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Feature: Would You Really Want All Your Data and Applications in “The Cloud”?

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Google released their very own web browser this week, “Chrome“. Initial reaction has been positive and Google’s stance on cloud computing has become more apparent. Everyone from the NY Times to Google’s own co-founder Sergey Brin have called Operating Systems bulky, and old-fashioned.

GoogleofferingsCloud computing is being pushed like never before. Google with Chrome is taking a very large stance on where they think the future of computing will lie. However, many problems still lie at the core of cloud computing. One main concern is sufficient internet bandwidth and speeds. The end goal behind cloud computing is to shift your personal data from your computer’s hard drive, to a server (cloud) in the internet, and “set you free from your desktop.” Same goes for your applications, instead of opening up “Photoshop” or “Aperture” on your computer’s hard drive, you’d open up a browser (like Chrome), and do your work via an internet connection and a rich web-based application.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said Chrome was designed to address the shift to using software from within a Web browser rather than as locally installed computer applications running inside Microsoft Windows or some other operating system.”I think operating systems are kind of an old way to think of the world,” Brin told a group of reporters after the news conference at Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters. “They have become kind of bulky, they have to do lots and lots of different (legacy) things.” (via Reuters)
“We (Web users) want a very lightweight, fast engine for running applications,” Brin said.
“The kind of things you want to have running standalone (on a computer) are shrinking,” he said, adding that he still edits photos on his computer rather than using a Web program.

SnowLeopard1But what about Snow Leopard? Apple’s refined version of Mac OS X Leopard. By dramatically fine-tuning the code in OS X, enhancing stability and speed and paving the way for the next generation of processors, Apple is laying the groundwork for the next generation of OS X. Is it just me, or is Steve Jobs’ fundamental principal of controlling the “whole widget” making a lot of sense right now.

Taking a break from adding new features, Snow Leopard — scheduled to ship in about a year — builds on Leopard’s enormous innovations by delivering a new generation of core software technologies that will streamline Mac OS X, enhance its performance, and set new standards for quality. Snow Leopard dramatically reduces the footprint of Mac OS X, making it even more efficient for users, and giving them back valuable hard drive space for their music and photos.

When Google unveiled Android, its open source mobile operating system, the entire industry was in a buzz. Everyone was talking and writing how Android could be the one and only thing that stood up to the iPhone. But weeks later, the truth about Google’s development platform trickled in, and it wasn’t very positive. Through all of it, Apple’s iPhone OS remains the holy grail of mobile operating systems, and developers still widely choose the iPhone OS over Android. Google has even taken it a step further by releasing an Apple App Store like, Android Market.

What if the same happens with Chrome, and Google’s entire prediction in cloud computing? Well, Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ “whole widget” idea of controlling the hardware and the operating system, and developing everything in house, will once again remain the most rich, robust and enriching user experience available.

It’s going to be rather difficult for major purveyors of cloud computing (Google in particular with Chrome) to compete with the speed, richness and robust user experience desktop applications deliver. Yes, Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin said that he would rather edit his photos in an internet application, but what if you’re traveling? What if you don’t have access to the internet? Google Gears won’t always cut it. Or what if Comcast limits your monthly internet usage? How are users supposed to access their data? What if the service which they’re using goes down for a few hours in the middle of a key presentation? There’s no way to guarantee 100% up-time in any technology environment, that’s why nobody does. 99% up-time seems to be the number that companies and internet hosts like to boast, but never 100.

Google’s Operating System Software Bundle

Henry Blodget from Silicon Alley Insider explains that “In a couple of years, you won’t be downloading Google’s “browser.” You’ll be downloading “Google’s software” (or, rather, you’ll be clicking on a series of Google icons that come pre-installed). Specifically, you’ll be working within a Google software environment that works sort of like Windows that will include: Browser, Google Gears (offline and online apps, including email, messaging, chat, etc.), Google desktop search, Google Earth, Open source development platform.”

This type of environment seems very promising, but very technically limiting at the same time. If Google is to sell its “software-bundles” to companies like Apple and Microsoft so that they can prepackage them in their operating system, then true competitors like Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari would be nearly irrelevant. Can you imagine Apple ever distributing OS X without Safari pre-installed? Yeah, me neither. Saying that Microsoft won’t play along is a different story, however it seems unlikely that a company with 74% of the web browser market would do anything to sacrifice its already vulnerable state.

In order for a major change in the way we work to take place, Google would not only need to execute the process well, they would need to dramatically enhance the stability of the entire web’s infrastructure. Some analysts say that the stability of our internet infrastructure, globally, will peek around 2012, and by then, we should seriously be rethinking how to rebuild the underlying framework of the world wide web.

