Amazon Cloud Drive and Player

Cloud PlaygroundAmazon Cloud Drive is your hard drive in the cloud. You can use it, along with Amazon Cloud Player, as a music locker.

There’s coverage all over the place. NPR is mainly positive, but points out that there are legal challenges to music lockers. TechCrunch describes Amazon’s offering as fierce competition for existing music locker services, given the space it offers and its integration with Amazon’s MP3 store.

At Mashable, Ben Parr actually used the service before posting about it. Good for him! His first impressions are more positive than mine. To Ben, “it became apparent that Amazon wasn’t launching some half-baked product.” To me, it seemed strange that deleting just one MP3 file caused Amazon Cloud Drive to think that I had no files left, even though I was using some of my space allowance.

I’m confident that Amazon will fix the early bugs quickly, and otherwise improve its cloud drive and player. As an example of an improvement, how about looking at my prior Amazon MP3 purchases, and offering to shift them into my locker without having to locate them on my computer and then upload them?

This music locker service combines several of Amazon’s strengths: cloud management, MP3 store, brand name, etc. You get 5 GB of storage for free. To add another 20 GB, you only need to buy one MP3 album. MP3 purchases are automatically added to your locker, and do not count against your storage quota.

Now, let’s see what Apple, Google, and others come back with…

Clients and the Cloud

You’re reading this on some kind of client: a laptop, a desktop, a smartphone. This post, along with the software that runs it, lives on a server (operated by WordPress.com). There’s probably a connection between the client and the server at the time you’re reading this.

How big is the client? How is work split between client and server? These are questions addressed at GigaOm by Michael Mullany of Sencha.

In the mainframe age, data and application state were stored at the server tier, and the client device was a stateless (and therefore cheap) terminal. But in the client-server era, application logic moved down from the server-side to the end-user workstation…

In the web era, we returned to the mainframe model of thin clients and fat servers…

But now, HTML5 heralds the return of state and application processing to the client-side device.

The argument is that parts of the HTML5 standard describe means of storing web pages and data at the client side. The pages can then be used at even when there is no connection between client and server. This part of the standard will soon be implemented in browsers.

This means that the client will get fatter. In particular, it means that part of the (server side) cloud will be condensed into a client side puddle.

If (and I won’t go into whether that’s a thin or fat if) this comes to pass, it has several interesting implications.

  • There’s a need for excellent heuristics to populate the client-side puddles. If the locally-stored page links to another page, does that other page get stored? What about its links?
  • We are a way away from ubiquitous high-speed connectivity. If and when we have that, clients can go back to being thin again. If we had it now, we wouldn’t be interested in client-side puddles.
  • Good for the browser that implements this part of the standard. Perhaps not so good for apps?
  • Good for the operating system that exists mainly to run the browser, such as Chromium OS.

Software, the Hold Up Problem, and the Cloud

Why is “the web development world… dominated by open source”? Michael Schwarz & Yuri Takhteyev, writing at GigaOm, answer the question as follows.

The reason is based on what economists call “the hold up problem.” When a business relies on assets owned by another party, it may become dependent on that party’s cooperation in the future. In this situation, the party with ownership of a key resource may gain the ability to “hold up” its partner, demanding an unreasonably high price…

The hold up problem is particularly severe in the IT sector. Building an Internet company on a foundation consisting of proprietary software owned by others is akin to building a house without owning the land under it. When software is sold in binary form, the buyer is subject to hold up by the vendor; if the software needs to be changed in the future, such changes can only be done with the cooperation of the original vendor at the price that the original vendor demands. By relying on open source, a company can invest in developing its product without fear of being held up down the road. Therefore, open source is an economically powerful solution to the hold up problem.

There are of course limits to this analysis. One is the proprietary anomaly, Flash. Indeed, explaining this anomaly is a primary purpose of the quoted post. Another limit, found in the comments, is that source code is not the only asset that may allow holdup.

I’m posting to advance another limit to the argument that open source software solves the hold up problem. It is “the web as platform.” That may be familiar to older readers as one of the definitions of Web 2.0. Cloud computing is an increase in the extent to which the web is used as a platform.

