Cloud Computing Should Complement, Not Replace Local Computing
The struggle of Chromebooks to succeed in the market, which prompted Google and partners to slash their prices, indicates that not many are willing to go as far as to entrust all of their computing to the cloud and Software as a Service. Tablets on the other hand, especially the iPad, are doing pretty well.
Chromebooks are basically low powered netbooks which run only the Chrome web browser, and are meant to provide fast access to web based applications. It is an experiment born out of the fact that the browser tends to be the most used application on a common computer, and that many of the common tasks can now be accomplished with web based apps running in the web browser.
Tablets on the other hand actually offer installable apps many of which may be more powerful than their web based alternatives, and they use the processing power of the tablet itself to run rather than the server on the internet. I don’t see Apple starting to slim down iPhones and iPads anytime soon, turning them into these low powered thin clients to the cloud, and doing all of the processing in the cloud.
Even the massive iCloud effort isn’t aimed at replacing local applications so much as syncing data between all devices to provide seamless access from all of them.
Contrasting the success of the iPad to the relative failure of the Chromebook, in the context of the iCloud the way it has been set up, seems to offer a pretty clear indication of where things are going with respect to cloud computing. It is not about switching to cloud computing wholesale, running all of our apps and storing all of our data on it. It is about using the cloud to complement and complete the user experience. Instead of it replacing local computing it is merely adding to it what was so far a missing link – data syncing, backup, some level of remote management.
The Right Way to Do Cloud Computing
I believe this middle way is the right way to do cloud computing. It is the right compromise in every way. Complete dependence on cloud computing seems like overkill when just combining it with local computing can provide all of its major benefits, and they really mainly revolve around seamless access to data more so than the ability to do stuff within a web browser.
What about fast boot, the cost of local processing (buying powerful devices as opposed to cheap “thin clients” equipped only to run the browser), and availability of apps everywhere regardless of device? Well, let’s address all of these points.
1. Fast boot.
This is proving to be a no brainer. Tablets boot pretty fast, and even if they don’t it hardly matters since they’re typically always on. This has been increasingly true even for modern notebooks and is especially true of the ultrabooks. This makes Chromebook’s pitch of being able to get from boot to browser super fast pretty much moot.
2. Cost of local processing (powerful devices)
The sheer speed at which processing power in mobile devices and otherwise is evolving makes this less and less of an issue. With quad core smartphones already on the market, and promise of amazing battery life within this decade, along with Moore’s Law still marching forward the cost of processing power will be mostly negligible given the benefits.
And the benefits involve less dependence on a distant vendor, lesser dependence on internet access (which is especially important where 3G isn’t readily available or is expensive), and the ability to buy and “own” apps as opposed to paying a regular fee for the right to use them online.
Furthermore the subsidies that can be achieved through cloud computing, where users are charged a small regular subscription fee to pay for the computing costs, are largely matched by 2 year carrier contracts that get you a powerful tablet or a smartphone cheap (or free) in exchange for regular billing for 2 years. You have to pay for 3G anyway.
3. Availability of Apps Everywhere
Access to data everywhere is probably far more important than access to apps, and that is easily achieved through cloud based syncing. The whole pitch of being able to access apps from any computer seems mostly superfluous. It is only relevant if you don’t have a computer of your own with you, and need to rely on internet cafes or friends, but how often does that happen?
The whole point of the ongoing mobile revolution is enabling you to carry a powerful computing device with you anywhere. With ultrabooks, tablets, and ultimately even smartphones replacing non-mobile desktop computers the chance that you might be computer-less when you need a given app is very low.
Finally, the problem of having to re-install apps every time you buy a new device is largely resolved through the use of complementary cloud computing and app stores. All this can happen automatically and in some cases within minutes of activating the new device.
Right now the market seems to agree that cloud computing should have only a complementary role, and that powerful devices offering their own local processing power and storage are still a better choice. This doesn’t seem likely to change.
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