The idea that computing on an everyday basis, could become a seamless series of commands between me and a web server sounds great, however it doesn’t sound like a better user experience than what I currently have. It sounds like more load bars, more refreshing, more restarting, more crashing, more updates, and a downright unnatural ability to store even your most sensitive data, somewhere on the internet. Even the most trusted of companies, like Google, or Apple, cannot guarantee 100% security and access to your data 100% of the time.

Our data, should remain our data, and our operating systems should remain locally installed within our hard drives. Releasing a new web browser may be a universal way for Google to increase its market share and draw attention to open source development. Especially within the recent tailspin of negative press about Android.

Large, processor demanding applications like Adobe’s After Effects, Apple’s Final Cut, and Maya to name a few, will never be able to run in the cloud. The ratio between current run rates and the technology offered to consumers puts the maximum amount of stress on the most powerful of desktop machines. In order for their to ever be a true paradigm shift from desktop computing to cloud computing, the internet needs to be a much more reliable, and secure environment.

Comments [4]

4 Comments to “Feature: Would You Really Want All Your Data and Applications in “The Cloud”?”

Jeff Lewis @ September 27th, 2008 at 9:54 am
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There are three primary reasons that the “Cloud” will never replace the desktop.

1) The most important one? Security. Sorry, but my stuff is too important to me to rely on someone else to take care of it. I’m not suggesting that the service providers are malicious or incompetent, but they’re businesses – my data isn’t directly important to them, my *business* is. What happens if they go under, or can’t pay the bills, or have a fire or… I’m sure they go to reasonable lengths to protect my files – but I’m not there – I don’t know what they’re doing.

Then there’s the content – not everything I have I want people looking at. I can control this when it’s on my computer – I can’t if someone else is holding it.

It’s nice to think every Cloud service provider is run by security/privacy minded geeks who are passionate about what they do – but the odds are, it’s run by someone who thinks ‘hey – I can make some money slapping some servers together…’

2) The Internet is still not really ubiquitous. We like to think it is – and in some places (typically where the pundits who believe the Cloud is the future live), it is essentially universal – but there are LOTS of places where it isn’t. I visit my father ever other week up in a city in the mountains 450kms from where I live. The route is on a major four lane divided highway and you can get cell phone coverage over most of it… but no 3G, just EDGE, and even that is spotty. Miles of the route has no phone coverage at all.

If I had to rely on a dumb terminal connected to the Internet – I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my laptop for big chunks of that trip.

Most airplanes don’t have Internet service (and it’s not exactly cheap when it’s available)… so scratch that.

3) The cost. If you’re talking about using your laptop tethered to your home cablemodem, this isn’t too bad – although many ISPs have use limits which may impact 100% Internet based services, but if you leave your home – the price starts to climb quickly unless you’re prepared to trawl the cities in search of free WiFi.

Then there’s international travel. I live in Canada, but I go to the States fairly often – and if I use cell Internet, the cost is staggering. It costs over $100 PER MEGABYTE to use cell data that way.

A lot of this mindset comes from a very select group of people who have access to resources most of us don’t have. In time, perhaps these resources really will be available to the average person, but there are places in North America where the only way to get to the Internet is over dial-up modem – yes, really – and the move to Cloud-based computing simple cannot work for them.

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Aviv @ September 27th, 2008 at 10:05 am
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I agree with you on most of these issues. Although there are both sides to all arguments, my gut tells me that the following “The most important one? Security. Sorry, but my stuff is too important to me to rely on someone else to take care of it.” — will probably be people’s most difficult hurdle to get over.

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Kris @ December 4th, 2008 at 7:11 pm
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I do have to definitely agree with the security aspect of things, Are the files being sent back and forth encrypted? or on https? If not then couldn’t someone just monitor packets and pickup your files? Another technological game of cat and mouse.. However I do believe that internet access and bandwidth are going to be big players in that. I live up in montana and I can tell you that a lot of people in this area are on broadband, but a lot more are on dialup. How could you possibly do any kind of cloud computing when simply loading up google.com can take 45 seconds.. ouch. I think cloud computing is merely a push to force people into paying for a monthly service and convincing them they need it.. because I am sure all of these cloud computing services are not going to be free.. Also how are they going to get this all to work? I have tried zoho, its nice and fancy and all, but I can do the same thing on my computer far faster than on their website, and there is also this transition of files to and from the desktop to server.. Im sure part of cloud computing is to eliminate this, but I just don’t see how this could easily be done short of having a server in your building..

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Jon @ December 4th, 2008 at 7:14 pm
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Wouldn’t you be putting your files right into big brothers hands?
Who is controlling this information? Third party companies are legally allowed to sell information to the government it could not legally collect otherwise..

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