Predictions 2012: The year gardeners become criminals

Don Christie, founder of open source technology company Catalyst IT, fears that governments will continue to undermine citizens' rights through controls on technology use

This year will see an acceleration of industry initiatives offering practical training and work opportunities to school students. The time has come for businesses to stop complaining and allow learning institutions to focus on learning skills while we provide the necessary vocational skills.

Industry will begin to realise it has a vital training role developing the next generations of IT workers.

Away from education, governments will continue to undermine citizens’ rights through controls on technology usage. As well as undermining society these attempts to control citizens through technology will continue to negatively impact the sector with one of the highest productivity figures, ICT.

Changes to the Copyright Act and trade agreements, such as ACTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), have been propagated by powerful interests in the US. They have generally been bought through corrupt political processes in that country.

New Zealanders should be extremely concerned, for example, about legislation passing through US Congress right now. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is an extreme example of making petty infringements incur the risk of enormous legal retribution.

It is being passed because the music and film industry finance so many US election campaigns. These legal changes, reflected in international treaties and negotiations, have no economic or societal justification.

SOPA has the potential to make the Great Firewall of China look like a picket fence.

The flip side to these actions is that the general public will become much more aware of the issues that the technical sector has been concerned about for years.

This year we will hear more about gardeners running the same risks as internet users. That is by selling or giving away the seed of their produce they could be "stealing" a gene sequence or marker belonging to an corporate. Thus they will be committing "piracy" just as well as those sharing or copying a music file. Your grandparents might not understand the internet but they sure has hell understand gardening. That a self-sufficient vegetable grower might risk prison or large fines should be unacceptable to us all.

In addition, as TPP type treaties force the cost of healthcare to match the astronomical levels seen in the USA, the laws and treaties people are used to ignoring or celebrating on behalf of our farmers will be more and more challenged. This growing awareness is a good thing and something the technical sector in NZ should continue to encourage.

So, while we see some big loses for open societies, the open internet, open source software the ability to collaborate and share, we also see a wider understanding of these issues and a longer term push back on politicians. The "Occupy Wall Street" mentality, which has already gained wide support, will coalesce and broaden. Sadly, for change to occur in the US we can only hope that Google, Facebook, Twitter and all influence their politicians more than the other guys.

In New Zealand local and central government will continue to miss opportunities to procure smartly and ensure that a dynamic and competitive local market exists to meet their ongoing demands.

But here some change is occurring. Wellington City Council had an engagement with NZRise last year which turned out positively for both parties. WCC agreed that local economic impact will be considered as part of their evaluation process in the future. A small win for common sense but one to build upon.

Two steps forward, one back, also applies to the use of open source software in New Zealand.

If empires like Google and Amazon can be built, seemingly almost overnight, on open source software then why is it so hard for a tiny country like New Zealand not to fully embrace and transfer to open source wholesale. It runs "the cloud" as well, if you let it.

So onto "cloud computing". There is a danger that the rush to cloud computing will leave businesses stuck on platforms that offer short term savings through shared hardware and infrastructure. The reality is, however, much of the technology being sold to run and manage the cloud is extraordinarily expensive.

As this technology gets commoditised over a very short period of time organisations run the risk of being trapped on expensive platforms for the long term. One government IaaS RFP last year talked about a term of up to 30 years which is a commitment to spending that we will regret having been made on our behalf.

Talking about the cloud, Google will continue to charge more and more for previously free services. This will be a bit of an eye-opener for some people but will create more diversity in platforms as others, especially open source service providers, rush to fill the gap created.

Finally gadgets. What Linux, Apple and HTC, Samsung and Android have done, with great aplomb, is help us rediscover the "personal" in technology. Gone is the single vendor hegemony and back is the personal productivity device. Organisations that find a way to leverage the "personal" side of productivity devices will gain significant advantage over the "one size fits all" organisational model of the 1990s and 2000s.

This article is the last in Computerworld's series of predictions for 2012.

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