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Musings on the 'Cloud' Lock-In and 'Appliance' Computing

I’m feeling this whole topic out, so these thoughts are less cohesive than I’d like, but recent experiences with iCloud and iTunes have wrecked some work and/or wasted substantial time without satisfactory results.

My toaster still toasts my bread the same as it did 10 years ago. My refrigerator still keeps my food cold. My car drives the same as it did 3 years ago.

No software updates to burn my bread or features to order more milk or make my car show advertisements when I drive by some store. I like the stability of tangible things that work well and stay that way.

The Cloud is not like that and appliance computing (so far) is not like that.

With the Cloud (or OS updates), software companies decide what will happen, whether you like it or want it or not. They don’t offer you the choice of keeping things as they are (“you have X days to migrate to our new and improved Dreck 2.0 interface” or “download your stuff before it vaporizes because we just went out of business” or similar). Software companies want to 'improve' things and to not support anything more than a year old, and if what you like is not totally mainstream, well it’s going away. And woe to those who invest their efforts in a service that gets discontinued.

This is why a local computer with stable software is way better than the Cloud in many cases— it becomes a “toaster”" as long as there is no hardware failure, and one avoids needless updates, it acts like a real appliance and stays that way.

A real appliance does the job, keeps doing it, and doesn’t change its competence of features over time. Do I want a toaster that burns my bread 18% of the time with ToasterOS update 8.1.3 (9.7% in v8.1.4!). So if something works well, you want to keep it that way. And until my toaster burns out its heater circuit, it will continue to satisfy. The Cloud and appliance computing are not like that, not yet at least.

So-called appliance computing has forgotten the stability principle. The new paradigm is a swampland of frequent changes that demand user attention, whether desired or not, often chaining along on the software end, so one solution is to leave it alone, except that you often cannot (e.g, an OS update won’t work with the iPad unless you upgrade iTunes which then requires the most recent OS update, etc). You’re tied to the back end of the cart— keep walking.

Real appliances don’t remove features that you like or update themselves or malfunction with a new ToasterOS v15.1.3 , or go away with corporate EOL (end of life) decisions. Real appliances just keep on working for the reasons you bought them for.

Is there more actual benefit than the requirements to “keep up”? This is painfully clear to me when updating a friend’s three Macs and two phones and two iPads. It’s hours of work every few months. It need not be that bad, except that bugs mess things up every time it seems

The cloud computing paradigm has tremendous value. As does appliance computing. But once on the bandwagon, my experience has been a dubious trade off of stability and demands on my time versus benefits. There have been clear wins, but on the whole Apple’s iCloud has been for me a dud, or worse. By contrast, the iPhone has been a big win— as a phone and internet connectivity device I would never go back to a plain phone. But it’s a time loser due to the frequent updates to it and to iTunes updates and various problems with syncing, etc. All of which turn me into an electrician servicing my toaster regularly. Would we put up with such demands for a real appliance?

There is also the often ignored issue of productivity gained versus time spent fiddling with the technology itself, and possibly a substitution of busy-work for quality. For example, a physician spending time entering data instead of listening carefully to patients. Sometimes, paper and pen are the best appliance of all.

And that’s only the relatively unimportant stuff. The really serious issues are not under personal control any more, because someone out there thought that appliance computing and/or cloud computing was great idea. To whom? My children’s medical records were recently compromised because some careless physician had thousands of records on a laptop, which was stolen (ironically the 50-box-form “solution” is to disclose even more information including SSN to a monitoring service). We are now locked into such situations no matter what.

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