Updated: May 22, 2010
Don't froth just yet. READ the entire article first before you judge.
Like many a geek, I waste my CPU cycles thinking how the computing world can be improved, made more secure, more efficient, less vulnerable to human errors, more attuned to the varied and dissimilar needs, desires and skills of the myriad users. There's no easy answer, including the paradoxical fundamental truth that computers are made by geeks for geeks. For thirty years the desktop has existed, no one has yet found the golden formula of making computers usage wise. I have.
The solution is very simple: Make computer users accountable for their actions. Anchor the usage in the bedrock of law. Introduce civil and criminal punishment for digital misdeeds.
Let me elaborate
When someone drives a car above the speed limit, they might get caught in the act and punished, including a fine, imprisonment, license suspension and revocation, impounding of property, and whatnot. In other words, you do something the law does not permit, you get punished.
In the computer world, people do all kinds of things they should not be doing, but nothing happens. I am not talking about cyber crime or digital theft, although we will address those soon. I am talking about things like deleting your own files, sending someone a virus in an email or letting someone else take over your machine and turn it into a botnet drone. All of these can be considered misuses of the digital assets, however the entire blame is always laid on those actively partaking in the digital ventures and never on those passively enabling the nefarious activities.
For example, no one cares (or knows) if their precious Vista is used in a password-cracking cloud. However, only when you mention these users that they might be implicated in criminal activities do they raise their heads and start panicking.
Today, the entire blame is laid on the people taking advantage of problems. I say, make both sides accountable. However, this requires licensing computer usage.
Users worldwide do not have a formal training when it comes to computers. This is what makes computers so attractive and so problematic, at the same time. Anyone can use them, including children and people with unpaired chromosomes. But not everyone can use them wisely or safely.
The lack of real knowledge in operating the tool makes it dangerous. People do not perceive the box of plastic and metal as a tool, hence they see no danger, but it is there nonetheless. You would not be using a chainsaw without a proper training, not unless you want to enter The Darwin Awards via highway express, but no such regard and fear is given the computing machines.
The first step to making computer usage safe is making people understand the real dangers in not using the tool according to specifications. This means opening strange emails, not patching the system and all kinds of other common sense tricks that no one really cares about.
Licensing computer usage would include getting educated about what computers can do and how they do it, with focus on the operating system and applications that interact with the Web. Following a very rigorous exam, users would be granted a license.
Just like driving a car. You start with some sort of a provisional license; there are all kinds of limitations. Slowly, you advance. And when you're ready, you take another exam. Indeed, like with motor transportation, your basic license permits you to only drive a car, not a truck or a bus. There's another license for that. I'd say, a layered licensing system, somewhat like IT certifications a-la LPIC, RHEL or CCNA, only focused on domestic use. Of course, for free.
This means that people with basic license would be able to do basic things. Like have no administrator privileges, for example. Or not be allowed to run without a router in place. Oh, the users would be able to do anything they want, because enforcing a stratified model of privileges across the globe, in everyone's home, is simply impossible, but they would be aware of the legal implications. Do something you're not qualified to do, botch it, and you get punished.
For common users, let's call them passive users, the criminal punishment would revolve around unfavorable deeds that endanger the quality of service, theirs and of those they come in contact with, and compromise personal data.
Likewise, this means making the punishment of genuine criminal activities online much more severe. For instance, stealing someone's identity online or hijacking someone's computer should equal to kidnapping in real life. DDOS attacks should equal to lynching. And so forth.
My proposition sounds a little too much like Draconian three-strike nonsense some of the countries are weighing. The problem with their idea is that it does not leverage the punishment with any means of enabling the users. I propose balancing punishment with education, which will ultimately benefit the person behind the keyboard, resulting in a more productive, joyous and safer experience.
Regarding online exchange of data, e.g. P2P and suchlike, these activities per se are harmless. However, people who get their machines hosed because they downloaded and ran ParisHiton.exe screensaver would be treated differently from those sharing Linux distributions, for instance.