Cloud computing is a trap, warned Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman a couple of years ago. Cloud computing allows software derived from free/open source software to run without the source code being made available.

So, while free/open source software is a solution to software hold up, it also gives life to a new monster: hold up in the cloud.

I’ve Looked at “Cloud” Those Ways

As the discussion of newish web stuff changes, so do the terms used. For example, for a while, delicious didn’t just mean tasty; but now the web service formerly known as del.icio.us has gone off enough radars that the word means tasty again. Even the term for the newish web stuff changes: it used to be Web 2.0, and now it’s social media – unless there is some newer term that those more current than I are already using.

Back in the Web 2.0 days, cloud meant a tag cloud or word cloud. These days, cloud usually refers to cloud computing.

But what does cloud computing mean? According to the USA’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of…

I downloaded the whole definition (which I got to via ReadWriteWeb). I found it to be two single-spaced pages – of Word, which at first seemed a strange format for a standards body to be using, but there is such a thing as a de facto standard.

Using the wonderful Wordle, I generated a word cloud depicting cloud computing. Here it is.

Cloud Data in Danger

The data in question was in Danger. To be specific, the data were on servers operated by Danger, the subsidiary of Microsoft. The data in question included contacts, calendars, photos, etc., belonging to users of T-Mobile Sidekicks. This announcement from T-Mobile shows why I emphasize the past tense.

Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger’s latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device – such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos – that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger.

John Mayer tweeted happily about what he sees as the silver lining to this cloud failure: Perez Hilton loses 2000 contacts in his Sidekick (via Mashable Pete). That raises my opinion of John Mayer and of Twitter.

The interesting question is: who will be seen as the villain(s) in this story? Hilton apparently casts T-Mobile in that role. It seems to be that T-Mobile’s main mistake was putting Sidekick user data in Danger, and so Danger, and parent Microsoft, are more directly responsible.

And what will this Danger Disaster do to confidence in the cloud, and in other cloudy companies such as Google? Om contrasted this incident with the Google mail outage, pointing out that the Danger disaster is far worse. I think that the Danger disaster will be good for Google, and for other firms that are similarly seen as being cloud-competent (e.g., 37Signals).

I’m tagging this post DangerDisaster, not CloudCatastrophe.

Freedom and the Cloud

Cloud computing is a trap, warns GNU founder Richard Stallman. I advise reading the whole (shortish) interview-based article at the Guardian’s site. It’s less important to read my thoughts; be warned that they start in the next paragraph.

The trap is that, when you use cloud computing (e.g., WordPress.com, where this very blog lives, or gmail, where the andrew at changingway dot org mail actually lives), you have no control over the software you’re using. This is the loophole in GPL version 3, a project on which rms (Richard MathYou Stallman) and others expended a lot of time and other resources.

As 2008 goes on, that loophole becomes more and more significant as an attribute of GPLV3. So does the Affero variant on GPL.

Wednesday Flashback

Once again, my review of the Wednesday-to-Wednesday week appears on a Thursday. Here goes:

A Surf Around the Cloud

Web application developers seem to be moving toward keeping their applications in the clouds. By what is a cloud? Alex Iskold at Read/Write Web:

The idea behind cloud computing is simple – scale your application by deploying it on a large grid of commodity hardware boxes. Each box has exactly the same system installed and behaves like all other boxes. The load balancer forwards a request to any one box and it is processed in a stateless manner; meaning the request is followed by an immediate response and no state is held by the system.

Alex contrasts cloud computing with the LAMP stack on which web applications “traditionally” run. He concludes that we are at the start of “a fundamental shift in our ability to compute.”

Fred Wilson agrees, but with an interesting qualification.

I think Alex is directionally correct. We are going to see more and more companies build and host their web apps on someone else’s infrastructure. It’s not going to happen overnight because I’ve never met a more control oriented group than software engineers.

Rackspace just announced its own cloud-like service, to add to its more traditional hosting services. Erick at TechCrunch remarks that Mosso bills itself as a Web app hosting service, and contrasts Mosso with Amazon Web Services.

Mosso isn’t as purely cloudy as AWS. As such, it may be a good first step toward a walk in the clouds for those control oriented software engineers.