Tag Archives: cloud computing

The era of simplified computing

I’m currently trying to get some thoughts down on the contrasting approaches of Google and Apple to the future of technology. There’s a whole host of stuff buzzing around my mind: are they yet another instalment of the conflict between Apollo and Dionysus? Do they represent yet another clash between C. P. Snow’s “two cultures”? And what is it about both of them that provokes loyalty and hatred in equal measure?

While writing, though, I’ve come to see that we’re entering a new era of computing, one where the paradigms and expectations of the world of the PC won’t give us much guidance. This new era is all about simplified computing, technologies where what’s important is the ability to sit down, get something done, and put down the device. Fast, simple, and most of all requiring as little knowledge about the underlying technology.

Google’s approach to this is to “put it in the cloud”. The only thing you need to do is be able to run a web browser, and the ultimate expression of that is ChromeOS, where there is very little the hardware does except run a web browser.

Apple’s approach is to keep the physical expression of the hardware as simple as possible, to remove options, to pare back the software so that you can only do a limited number of things, all of them “Apple approved”. Of course, the “limited number of things” currently runs to around 200,000 different applications, and you can still access HTML/JavaScript-based web applications too… but you get the idea.

Despite the scare stories, this era of simplified computing doesn’t mean an end to “freedom”. You’re still going to be able to buy computers which let you hack around and do stuff, just as you might have a new car which still lets you dig around under the bonnet. But the people who value the ability to just press the button and get something done will have devices that do exactly that.

One last thought: In all of my thinking about this, I have yet to find a scenario which requires Google to lose in order for Apple to win, or vice versa. The “war” between to two of them is, to my mind, not a war at all – they compete, but both of them are leaders and both of them will end up vastly-bigger companies.

Cloud computing makes me nervous

Maybe it’s because I’m old, but cloud computing makes me nervous. I remember the Apple "1984" ad not just because it was a great piece of work by Ridley Scott, but also because of its underlying message. And that message was simple: monolithic computer systems supplied by monolithic suppliers aren’t a good idea for individuals.

Cloud computing is a return to the dark ages of the 1960′s and 1970′s, when all of your most valuable things – your data – sat on a big server somewhere. You accessed it from a simple terminal, but only so long as you paid IBM or whoever to process your data. While you owned the data in theory, in practice you were at the mercy of your supplier.

Alan Patrick, too, has been around the blocks a few times, which is why he is equally amazed at what people are sleepwalking into:

"I’ve been reading some of the comments on other blogs about this with a mounting sense of wonder at the sheer naivete of some users. For anything that is important: Firstly, always plan for redundancy in your systems – have an online and on computer service that are synched. Secondly, do frequent backups to a 3rd source. Thirdly, if its important, pay for it. Ad funded services are responsive to the advertisers, not to the users – its that pipers / tune thing."

If you use Google Documents exclusively you are taking a serious risk that one day Google will lock you out of your data. I’m not impuning anything about Google here – they may, indeed, plan to "do no evil". But you are relying on their good grace, and that should make you nervous.

Own your own documents – keep them on your hard drive, and on a seperate drive or two as well. Use Google Documents as a backup, not your only storage.