can be
achieved in a less than ideal world. However, the goal of having emacs
available everywhere and anywhere I need it is IMO a good one!


P.S. As someone who is being forced to examine 'cloud' solutions for
my current employer, I'm shocked at how many of these so-called cloud
providers are not following even basic good practice wrt data
security, backup and maintenance or even guarantee of service. There
seems to be too many who are gambling with other peoples businesses -
essentially, take your money with lots of promises and hope nothing
goes wrong. If it does, take the money and run - its a gamble. If you
win, you make lots of money. If you lose, move on as you probably
won't have lost much personally. Meanwhile, the businesses you were
servicing go down the drain because they can't provide service, buill
customers etc etc.

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