How long will it be before the internet becomes our primary means of storing personal data and running software applications (web-based)?
MIT Technology Review, 3 December 2007, reports that one core vision for the evolution of technology (that of Google) is that we are moving from a computer-based technical environment to an online-only world, where “digital life, for the most part, exists on the Internet”—this is called cloud computing.
Already, users can perform many applications and storage functions online. For example:
- “Google Calendar organizes events,
- Picasa stores pictures,
- YouTube holds videos,
- Gmail stores email, and
- Google Docs houses documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.”
Moreover, MIT Technology Review reports that it is rumored that Google is working on an umbrella application that will pull these disparate offerings together for a holistic cloud computing solution.
What’s the advantage of cloud computing?
A computer hard drive is no longer important. Accessibility to one’s information is limited only by one’s access to the internet, which is becoming virtually ubiquitous, and information can be shared with others easily. “The digital stuff that’s valuable… [is] equally accessible from his home computer, a public internet café, or a web-enabled phone.”
What are some of the issues with cloud computing?
- Privacy—“user privacy …becomes especially important if Google serves ads that correspond to all personal information, as it does in Gmail.”
- Encryption—“Google’s encryption mechanisms aren’t flawless. There have been tales of people logging into Gmail and pulling up someone else’s account.”
- Copyright—“one of the advantages of storing data in the cloud is that it can easily be shared with other people, but sharing files such as copyrighted music and movies is generally illegal.”
- Connectivity—“a repository to online data isn’t useful if there’s no Internet connection to be had, or if the signal is spotty.”
Still Google’s vision is for “moving applications and data to the internet, Google is helping make the computer disappear.” Human-computer interaction has evolved from using command lines to graphical user interface to a web browser environment. “It’s about letting the computer get out of our way so we can work with other people and share our information.”
Of course, Google’s vision of an online-only world isn’t without challenge: Microsoft counters that “it’s always going to be a combination of [online and offline], and the solution that wins is going to be the one that does the best job with both.” So Microsoft is building capability for users “to keep some files on hard drives, and maintain that privacy, while still letting them access those files remotely.”
I will not predict a winner-take-all in this architecture battle of online and offline data and applications. However, I will say that we can definitely anticipate that information sharing, accessibility, privacy, and security will be centerpieces of what consumers care about and demand in a digital world. Online or offline these expectations will drive future technology evolution and implementation.