Copyrighted material? Solved easily. Lower the prices. Make the content free even. Just like public libraries are free and allow easy access to art, science and education for everyone. And make the content available everywhere, worldwide. For some people, obtaining obscure, little known digital media is only possible using online sharing.
This also means free security for everyone. Only if there's no financial agenda can the security model be truly unbiased. Security companies enjoy handsome profits by playing the scaremongering card and over-blowing the whole hacking thingie. With no money as a goal, security would finally turn objective.
Free price tag, including security, as well as other vectors of interest, would remove the business-only drive and actually allow innovation and quality to bloom, rather than the lowest common denominator for profit margins.
By the way, the expense of all this education and punishment would have to be covered somehow. Maybe a civil tax? There's medical insurance and municipal taxes, so why not a digital one. However, it would not go into the fat pockets of content provides, it would go into the pockets of government institutions enabling the new era of digital fun. Maybe it could fall under the domain of Ministry of Education and local municipalities.
Citizens would also enjoy 24/7 unlimited support, meaning should your computer misbehave, you would get the same attention and help you receive from existing public facilities, like firefighting, ambulance, police, sewage, etc. You pay for taxes, you get services. Tit for tat.
You may even want to introduce rewards for law-abiding citizens, including free Internet deals, software and other stuff, goading people into becoming smarter computer users, just like everyone should be a smarter car driver. Is it only the perceived chance of death that makes us exercise our survival skills?
The real danger of licensing computer usage are: 1) slowed down expansion of technology due to bureaucracy 2) corruption and a whole new generation of digital crime. There's the notion that if you ban weapons, there would be less crime. But this is wrong.
The same with computers. Let's take a contemporary example. Merely punishing users for doing things like P2P, the popular and privately sponsored activity today, is meaningless. It only pushes users into trying out newer, stealthier technologies rather than revisiting their ways. The real problem is, no one offers digital consumers a viable alternative.
It's all about fairness. If you could get any movie or song or software for free, would you have to pirate it? Of course not. And even if there's a price tag, a fair one, you would prefer buying than going the long way about obtaining the content.
Ultimately, it's freedom of use that allowed Internet to bloom. And it has to continue. In fact, adding even more freedom would help solve some of the major issues we're facing today. It's just the trust model needs to be sharpened a little.
AND the most important thing!
My licensing makes service and content provides accountable, too!
It's not just the little man that suffers the wrath of the huge law engine. This means that activities by companies like RIAA or MPIA, who serve bogus media to P2P networks in an attempt to poison the sharing channels, would also be perceived as a punishable misdeed, within the framework of the law. Software companies would also be accountable for bugs and flaws in their products. Do you see Microsoft suffering because of Internet Explorer? Not directly. But just like car manufacturers are responsible for their vehicles, software vendors could be made responsible and accountable for their code.
In fact, I think the software world is the only consumer segment of the market where you are leased products rather than sold and where the vendor assumes absolute zero responsibility for any damage or malfunction. It's absurd.
You sell a browser that causes millions to get infected? You pay the damages. You're a user who misuses the browser and damages the system? You pay for it.
Round and round it goes, just and fair!
There you go, the ultimate solution to everything. This is my 42. A combination of strict law enforcement, benevolent and free computer education combined with licensing, usage tax, and plentiful and generous support would all blend into a perfect formula that would make all the existing problems go away.
With increased knowledge and awareness and the ever-present threat of legal liability, users would exercise a smarter, more efficient use of their computing assets. Lowered or even nil prices of commodities, like security and media would render any competition for the user's pocket void, transforming the digital ocean from a stormy sea infested with sharks and pirates into a tranquil pond.
There's no need for bank robbers if the bank giveth gold for free, right? It's all about balance. Voids get filled. Make sure everyone gets a share and they will be less likely to steal a piece.
Oh, you do realize all this is one big parody? But there's a grain of truth in there. There always is. The acerbic assertions of an astronomical geek.
It would not work. People are too greedy.