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A Fool And His Data Are Soon Parted

You heard it here first, a daring, ready for being mocked by John Gruber as Claim Chowder, prediction:

“iCloud will lead to a press firestorm to make Antennagate seem like one photojournalist got a shot of Phil Schiller with fleck of spinach on his teeth before a keynote.”

One or, more likely, several of the following will be an stock-price-affecting issues within the next eighteen months:

iCloud will be hacked or the data accidentally exposed. An intrusion on Apple’s servers will expose the personal data of thousands of customers. Why do I know this? It’s just too sweet a target and no security is perfect.

iCloud data will be subpoenaed. Not just one user whose data could also have been subpoenaed on their local machine or company file servers but a large-scale fishing expedition subpoena that catches the innocent along with the indictable. This may be a single event or a revelation that Apple had to agreed to allow a government to have backdoor access.

iCloud will have downtime. Likely not for the whole customer base but for large cross-sections of users. This downtime will be sufficiently long in duration and/or broad in scope to be press black eye worse than the aggregate of MobileMe outages and failings and those were legion.

iCloud use will be banned by government agencies and for the employees of smartly managed corporations. Contracts, secrecy policies and, likely, law (HIPAA for example) will make such policies necessary. If i find out my physician or attorney uses iCloud to store notes or records regarding my business with them I shall be peevish to say the least.

iCloud’s reputation will be sullied by something discovered or changed in Apple’s licensing or terms of use for iCloud or an unrelated product. The policy term will be publicized as a ’cause for concern’ for iCloud users. The concern will be serious and real even though Apple, most likely, will actually have intended no malice or malfeasance at all.

iCloud’s (and the Mac App Store and iOS App Stores) use of bandwidth will be revealed as a serious hidden cost for a broad cross-section of users.  ISP throttling or bandwidth caps will be a major cost/usability problem for iCloud services.

iCloud and/or apps that rely on it will suffer a data-destroying bug that even the most responsible local backup strategy can’t fix. The cost in human labor and emotional damage will be enormous. How do I know this? ‘History shows again and again how nature (and software) points up the folly of man.’ and iCloud for millions of Mac/iOS users makes Godzilla look like a newt.

None of these will ‘break Apple’, not even all of them combined will but they will hurt Apple, and, more important, they will hurt Apple’s customers. You.

Here are a few more things I predict will hurt you:

By relying on iCloud, customers will be trapped in the ‘documents are associated with an Application’ model. For the hobbyist and the ‘consumer’, perhaps no big deal but for the professional and those who work on projects with others, a big deal. Once a video project goes past the ‘clip for YouTube’ level of complexity, more than one tool must be used in producing the material. More than one document type is associated with the project as a whole. A film or tv show project includes scripts, accounting documents, contracts, still images, scoring materials, audio files, the output of other tools. The work done in these other tools must often ’round trip’ in and out of the video (or digital film) editing tool(s). Beyond the file sizes vastly exceeding what could be remotely reasonable to ‘sync in the cloud’, there are workflow complexities that are simply impossible to manage in the models inherent to iCloud.

iCloud and the document model (A largely user-opaque data store with revision information) first offered in Lion and partly retreated from in Mountain Lion works fine for work done by one person in text-based document formats like word processing and spreadsheets. It’s utterly shattered with more complex documents that demand collaboration like video, graphics and 3D. These documents are meta-documents. They are ‘project files’ that point to and rely on an often very large collection of assets. Assets too large, too inter-related and, often, worked on or provided by collaborators.

You’re trapped. File formats change and evolve. Even if you diligently ‘Save As’ periodic snapshots of your work, being able to go back to a version of your entire configuration, OS, application and document version a year or two later to use an old project as a template for a new one will be increasingly difficult. Managing an archiving and tool management process to make this an option you can always rely on will be ever more difficult. Right now, for example, if you needed to go back to Lion and have already upgraded to Mountain Lion, you’re screwed unless you planned ahead and kept an installer in a way far more complex than just leaving the DVD your old OS came on in a drawer. Your pace of adapting to change is now set by Apple, not you unless you work hard to protect yourself.

There are fixes and workarounds for all of these concerns, things Apple could do, should do, to both drag us into the future and protect us from ourselves and from Apple.

There are things you can do, or your IT department or consultants can do for you to protect yourself and those will be the subject of future posts and a lot of billable hours for me, but, for now? Don’t use Mountain Lion or iCloud on a ‘production’ machine. Wait and have a plan.

Related links to be updated ongoing:

Andy Ihnatko at The Chicago Sun Times: “Mountain Lion’s iCloud puts life, documents in sync”


Ars Technica: “Timeline: when will Mountain Lion see its first patches?” 

Wired: How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking


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