Cloud computing: Is it already here?

21 07 2010

Cloud computing is a term that is banded about all too easily today, with many believing that the future of computing lies in the cloud. For those who don’t know what cloud computing is- the idea is that in the future we will have computers, or more likely smaller devices such as phones, that will be less focused upon hardware specs, such as processing power. In other words, the programs, storage and services that we will use, will be online and as such our data is no longer tied to a single machine- our information and data travels with us, and so the cloud metaphor is complete.

Online Services

The transition began along time ago, we just haven’t released yet, since it’s pretty likely that you are using many cloud services right now. One great example is, YouTube, which in it’s early days was a video dating site- a stark difference from the all encompassing video sharing site and broadcaster that it is today. Owners, Google, plan to continue the expansion of the site with the introduction of Google TV, in which YouTube will be at the epicentre. The service, that is set for release later this year, will provide users with a new layer of interface on top of their existing setup, with universal search for shows across the TV programs and YouTube.

Staying in the realm of television and video, our American cousins will be all too familiar with the great service that Hulu provides. The service is now expanding from just computer to the Playstation, iPad and other media centre services. No longer is the viewing experience constricted to the single screen, the television, people’s viewing experience can be moved from device to device, and all this is made possible with an online account- a simple username and password.

Online services aren’t just restricted to video, other such examples can be seen with Flickr, the photo sharing site from Yahoo!, and online streaming services such as Spotify and Grooveshark. The most starkly different function- from that of media and content providing services- is how people are increasingly moving and backing up all their data online, whether that be document, emails, photos- their entire digital identity and life. Service such as Dropbox and Windows Skydrive, allow people to upload anything to the web, and then access it anywhere they can get an internet connection and a web browser.

The rise of Apps

In terms of the iOS platform and the emergence of the app culture one could argue that this is signalling the future of computing and is part of cloud computing. Rather than our devices having fully blown programs, users are opting for bite sized experiences that are contained within a closed environment, which has been developed to fulfil a certain number of functions. As Steve Jobs said, people aren’t searching on their mobile devices; their opening an App instead. So rather than search for online food recipes, users are more likely to open up Epicurious.

Furthermore, the rise of apps has positioned the iPhone and iPad as more than a iPhone- bordering on the functionality of a computer but with less processing power and defiened user experiences. Apple has noticed this and responded accordingly with the timely release of the iMovie App and the iWork App on the iPad, and soon on the iPhone, if the rumours circulating the internet are to be believed.

Chrome OS

This is one of biggest and most obvious steps towards a cloud computing future, from the company that lives and breathes the internet, Google. The traditional notion of the desktop with the standard icons is done away with and in it’s place, the operating system centers around the browser. As a result, local file storage and interaction is replaced with interacting with files from external sources. One such example of this would be, to edit a document in Google Docs and then save it online, rather than create it and save it on the computers hard drive. A similar stance is taken to other file types, in which the operating system gives the user the tools to view the file and edit it, through the use of an online services, but it doesn’t encourage the user to then save the file locally. As a result, the Chrome OS, while be mainly marketed towards netbook manufactures, since there is less emphasis on the overall specs of the machine, since the standard desktop is replaced with a browser, and the creation and consumption of media and files are handled on the internet, rather than on the machine.

Conclusion

It will be interesting to see how the big companies in the computing space, Apple, Microsoft and Google, adapt to meet this challenge, because right now, I don’t see any of them as set to dominate the area.

Microsoft have the most work to do, since they are a company that has always been based around  a users sitting down in front of a computer. Cloud computing, moves the user away from this classic depiction, and replaces it with a much more mobile lifestyle. In the mobile area Microsoft has struggled and as a result the windows mobile platform has struggled. They are pinning their hopes on the reboot of the operating system with the introduction of Windows Phone 7.

While Apple may have nailed it in the mobile space, with the brilliant iOS format,they are struggling with online services, such as mobile me, which needs a lot of work. The implementation of the rumoured upcoming streaming iTunes service will play a big part in how success the company is in this area.

Google does have a great array of online services, however they lack the usability and user experience that Apple is famed for. How well the Chrome OS is spread and accepted by users will play a big part for them.

What do you think? Which company is set for cloud computing? Is cloud computing even the future? Let me know in the comments below.

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